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Penn State Hoops Bracketology Roundup & Rooting Guide Heading Into Regular-Season Finale

In the words of Jon Rothstein, “This is March.”

On Wednesday, Penn State men’s basketball channeled the popularized mantra by upsetting Northwestern on the road for the squad’s fourth victory over its last five matchups. 

Cam Wynter’s game-winning three-pointer in overtime lifted the Nittany Lions to their ninth Big Ten triumph of the campaign. Over Penn State’s last 27 seasons, the Nittany Lions have secured nine or more conference wins just three times. 

Despite being far from an NCAA Tournament shoo-in, Micah Shrewsberry’s crew remains on the outside looking in of the 68-team field. However, with one regular season matchup left against No. 21 Maryland and the Big Ten Tournament to follow suit, Penn State is firmly in control of its own destiny to put on its dancing shoes. 

But, if the Nittany Lions slip up, several teams ahead of Shrewsberry’s unit will also have to falter within the next week to keep the upset-minded bunch alive. 

Let’s take a look at Penn State’s current position through the eyes of established bracketologists, while also compiling which teams ahead of the Nittany Lions need to lose in the event of a backdoor bracket entry. 

Joe Lunardi, ESPN

Update: Lunardi has Penn State included in his “Last Four In” category as of Friday, March 3. The Nittany Lions are the ESPN analyst’s current last team in the projected field, edging out Arizona State and Michigan after suffering late-night losses to UCLA and Illinois, respectively.

After the Nittany Lions’ snagged a quad-one road win at Northwestern, Lunardi put Shrewsberry’s group in the “Next Four Out” category, meaning Penn State would have to likely surpass at least five other squads to secure one of the last four at-large bids. 

Lunardi has two Big Ten foes in Michigan and Wisconsin slated above Penn State, but with the Badgers ending the regular season against No. 5 Purdue and a 19-10 Illinois unit, Greg Gard’s group could find itself on the bubble come Selection Sunday. 

If the season were to end today, Penn State would match up with Illinois in a Big Ten Tournament second-round battle. With a win, Shrewsberry and Co. would move on and play No. 2-seeded Michigan. With a victory, the Nittany Lions would boast a 2-2 clip against the Wolverines, giving the blue and white a firm case to outlast Juwan Howard’s team come Selection Sunday. 

Jerry Palm, CBS

As the nation’s No. 56 team according to the NET’s metric, Palm has Penn State slated as the first team out of the 68-team field after seeding conference championship victors as automatic qualifiers. 

With seven quad one and two wins, and zero quad three or four losses, Palm puts the Nittany Lions’ resume above the likes of Oklahoma State, North Carolina, and Arizona State, which are all slated as bonafide tournament units according to other outlets. 

Palm’s affinity for the Big Ten is evident in his latest field projection, with 10 teams from the conference included in his 68-team bracket. If Penn State reaches the 21-win clip, which is achievable with a late-season triumph over Maryland and two Big Ten Tournament victories, Palm sees the Nittany Lions as a lock to end their 12-year Big Dance drought. 

Mike DeCourcy, Fox Sports

Similarly to both Palm and Lunardi, DeCourcy, a frequent contributor on Big Ten Network, is high on the conference’s top-to-bottom makeup heading into March. 

DeCourcy currently views Penn State on the bubble, giving Shrewsberry’s roster a “First Four Out” grade heading into the regular season’s closing sequence. 

Conversely, DeCourcy has Michigan on the bubble along with Penn State, but a Big Ten Tournament matchup between the two rivals would ultimately outlast one of the two foes into the dance if Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, or West Virginia were to falter. 

Again, like the analysts above, DeCourcy’s outlook confirms the notion that Penn State controls its own destiny. It’s worth noting that if the Nittany Lions hadn’t surrendered a 19-point second-half edge to Rutgers, all three analysts above would have the group included in the fluid poll projections. 

Who To Root Against?

Quite simply, if Penn State reaches the 21-win figure, it will have a 49.7% chance to eclipse a spot in the 68-team tournament, according to TeamRankings

However, if squads among the likes of Auburn, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Arizona State all face season-ending road bumps, Penn State’s case would improve immensely, through simple addition by subtraction. 

Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, two of the teams standing in their way are within the Big Ten’s confines. With a strong, two-win showing in Chicago resulting in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal appearance, Penn State would be in a prime position to sneak into the cut line in either an 11 or 12-seeded position.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a junior 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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