By Andre Monroe
CHICAGO – The 22-23 season for Penn State has been nothing short of emotional. The Nittany Lions broke a school record, 18 3 PM, in just the first game against Winthrop. The Nittany Lions began the season 6-1 but now sit at 19-12 after going 10-10 in conference play.
With a chance to solidify its spot in the NCAA tournament, #10 seed Penn State surrendered a 19-point lead to Rutgers. However, the Nittany Lions then won out, defeating both #2 seed Northwestern and #6 seed Maryland.
ESPN is projecting Penn State as the last four in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments. The Nittany Lions now travel to Chicago to compete in the Big Ten Tournament, but can they win the entire thing to receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament?
The Nittany Lions are led by Jalen Pickett, the only player in the country averaging 18/7/7. Pickett, transfer from Siena, has already made a case for one of the best players in Penn State’s program history. Among his many other awards, Jalen Pickett has just been named to the Big Ten first-team all-conference.
Penn State’s ability to catch fire from the perimeter has contributed significantly to its success this season. Penn State leads the Big Ten in three-point field goals made and is second in three-point percentage. That’s thanks to guys like Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk, who sit atop the Big Ten rankings for three-point percentage.
To advance far in the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State must continue its success from beyond the arc.
Earlier in the season, Penn State Head Coach Micah Shrewsberry said he isn’t worried about the volume of three-point shots his team takes because “three is more than two.”
In theory, Shrewsberry is right. However, when perimeter shots aren’t falling, Penn State is in trouble. Granted, we’ve only seen this in a few games this season (Clemson, Michigan State), but Penn State will have to avoid a one-dimensional offense if they want to advance far in the tournament.
In its way is the No. 7 seed Illinois, whom the Nittany Lions will match up against Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. Penn State defeated Illinois in both matchups earlier in the season, earning a convincing 74-59 win on Dec. 10 and a 93-81 win on Feb. 14.
Penn State G Jalen Pickett scored 20 and 41, respectively, in both wins, and the team shot 46% from three-point land compared to Illinois’ 28%.
Penn State has proven its superiority over Illinois, and I believe the Nittany Lions will earn its third win over the Fighting Illini. If this happens, Penn State doesn’t have a challenging road ahead.
The Nittany Lions would match up against the No. 2 seed Northwestern, who they just defeated last week in an emotional overtime win. A game in which Jalen Pickett only scored seven points, and G Camren Wynter hit a three-point game-winner.
However, Northwestern sits at the #2 seed for a reason. Northwestern has been better in conference play with a far better resume. They have Chase Audige, who won Big Ten postseason honors for co-defensive player of the year and second all-conference team. Northwestern G Boo Buie also made the second all-conference team.
Northwestern is a tough draw for Penn State, but they are beatable. If Penn State continues its hot shooting streak, they’ll be in the game. The question is, will they be able close?
I don’t believe they will. Beating Northwestern twice will be a tough challenge, and Northwestern has proven they have the personnel to limit Jalen Pickett and Penn State’s fiery perimeter shooting.
However, if they defeat Illinois, that should be enough for a bid into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Andre Monroe covers Penn State Basketball for Insider Institute. Follow him on Twitter @amonroe_ and Contact him at email@example.com.