The Penn State Nittany Lions basketball team surpassed 20 victories this season for the first time since 2009 for only the third time since 1997. A push to the Big Ten tournament semifinal last week provided one final case for NCAA Tournament inclusion.
But will it be enough?
Penn State, along with the rest of college basketball, will learn the outcome Sunday evening. The annual Selection Sunday broadcast is set for 6 p.m. on TBS.
Nittany Lions coach Pat Chambers, who failed to lead the Nittany Lions (21-13) to at least a .500 record in four of his first six seasons in Happy Valley, can appreciate signs of program improvement. He said he hopes committee members feel the same way on Sunday.
“We’ve watched other bubble teams — and I’m watching very closely over the last 24 hours — and I just think we’re a better team,” he told the Big Ten Network on Thursday. “I think we’ll fight, we’ll compete, we’ll scrap and we’ll win a couple at the tournament. That’s why we won a couple at the Big Ten Tournament at the [Madison Square] Garden. Because, we’re a good team when you put us all together and we have all the pieces.”
Those pieces include the Big Ten’s leading scorer: sophomore guard Tony Carr. He averages 19.9 points per game, connecting on 46 percent of 3-point field goal attempts. He scored 25 points vs. both Ohio State and Northwestern during the conference tournament but was limited to 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting against Purdue in semifinal action.
Many have speculated Penn State needed to advance into the Big Ten title game to firm its case for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Nittany Lions won six of seven matchups between Jan. 26 and Feb. 15 but sputtered during the final stretch of regular-season competition, suffering three straight losses before conference tournament play.
“We did lose the down the stretch there without [third-leading scorer and leading rebounder] Mike [Watkins] one game, but we had to readjust what we were doing. We were able to do that and still find our way to 21 wins and 9-9 [in the Big Ten] and usually when you’re 9-9 and have two Big Ten wins in the conference tournament, history says, you’re going to be in [the NCAA Tournament],” Chambers said.
Carr ➡️ Reaves FOR THE WIN!pic.twitter.com/2C2eGWvJLa
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 3, 2018
CBS Sports tournament projection: Penn State not included
Washington Post tournament projection: Penn State not included
ESPN tournament projection: Penn State not included
Bleacher Report tournament projection: Penn State not included
Penn State is mentioned among the first eight teams out by both CBS Sports and ESPN, indicating the Nittany Lions put together a pretty solid pitch for consideration but it won’t equal an invite. The NIT should quickly come calling, presenting a solid consolation prize for a program that won the 2009 title in that tournament.
Plenty of people will point toward Penn State’s three-game losing streak in late February as the deciding factor. However, midseason inconsistency put the program in a hole. After starting 10-3, the Nittany Lions failed to win consecutive games between Dec. 19 and Jan. 27.
Hot play during much of February put the selection committee on notice and placed Penn State on the bubble. Despite making strides this season, the Nittany Lions look likely to miss the NCAA Tournament for a seventh straight year.