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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions and Big Ten Title Race a Rare Conversation To Have

by on February 03, 2020 3:00 PM

For about as long as Penn State has been in the Big Ten conference, the conversation surrounding the basketball program has always been -the 1995-96 season aside- a question of whether the Nittany Lions could make the NCAA Tournament and not if the Nittany Lions were poised to make a run at the conference title itself.

Well, welcome to 2020 where we find Penn State basketball 1.5 games behind the Big Ten lead in early February.

As things stand on Monday afternoon Penn State sits with just five teams ahead of the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten standings. While that sounds like a lot, all five of those teams have three or four losses, comparable to Penn State's 6-4 record in Big Ten play.

In a conference that has spent the better part of the last several weeks eating itself alive, the Nittany Lions are riding a four-game winning streak, a mark bettered by no team in the Big Ten and only matched by Maryland's same four-game run.

And so Penn State flies to East Lansing on Monday evening for a Tuesday night game very much in the hunt for something hardly ever talked about. A win over a beatable Spartan's team would suddenly change the conversation quite a bit from a much more obtainable postseason goal to something so frequently disregarded that its getting overlooked. Of course with 10 games to go, there is a lot of basketball to be played, and any conference title run will always require a little bit of help along the way. All the same, it's not that crazy to say it out loud: Penn State basketball is a threat to win the conference.

"I wouldn't be transparent if I [hadn't thought] about it," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said on Monday afternoon. "Sure, you know, I'm the head coach I've been here a long time. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. But it's nice to be in this situation. It's great to be where we are right now as opposed to where we were in the past.

"And again, I'm not trying to think about the past and trying to stay present. I'm trying to stay in the moment. There's 10 games, 10 total games. A lot can happen in those 10 games, a lot. I think it's going to get wild; I think it's gonna get crazy here down the stretch. That's why we just have to control what we can control, and we are in control of our destiny. We are so as long as we can play Penn State basketball, giving ourselves a chance."

With the luxury of looking farther ahead, Penn State's Big Ten chances don't completely rest on Tuesday night's game. The Nittany Lions still have meetings at the Bryce Jordan Center against the Spartans, Illinois and Rutgers in terms of games against teams having comparable seasons. Road trips to any Big Ten school have proven deadly this season for every team, and a showdown against Iowa late in the season in Iowa City as well as at Indiana and even a stumbling Purdue pose formidable obstacles.

Nevertheless, the Nittany Lions are in the thick of the Big Ten title race, and while it's a marathon, not a sprint, it's also February and a postseason berth isn't the only thing this Penn State team can chase down in the season's final weeks.



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