Big Ten Network analyst Mike DeCourcy and ESPN both predict nine Big Ten teams to make next month’s NCAA Tournament, which will be held in Indiana in its entirety.
Big Ten juggernauts Michigan (No. 3), Ohio State (No. 4) and Illinois (No. 5) headline conference teams poised to make runs at a national title while Iowa (No. 11), Wisconsin (No. 21) and Rutgers (receiving votes) have also shown themselves to be more than formidable.
At 7-10 overall and 4-9 in Big Ten play, Penn State finds itself on the outside looking in. College basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy in his latest rankings released on Monday has the Nittany Lions at No. 37 after losses last week to Michigan State and Nebraska.
“I try my best not to think about the future,” Penn State’s Myles Dread said when asked about his team’s bubble chances after Sunday’s loss to Nebraska. “I think about it game by game. Of course, it hurts to lose. Nobody ever wants to lose.”
The Nittany Lions’ back-to-back losses last week to teams with a combined record of 15-20 certainly didn’t help their resume as a team on the bubble. Of DeCourcy’s four bubble teams, Indiana ranks as the lone Big Ten hopeful.
Four of Penn State’s five remaining regular-season opponents (Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota) are considered favorites to earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions’ next five opponents have a combined record of 69-36.
The Buckeyes travel to Penn State on Thursday for both teams’ second matchup this season. Ohio State defeated Penn State, 83-79, in late January and is on a four-game win streak.
The Nittany Lions are 6-3 in games at the Bryce Jordan Center this year, but they’ve only won one of their eight road contests.
“On the road, we’re just not playing with the same pop to start games that we are at home,” Penn State interim coach Jim Ferry said.
Penn State visits Iowa on Sunday for this year’s first meeting and hosts Purdue five days later for another one-game series.
Minnesota has a road date at Penn State on March 3 before the Nittany Lions conclude the regular season with a visit to Maryland on March 7. Penn State defeated Maryland, 55-50, on Feb. 5.
The Nittany Lions currently sit at 12th place in the league standings ahead of Northwestern and Nebraska, teams Penn State has gone 1-1 against this year. While Penn State’s body of work to this point hasn’t helped its chances for an NCAA Tournament bid, it does have the good fortune of playing in the nation’s toughest league. A pair of wins against the likes of Ohio State, Purdue or Iowa could infuse its resume enough to receive bubble consideration.
For that to happen, though, Penn State must find ways to put away opponents. The Nittany Lions have lost six games this season by six or fewer points against opponents that include No. 4 Ohio State and bubble team Indiana.
A win on Thursday against the Buckeyes could spark the momentum needed for a late-season push. A loss would more than certainly diminish any hopes the Nittany Lions harbor of making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
“You focus on what you can control,” Ferry said.