WASHINGTON — This Penn State basketball season began with excitement surrounding a talented but very young team. The Nittany Lions flashed plenty of promise, but they sputtered toward the finish line with a frustrating five-game losing streak.
They have a chance, though, to reset how the season ends with a strong showing at the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Wednesday at Verizon Center.
Penn State has all the components of a team that can compete for not only an NCAA Tournament bid but a conference title in the future, but the Nittany Lions aren’t there yet. Everyone on the roster should return next season, and it will be a critical one for coach Pat Chambers to turn improved talent acquisition into results.
Given that Penn State has lost five straight, a couple strong performances in Washington would go a long way to alleviating some of the frustration that was apparent in the second half against Iowa on Sunday.
The Nittany Lions’ stay in the nation’s capital could be over in a couple of hours Wednesday, or Penn State’s talent could carry the Lions into the weekend. They are one of this potentially wacky tournament’s wild cards.
Penn State season overview
Record: 14-17 (6-12 Big Ten)
Points per game: 72.3
Points allowed per game: 72.7
KenPom adjusted offense: 161st (13th in the Big Ten)
KenPom adjusted defense: 47th (7th in the Big Ten)
What’s at stake
Penn State must win the tournament to earn an NCAA berth. The Nittany Lions need to reach the championship game to finish with a .500 record. While that’s no longer an official requirement to reach the NIT, that tournament hasn’t invited anyone with a sub.-500 record since the relaxation of the rule.
The Nittany Lions are incredibly young, and winning even just one game and spending an extra day being part of the tournament would be great experience for the freshmen before accepting a bid to one of the two lesser tournaments or preparing for the 2017-18 season.
The path to Sunday
Penn State opens the tournament at 4:30 p.m. ET Wednesday against Nebraska. The Nittany Lions lost by 16 points in Lincoln, Neb., in their only meeting this season. The Cornhuskers have also slumped, losing 12 of 15 conference games after starting 3-0.
If they beat the Cornhuskers, the Nittany Lions will have less than 24 hours to prepare for No. 5 seed Michigan State. That game would be at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The Nittany Lions beat the Spartans at The Palestra in January.
If they can upset the Spartans, the Nittany Lions would be back in action again at 2:30 p.m. Friday against No. 4 seed Minnesota. Penn State lost by 10 at Minnesota on Feb. 25.
Should Penn State really get rolling and make it to Saturday, a semifinal matchup would be against either No. 1 Purdue, No. 8 Michigan or No. 9 Illinois.
Jan. 7 vs. Michigan State at The Palestra, 72-63
Jan. 14 vs. Minnesota, 52-50
Feb. 7 vs. Maryland, 70-64
Nov. 11 vs. Albany, 87-81
Feb. 4 vs. Rutgers, 70-68
Feb. 14 at Nebraska, 82-66
Josh Reaves, sophomore guard
Is a guy hot after one monster game? Let’s go with it. Reaves exploded for 25 points against Iowa, the second 20-point game of his career. He made 10 of 12 shots, nailed at least three 3-pointers for the third time this season and added five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Tony Carr, freshman guard
Carr has at least 20 points and seven assists in three of the past four games. He did not shoot well against Iowa in the regular-season finale, but Carr made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team because he is Penn State’s top scorer (13.2 points per game), distributor (4.2 assists per contest) and a good rebounder (4.6 per game) for a point guard.
Lamar Stevens, freshman forward
Stevens had 26 against Indiana in a double-overtime loss, and surpassed 20 in February wins against Maryland and Illinois. During this five-game losing streak, Stevens is 25-for-71 from the floor.
Shep Garner, junior guard
If there’s a theme during this losing streak, it’s that Penn State’s shooters just aren’t hitting enough shots. Garner hasn’t shot better than 39 percent from the floor in a game and has made only 11 of 43 3-point attempts. Peyton Banks missed one game during this skid and is 8-for-36 from the field in the other four.
2017 Big Ten basketball tournament bracket
Click here for a printable version of the bracket.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 6, 2017
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 6, 2017
2017 Big Ten basketball tournament schedule
Wednesday, March 8 (First round)
Game 1: No. 12 seed Nebraska vs. No. 13 seed Penn State | 4:30 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 2: No. 11 seed Ohio State vs. No. 14 seed Rutgers | 7 p.m. | BTN
Thursday, March 9 (Second round)
Game 3: No. 8 seed Michigan vs. No. 9 seed Illinois | 12 p.m. | BTN
Game 4: No. 5 seed Michigan State vs. Game 1 winner | 25 minutes after game 3 | BTN
Game 5: No. 7 seed Iowa vs. No. 10 seed Indiana | 6:30 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 6: No. 6 seed Northwestern vs. Game 2 winner | 25 minutes after game 3 | ESPN2
Friday, March 10 (Quarterfinals)
Game 7: No. 1 seed Purdue vs. Game 3 winner | 12 p.m. | ESPN
Game 8: No. 4 seed Minnesota vs. Game 4 winner | 25 minutes after game 7 | ESPN
Game 9: No. 2 seed Wisconsin vs. Game 5 winner | 6:30 p.m. | BTN
Game 10: No. 3 seed Maryland vs. Game 6 winner | 25 minutes after game 9 | BTN
Saturday, March 11 (Semifinals)
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner | 1 p.m. | CBS
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner | 3:30 p.m. | CBS
Sunday, March 12 (Championship game)
Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner | 3 p.m. | CBS