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Penn State Hoops Cements Its Spot In NCAA Tournament

If there was any doubt regarding Penn State men’s basketball’s chances to dance in the NCAA Tournament before its contest against Northwestern, it was certainly made clear in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal Friday night.

After a back-and-forth Big Ten grudge match against the Wildcats, the Nittany Lions escaped with a 67-65 overtime victory to advance to the Big Ten semifinals. Perhaps more importantly, with the win, Penn State essentially punched its ticket to the Big Dance for the first time since 2011.

Just a month ago, Penn State was in desperation mode as it dropped the first four-straight games in the month of February. With just six games left and a whole lot more to prove, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season scorching hot as they went 5-1 and earned a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

However, many experts and analysts continued to count them out, and placed them along the lines of “last four in” or “first four out.” With the next-game mentality in full force, Penn State beat Illinois for the third time this season in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. Regardless of the outcome, the Fighting Illini were already a tournament team.

Many heads turned in Penn State’s favor following the win, yet uncertainty still loomed around the legitimacy of the team. In response, the Nittany Lions took down another tournament-locked team and now see themselves in the semifinals for the first time since 2018.

Regardless of a win or loss in the semifinal, it’s all but guaranteed that the Nittany Lions will see themselves on the bracket for the first time since Tim Frazier was on the roster. Although Penn State would’ve danced back in 2020, we don’t want to bring back up bad memories.

Through it all, when adversity knocked on its door, Penn State responded. Whether it was a 40-point Jalen Pickett game, an Evan Mahaffey offensive board, or a Camren Wynter game-winning shot at the buzzer, the Nittany Lions found a way to get the job done.

When everyone counted them out, the Nittany Lions shrugged it off and moved on to the next game with the same mentality. They were never too high or low and willed their way to victory. Whether it was gritty, pretty, or both, Penn State found a way to win.

During a three-game win streak in mid-Februrary, Pickett told the media that he hoped everyone on the team would be playing their best basketball in March. Since then, Penn State has beaten three tournament teams since the calendar turned, including a ranked win over No. 21 Maryland to close out the regular season. This may be one of the most important and impressive stretches in Penn State basketball history, and the whole team stepped up to the plate throughout March.

With seven quad-one wins now under Penn State’s belt and a slated Big Ten Tournament semifinal appearance, it’s safe to say the Nittany Lions will be at peace when Selection Sunday rolls around. However, the Nittany Lions can still increase their seeding even more if they continue to win.

For now, Penn State men’s basketball and fans across the country should celebrate with joy. Through all the pain, joy, highs, and lows, the Penn State Nittany Lions will be dancing in March Madness.

Be sure to tune into CBS’s broadcast of Selection Sunday at 6 p.m. on March 12.

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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