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Penn State Basketball: Late Season Schedule Favorable For Push Towards Future

by on February 11, 2016 2:00 PM

In truth I've been waiting for the bottom to fall out on this team.

But to the Nittany Lions' credit they've gotten more from nearly everyone than what I was expecting across the roster when the season started.

It's not that I was anticipating Penn State to be a bad team, I just didn't think they had enough of the parts at the right time to do anything meaningful in conference play. 2015 was supposed to be a transition year, so expectations were generally set to that standard.

Yet here we all are, Penn State at 12-12 with at least eight games left to play and in turn the lingering question: can Penn State back itself into a postseason bid?

Not the NCAA Tournament, that would take something that doesn't seem all that reasonable even if this team overachieves down the stretch. But the NIT, that's not entirely out of the question, and Penn State's schedule is favorable enough that the wins needed for a late bubble push are there to be had.

The past three seasons seven different teams have made the NIT field with 16+ wins on the record. Sitting currently at 12-12 on the year, Penn State has at least eight games remaining and more than half of them are winnable. [Equally true, Penn State finishing 2014-15 with 18 wins, failing to secure an NIT bid]

Twice against a good, but beatable Nebraska team that is currently without Shavon Sheilds. Once against Rutgers on the road, one of the worst teams in any of the Power Five conferences. At home against No. 4 Iowa. In East Lansing against Michigan State and then hosting Northwestern and Illinois to finish out the regular season.

So in theory there are four wins to be had. A split against Nebraska and holding serve at home against Northwestern and Illinois while beating Rutgers on the road.

That puts Penn State at 16-15 with at least one game in the Big Ten tournament to go and with seven conference wins, and outside shot at a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament if things go the Nittany Lions' way.

In truth, even if Penn State misses out on a postseason bid, the Nittany Lions can finish the season with the most Big Ten wins under Pat Chambers simply by winning four of the remaining eight games. Saying Penn State "just" needs to do anything in Big Ten play has always been easier said than done, but this team has been doing more than nearly anyone expected all season long, so beating a handful of beatable teams wouldn't be the most surprising thing to happen so far this year.

But of course, as is so often the case with young teams, the up and downs of every season are unpredictable. As unsurprising as four more wins might be, it wouldn't be shocking to see it go the other way either.

Saturday will be telling, the Cornhuskers aren't easy to beat in their new home so it's not a must-win, but picking up a victory would go a long way towards late season momentum.

And in the end if this season is simply a transition towards bigger and better things, a good head start late in 2016 isn't a bad way to go out. Postseason or not.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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