Penn State’s Tournament Chances Plummet After Loss to Nebraska

Story posted February 14, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack McCune

The 62-61 defeat the Nittany Lions suffered against Nebraska Sunday afternoon could be the final nail in the coffin to seal Penn State’s fate. 

NCAA bracket analyst Andy Katz, who appeared in the halftime and postgame coverage of the game, said the Blue and White would most likely be a last-four-in team for March Madness if they win the games they’re supposed to. This one was certainly one of those games.

Regardless of the close margin, interim head coach Jim Ferry’s squad was expected to dominate on its home court against Fred Hoiberg’s Cornhuskers, who came into the game at 0-9 in the conference standings. But instead, Nebraska shot 48% from the field as forward Teddy Allen and company pounded the rock inside, while John Harrar and his guys seldom found ways to answer.

The Nittany Lions’ current NET ranking at 31 should dramatically increase in the wrong direction. The two teams currently behind them are VCU and Virginia Tech, who both lost to Penn State earlier in the year.

It’s clear that Ferry and his guys can beat and keep up with good teams, but they can’t seem to close games out time after time. Their opponents that they’ve lost to are winning 64% of their games, while the teams they’ve beaten are winning 61% of the time, so it’s not like they’re only beating bottom feeders.

Instead, they’ve lost to one in Nebraska as they fall behind Maryland in the Big Ten standings for third-to-last. All that along with a 7-10 overall record does not look like a tournament team, regardless of strength of schedule.

Only 18 teams have ever made the NCAA Tournament with a losing record, and the lowest winning percentage among those squads is 38%. The Nittany Lions would have to win at least three of their remaining five regular season affairs to enter the conference playoffs with a better ratio.

And that will be no easy task. Penn State will face three ranked opponents in a row with No. 4 Ohio State, No. 15 Iowa and No. 24 Purdue before taking on Minnesota and Maryland.

But a sign of hope could be the way the Nittany Lions battled against the Buckeyes and the Boilermakers the first time they faced off this season in two single-digit losses. And they haven’t seen Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes yet this season, but the last time Penn State played the No. 15 team in the land, they throttled the Hokies by 20.

The path to the field of 68 is beginning to look like an impossible maze with traps and monsters along the way. Penn State would have to play their cards exactly right for any push to the big dance. A deep Big Ten Tournament run could help, but anything other than a trophy may not be enough.

Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jxm1237@psu.edu.