The Outlook For Penn State Hoops’ Postseason Chances
The 2015-16 season for Penn State men’s basketball has been the perfect representation of an up and down year. Sitting at 14-13, Pat Chambers’ squad has had its fair share of depressing losses and unbelievable wins, most of which came in this hot stretch nearing the end of the season.
With only four games left in the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament quickly approaching, Penn State has a chance to make a postseason tournament run — whether it’s in the NIT, CBI, or NCAA Tournament. Let’s start out with the easiest prediction to conceive.
Penn State will need to win the Big Ten Tournament and earn the conferences’ automatic bid.
There’s not much more analysis than that. No matter who they play, the Nittany Lions have to win every single game in that tournament. Penn State is 2-6 against the upper half of the Big Ten, and that’s who the Lions will most likely face in the Big Ten Tournament. Sounds easy enough right?
The NIT is a lot more interesting in terms of where Penn State sits at the moment. After its astonishing upset over No. 4 Iowa last week, Penn State was sitting on the bubble of the NIT Tournament. At 14-13, Penn State is in contention for postseason play. The reason for Penn State’s increased chances is because of its last two home games. Knocking off the two best teams in the Big Ten — No. 4 Iowa and No. 22 Indiana — will get you that kind of recognition.
But according to BracketMatrix.com, Penn State isn’t included on the bubble like it was a week ago. Teams like Arkansas, Nebraska, and Northern Iowa now sit on the NIT bubble. What sets Penn State apart from most of these teams is its higher RPI, a tool used by the NCAA Selection Committee to evaluate teams.
Penn State’s RPI of .5377, which is 107th in the country, is greater than those of eight teams on the NIT bubble and four of the 32 teams projected to be in the NIT Tournament right now. Some teams projected to be in the tournament that have a lower RPI than Penn State also have the same or worse records, like UNLV and Rhode Island.
While it’s confusing to see some teams with worse credentials than Penn State included in the NIT projections, the Lions control their fate depending on how they display themselves for the rest of the season. Penn State has three winnable home games and one tough road test in East Lansing before heading to the Big Ten Tournament.
Penn State likely need at least 3-1 to feel comfortable in regards to the NIT, which all starts with Nebraska on Thursday. The Cornhuskers are currently projected on the bubble for the NIT despite having a lower RPI and winning percentage. What puts Nebraska over Penn State is the Nittany Lions’ 70-54 loss to the Cornhuskers earlier in February. A win on Thursday will clean the slate for Penn State and push Nebraska out of NIT contention.
After Nebraska, the Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing in an attempt to avenge their embarrassing loss to Michigan State at home earlier in the year. The only difference is this game isn’t being played in the friendly confines of the BJC, where Penn State has only dropped three games all season.
Penn State then plays two games at home to finish the season against Northwestern and Illinois. The Wildcats are also a team projected to be in the NIT, so Penn State will need that win for leverage if it wants the NIT bid.
The last step will be winning at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament. The Lions will most likely face an upper-tier Big Ten opponent to start the tournament, so a win or a solid performance could be enough to place them in the NIT. Playing in a strong Big Ten conference will only help Penn State’s chances at a postseason run.
If all this falls into place, Penn State will be sitting at least 17-14 heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Getting into the NIT with 17 wins is not an impossible task. In fact, Arizona State made the NIT Tournament last year at 17-15, which was the worst record of any NIT team.
The key piece will be winning a game in the Big Ten Tournament. 2009 was the last time Penn State won a game in the Big Ten Tournament before heading to the NIT, and the Nittany Lions took home the trophy that year. Ending the season on a 3-1 stretch and a solid win in the Big Ten Tournament could be what it needs to catapult itself to the NIT and have a chance to play in Madison Square Garden for a second visit this year.
The CBI is a tournament that doesn’t need much analysis for a team like Penn State. It has the big time wins over Iowa and Indiana, it has a good chance to have a positive record, it plays in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, and it has the 107th highest RPI in the country which is higher than all but three of the CBI teams in 2015.
Penn State will need to finish the regular season around 15-14 and possibly a win in the Big Ten Tournament. Last season, the Lions finished the year 18-16 including two Big Ten Tournament wins and they received a CBI Tournament bid. Although Penn State declined the invitation last year, the Nittany Lions could see the same fate of a CBI bid this season.