Penn State Basketball heads to Piscataway, New Jersey Tuesday night before hosting the rematch with the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday. And by the end of this week, we will know if the 2022-2023 Nittany Lions Basketball team is truly NCAA Tournament-worthy.
According to most prognostications, Penn State Basketball is one of the last teams in or just out of the NCAA Tournament. Joe Lunardi has PSU ‘just’ in as it currently stands heading into Monday night’s match-up against Rutgers.
Penn State currently sits at 13-6 on the season but perhaps more importantly, 4-4 in the middle of a jammed Big Ten Conference. Purdue is 8-1, Minnesota is 1-7 and the other 12 teams are all between 5-3 and 3-6. Penn State’s 4-4 is currently in a fifth-way tie for 6th in the conference. And, Joe Lunardi is predicting 11 teams from the conference to make the NCAA Tournament, with Penn State Basketball and Northwestern just in (and surprisingly, tied for second Michigan out, not even in the ‘next four in’).
Without a great non-conference win but with no bad out of conference losses, Penn State’s NCAA Tournament hopes will hinge almost exclusively on their conference performance.
One can argue whether 10 conference wins will be enough or if we need 11, but either way, this is the week we will learn if the Nittany Lions have what it takes to dance.
Rutgers is currently tied for 2nd in the conference at 5-3 and was ranked just last week, thanks to their win at previously undefeated Purdue.
Penn State Basketball is a 5.5 point underdog Tuesday, and (without knowing tonight’s outcome) will likely be about the same type of favorite Sunday when Michigan comes to town.
How can Penn State Basketball Strengthen NCAA Tournament Resumé?
If Penn State Basketball can win one of these games, they guarantee a 5-5 start in their first ten games.
It’s widely accepted their second half of the conference schedule is significantly easier than the first half. Although, it starts with a game at Purdue, which would likely put the Nittany Lions at 5-6, winnable games (like Nebraska, Maryland twice and at Ohio State and Northwestern) make a 10-win conference slate very likely, perhaps even 11 wins.
But, this week could send us in the other direction just as quickly. A 0-2 week, followed by the likely loss at Purdue, would leave the Nittany Lions at 4-7 and a huge uphill climb (pardon the pun) over the last 9 games to claw their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture. However, a 2-0 week could take Penn State off the bubble entirely, safely inside the tournament draw.
The goal is simple: split the week (really doesn’t matter which one you win or lose) to guarantee a .500 first-half conference record and set up very nicely for our first NCAA Tournament game since 2011 (notwithstanding the 2020-2021 Covid-shortened year).