Penn State Basketball: Schedule Comparisons As Nittany Lions Enter Final Turn
February 12, 2020 3:10 PM
by Ben Jones
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Go ahead and think about it Penn State fans: the Nittany Lions might just end up your Big Ten champs.

According to T-Cast and KenPom (for the uninitiated, two widely respected advanced analytics websites) the Nittany Lions are favored to finish the regular season at 14-6 in Big Ten play which would match Maryland for the best regular season finish this year. Unfortunately for Penn State there is no regular season tiebreak for the champion, but the head-to-head victory over the Terps would give the Nittany Lions the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Ten tournament and a share of the regular season crown.

Of course projections are just a bunch of numbers. They don't account for hot shooting, injuries, bad bounces, bad refs or a host of other things that go beyond how a team has generally been playing. Take for example the Nittany Lions' win over Michigan State and Purdue, on both occasions Penn State was less than 40% likely to win those outings.

That doesn't mean the numbers are wrong, they can't see how a team will develop and grow, but it goes to show that you can only do so much predicting before you just have to sit back and watch the games unfold.

Nevertheless, predicting games and predicting the future is one of sportswriting's great traditions. So here are the schedules of Penn State, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan State, Rutgers and Iowa.

Penn State: 1 game back

The Nittany Lions might have the most favorable schedule of the teams fighting for the regular season title. Two games against bottom-feeder Northwestern only pads this. Never underestimate a road trip, but if the Nittany Lions just have to win for a share of the crown, don't expect them to overlooked Northwestern. Penn State has had moderate success at Indiana and the Hoosier aren't quite as good this year. Rutgers has lost a bit of its early-season mojo as well. At Iowa seems like the most likely loss of the bunch with the Hawkeyes lethal at home. Michigan State is likely a coin toss at the BJC and it will come down to a lot of things we just don't know right now.

Next week's meeting with Illinois may have lost some of its luster with Ayo Dosunmu potentially out of the mix.

All the same that's at least five or six wins as things stand today. Most likely good enough for a share.

Michigan State: 1.5 games back

Sparty will get a chance to prove its worth after a win over Illinois on Tuesday night. Only problem, Maryland and Iowa will both get a crack at knocking Michigan State down a peg or two. This is a grinder of schedule with Nebraska the only easy-looking night and after the Cornhuskers nearly shocked the Terps in College Park on Tuesday night, they might be due for one of those late-season upsets.

Never underestimate Tom Izzo in late February, but this schedule isn't fun.

Maryland: 1 game lead

This will come down to not only Michigan State, but what kind of mood Minnesota and Ohio State are in at this point of the season. Both teams are fighting on the bubble and hosting the league's top team would go a long way in that quest. Rutgers is always pesky at home and finds itself in a bit more precarious position than before. Much like Michigan State, Maryland will probably win more of these than lose, but it's not an easy road to travel.

Iowa: 2 games back

Joe Garza is the kind of guy who can win a game on his own, and has done so on more than a few occasions this season. Iowa has to deal with a rivalry game and trips to Michigan State and perhaps a bubble bound Illinois. It stands to reason that Purdue won't score 61 on the Hawkeyes in a half twice this year but that's at least one team Iowa has already lost to this season. Iowa is the latest team that appears ripe to upset Penn State, but these two teams played such a long time ago it's impossible to gauge how much of that meeting can carry over. Iowa can make a run with this schedule, but it will probably need help that it won't get to catch the title.

Illinois: 2 games back

Is Ayo Dosunmu is done for the year, or any extended period of time Illinois' race might have ended on Tuesday night. Nevertheless the Illini are in the mix.

This is actually not a horrible schedule compared to others but again, Dosunmu's health will be a big factor here. Issue here is that being two games out of first requires a lot of help that the Illini probably won't get if you figure it has to win far more of these games than lose. Of course next Tuesday at Penn State would be a good start, but that's assuming Illinois gets through Rutgers first.

Rutgers: 2 games back

Rutgers shouldn't be taken lightly, but Scarlet Knights seem to have lost a bit of their punch that they had at the start of the year. It's not that Rutgers won't win some of these games, but like the others, two games back means you need help, and this schedule doesn't do that unless it beats Maryland and Penn State. That seems like a stretch.

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