Penn State Basketball: Facing The Improbable, Belief Might Just Be The Secret Sauce
Finding a "why" is half the challenge during a turbulent season. What makes a team get up every morning and give its all at practice, in the classroom, on the court.
That can be hard to nail down.
For Penn State football, the Nittany Lions continued to play for each other. Even as playoff hopes slipped out of their reach they didn't stop. But it was a challenge, something James Franklin openly alluded to on a few occasions. Getting everyone to pull the rope in the same direction is tough, especially when the carrot at the end of the stick has gotten smaller.
Penn State basketball faces a similar struggle now. The Nittany Lions are effectively out of the running for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. A route exists, but it would require winning the majority of the final eight regular season games.
The "why" though, Penn State hasn't lost those games yet either. And even with a resume lacking any real quality wins out of conference, that hasn't slowed down the belief any. Out of the running? Don't tell them that.
"Just over a week ago we were 3-5 (in conference play)." Penn State coach Pat Chambers said on Monday. "We want to keep this thing going."
So Penn State will give it a go. The Nittany Lions travel to No. 4 Michigan State this Wednesday for a chance to make it three straight Big Ten victories and five wins in the last eight games. Beyond that Penn State is favored in its next three games according to KenPom.com, the Nittany Lions projected to finish the season at 8-10 in Big Ten play. That result would result in the most conference wins since 2011 and third most since 2002.
The overall result would be an 18-13 record that might require a few wins in the Big Ten Tournament to give the Nittany Lions an outside chance at the big dance.
That always elusive 20-win mark might not be entirely out of the equation either. Aside from Wednesday, Penn State's most challenging trip left on the schedule is to No. 3 Purdue. Beyond that the Nittany Lions will face Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Maryland and Ohio State. Penn State has yet to face Illinois or Michigan this season but has wins or close losses to everyone else. In theory there are wins to be had in that bunch. But of course Penn State basketball's history has been paved with wins that weren't.
Nevertheless this bunch hasn't packed up shop yet, and that might be the exact reason why they can still pull off what seemed impossible not too long ago.