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Given The Opportunity, Penn State Hoops Should Accept An NIT Berth

While Penn State men’s basketball has plenty of opportunity remaining to make a late surge for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011, the top-heavy nature of the Big Ten may halt the Nittany Lions’ come-from-behind, last-ditch effort in the conference tournament.

Currently sitting at a serviceable 10-13 record while boasting the toughest strength of schedule in the nation, the program’s postseason hopes may not entirely hinge on Big Ten Tournament success. Rather, the Nittany Lions may have already secured a bid to the NIT Tournament with their current resume to date.

Although the fans and players alike may reject the idea of playing in a “non-meaningful” postseason alternative following a pandemic-hindered campaign, a berth to represent the tournament as one of 16 selected teams should be nothing to scoff at, especially for a program that has navigated turmoil as well as this season’s squad.

Between an unexpected coaching change, the loss of arguably the most productive player in school history, and a mid-season layoff of nearly three weeks due to a program-wide COVID-19 outbreak, Jim Ferry’s leadership at the helm of the Nittany Lions has helped redefine success during a transitional year.

This season, Ferry has guided the Nittany Lions to seven conference wins in a smaller, jam-packed 23 game regular-season schedule. For reference, in Pat Chambers’ nine-year tenure as the head coach of the program, his teams won seven or more conference games just four times in an expanded schedule of more than 30 games.

Additionally, Ferry’s team has compiled seven combined wins against quad one and two opponents and has dropped seven regular-season matchups by a margin of two possessions or fewer. Despite the team’s losing record, the Nittany Lions have shown their ability to compete with the nation’s best on a nightly basis.

Since 2000, Penn State basketball has competed in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT just a combined six times. While fans and players alike often diminish the significance of any non-March Madness postseason opportunity, the program has only played in the NIT four times in the current century.

While the blue bloods of the sport who will likely be snubbed from this year’s big dance, namely Duke and Kentucky, have the right to downplay an off-year NIT appearance, a program such as Penn State, which rarely enjoys any postseason action of any kind, should not overlook the significance of a potential bid.

Furthermore, for Ferry’s sake, postseason success could potentially lead to the removal of the interim tag to his current position. If Ferry were to guide the Nittany Lions to their third NIT title in the program’s last three appearances, the team would almost certainly generate an inevitable buzz within Nittany Nation, including the upcoming potential to make a splash on the recruiting trail this offseason.

Although the college basketball community often lessens the significance of any success outside of the main 68-team bracket, an NIT appearance would likely aid the transition of the Nittany Lion basketball program from one of disarray to one of stability. Moreover, this year’s current squad consisting of five seniors, including four-year culture drivers in Jamari Wheeler and John Harrar, deserve the opportunity to compete in the postseason one final time to end their storied Penn State careers — especially after missing out last year.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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