After Penn State’s 79-56 win over No. 8 Ohio State on Thursday night, the Nittany Lions are in the NCAA tournament discussion.
They can boost their postseason resume with games against No. 6 Purdue, No. 22 Michigan and Nebraska to close out the regular season. All three represent potential quality wins for the Nittany Lions.
“The schedule-makers gave them opportunities,” analyst Shon Morris said on Big Ten Network on Thursday night after the Nittany Lions’ win over the Buckeyes. “It depends on what they do with it. They started that run tonight in very impressive fashion. Still more to come for the Penn State Nittany Lions.”
With that in mind, Morris ranked Penn State’s final three matchups in his top-5 remaining games on the Big Ten slate. Morris put the Penn State-Purdue game Sunday at No. 5 on his list, with Penn State-Michigan at No. 3 and Penn State-Nebraska at No. 1. All three have NCAA tournament implications for the Nittany Lions, and Morris pointed out the significance of the game at Nebraska for both teams.
“This is a game, Penn State at Nebraska, make sure you circle that on the last Sunday of the regular season because there could potentially be a lot at stake, a lot of emotion,” Morris said on BTN. “Wonderful, wonderful stories for both of those programs.”
Where does Penn State stand now?
In the latest projected bracket for the NCAA tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi posted Friday, Penn State is in the “Next Four Out” group along with Boise State, Temple and Utah. The “First Four Out” includes Nebraska, Washington, Syracuse and Baylor, and the “Last Four In” includes Texas, UCLA, USC and St. Bonaventure.
In USA Today’s projection updated Friday morning, Penn State and Nebraska were both in a group of “others considered for at-large bids.”
As NCAA.com’s Andy Katz noted last weekend, with the Nittany Lions already considered on the bubble, “A sweep of the Buckeyes would be hard to dismiss but it won’t be enough by itself. Penn State has to overcompensate for the bad losses early in the season.”
The Nittany Lions need to make the most of their remaining opportunities in the regular season and the Big Ten tournament to break into the NCAA tournament field.
NCAA quadrant breakdown
The NCAA tournament selection committee evaluates wins and losses in Quadrants 1-4. Quadrant 1 includes facing opponents ranked 1-30 in RPI at home, 1-50 on a neutral court and 1-75 in road games. Quadrant 2 games are against opponents ranked 31-75 at home, 51-100 in neutral-site games and 76-135 on the road. Quadrant 3 matchups feature home games against teams ranked 76-160, neutral games against teams ranked 101-200 and road games against teams ranked 136-240. And Quadrant 4 games include home games against opponents ranked 161-plus, neutral against teams ranked 201-plus and road games ranked 241-plus.
What PSU needs to do the rest of the way
Quadrant 1 wins are crucial to making the NCAA tournament, and the Nittany Lions now own two Q1 wins — both against Ohio State. They also have Q2 wins over Maryland and Nebraska.
They’ll have a chance to add to that total with their remaining games.
At this point, the Nittany Lions’ matchups at Purdue (RPI No. 14) and at Nebraska (RPI No. 52) would fall into Q1. Their home game against Michigan (RPI No. 39) would currently be in Q2. And looking ahead to the Big Ten tournament, the Nittany Lions currently sit at No. 6. If the season ended Friday and the Nittany Lions won their first game of the conference tournament, they’d have a potential matchup with the No. 3 seed. Purdue currently sits at third in the league.
That means the Nittany Lions could play three Q1 games and one Q2 game in a five-game stretch.
If they can win four of those games, they’ll have a strong case to move from the bubble into the NCAA tournament field.