Following an eight-game winning streak just past the midway point of the season, Penn State has now gone on to lose four of their last five games. Both #18 Iowa and #16 Michigan State were not, by any means, bad losses, but the losses will weigh heavily on a team who was just recently vying for a #3 seed in the tournament. Both Iowa and Michigan State have been surging as of late, but the recent trend of losing has to stop.
With just one game to go before the conference tournament begins, Penn State has to get back on track and find some momentum before the NCAA Tournament begins, or they could find themselves on the losing end of a classic #6 versus #11 upset in the tournament.
A recap of last week
Last Saturday’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City was a close one until the second half. As soon as the second half tipped, Iowa stepped on the gas and didn’t let up until about a minute and a half left in the game when Penn State closed on an 8-2 run. Penn State was hanging in there in the first half, but an all-around decent shooting performance from Iowa and an off night from Penn State was the difference.
Both teams turned the ball over ten times, while Iowa managed to win the rebounding battle (+4). Penn State shot 37% from the field and 32% from three. They also made three straight threes to end the game, so the stats aren’t quite indicative of just how poor the Nittany Lions shot throughout the great majority of the game.
Almost half the shots (34 of 70) were taken by Lamar Stevens and Seth Lundy in the game. As I stated a few games back, it’s important to reiterate it in regards to their potential. The Nittany Lions have to get more people involved. In a game facing one of the best players in college basketball, Penn State expected to beat the Hawkeyes by just allowing their best guy to try to go to work against him. I get that Garza isn’t a good defender, but Lamar Stevens was not having a great night and there seemed to be plenty of chances for Penn State to spread it around, and they seemed very content on just letting two of their guys dominate the shooting attempts.
Tuesday was a tale of two halves in University Park. In the first half, Penn State hit ten threes. The Nittany Lions led 46-31 after the first half but failed to hit even one three the entire second half. In the second half, the game completely flipped. Michigan State outscored Penn State 48-25.
Even though the Nittany Lions truly lived and died from beyond the arc in this game, the big story here was Penn State’s inability to make shots from within the arc. The Nittany Lions made just 13-38 from within the arc and were outrebounded by eight. They were soundly beaten on the inside as the Spartans netted 27 of 41 shots from within the arc. The interior domination was, in large part, due to Xavier Tillman taking over (10-13 FG and 15 rebounds).
Michigan State was 53.3% from the field but Penn State was just 34% from the field. It was actually the 10-30 effort from three that got Penn State rolling to such a big lead. From there, Penn State went dry from beyond the arc and struggled mightily to find scoring anywhere. Penn State was +6 on turnovers and yet, it really didn’t do much, other than to keep the game from turning into a total blowout.
Penn State absolutely needs to get more aggressive on the glass. They can’t expect to outshoot teams and win the turnover battle decisively every game, so establishing an interior presence is going to be critical going forward. Rebounding remains the biggest weakness for Penn State and perhaps it’s time we accept the fact it probably is going to come back to bite them is they run into a physical team in the tournament.
The Penn State schedule so far
NOV 5 (W) – MD Eastern 84-46
NOV 9 (W) – Wagner 91-64
NOV 14 (W) – Georgetown 81-66
NOV 19 (W) – Bucknell 98-70
NOV 23 (W) – Yale 58-56
NOV 27 (L) – Ole Miss 74-72
NOV 29 (W) – Syracuse 85-64
DEC 4 (W) – Wake Forest 76-54
DEC 7 (L) – Ohio State 106-74
DEC 10 (W) – Maryland 76-69
DEC 14 (W) – Alabama 73-71
DEC 20 (W) – Central Connecticut St 87-58
DEC 29 (W) – Cornell 90-59
JAN 4 (W) – Iowa 89-86
JAN 7 (L) – Rutgers 72-61
JAN 11 (L) – Wisconsin 58-49
JAN 15 (L) – Minnesota 75-69
JAN 18 (W) – Ohio State 90-76
JAN 22 (W) – Michigan 72-63
JAN 29 (W) – Indiana 64-49
FEB 1 (W) – Nebraska 76-64
FEB 4 (W) – Michigan State 75-70
FEB 8 (W) – Minnesota 83-77
FEB 11 (W) – Purdue 88-76
FEB 15 (W) – Northwestern 77-61
FEB 18 (L) – Illinois 62-56
FEB 23 (L) – Indiana 68-60
FEB 26 (W) – Rutgers 65-64
FEB 29 (L) – Iowa 77-68
MAR 3 (L) – Michigan State 79-71
Preview for next week
This Saturday afternoon, Penn State will travel to Evanston, Illinois to take on the bottom feeder of the Big 10, Northwestern. Northwestern is just 2-17 in the conference this season and should serve as a good opportunity for Penn State to get themselves back on the horse in time for the conference tournament.
Aside from not turning the ball over at a high rate, Northwestern doesn’t pose much of a threat to Penn State. In their first matchup, Penn State dominated Northwestern on the glass (+12) and Lamar Stevens played a very efficient, solid game (8-17 FG and 17 points). With Jones now returning, perhaps Penn State can get a comfortable lead and tinker with the rotations a bit in the game.
With Myreon Jones back in the lineup, Penn State has a very limited time to get some chemistry and momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. On the doorstep of the conference tournament, Penn State currently is projected to have an ideally favorable place in the bracket.
Yesterday, the Big Ten Network put out a bracket for the Big Ten Tournament, assuming everything stays the same with a game to go for everyone but Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska (All have two games left). As of today, Penn State would be the five seed and play the winner of Minnesota and Nebraska.
If they win, they’ll move on to play Illinois in the quarterfinals. If they win that, they’ll play the winner of Wisconsin versus Michigan/Rutgers. If they win there, they would play the winner of the other side of the bracket, which includes Michigan State, Maryland, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa, and Indiana. So, how good are the odds looking for Penn State if all holds true and they get this favorable seed?
Penn State’s Conference Title odds are +550
As of today, Penn State’s Final Four odds are +550 to win the Big Ten Conference tournament according to PlaySugarHouse. They aren’t great odds when you consider their form as of late, but if Penn State wins their final game against Northwestern, they’re guaranteed the five seed. The rest of their current side of the bracket looks pretty good. Wisconsin has one game remaining against Indiana, so the prospect of being on that side of the bracket favors Penn State much more than being on the side with Michigan State, Iowa, and Maryland.
Illinois still has to play both Iowa and Ohio State, so no matter what happens with them, Penn State can either jump to the four seed or stay put and they’ll remain on the good side of the bracket. Let’s take a look at the odds for the bracket as it stands right now.
According to the math, if the bracket stays chalk, Penn State should be around a +2300 on tournament odds. To get this number, I simply would bet $100 on the first game, and roll the winnings into each additional game. By doing this individually, you’ll get much better odds. Now, if upsets happen, Penn State’s odds could realistically get as low as +550, especially if Illinois were to lose their final two games and Penn State were to win their final game.
Realistically, there’s around a 55% chance of Penn State jumping into the four spot and avoid the Round Two game altogether. The safe bet here, especially considering their play of late, is to abstain from the futures bet and just bet each game individually.