Despite earning a share of the Big Ten regular season crown, a shoddy conference tournament performance left a foul taste in the mouths of the Penn State men’s soccer team and, more importantly, the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Announced on Monday evening, the Nittany Lions (9-5-3, 3-1-2 Big Ten) were left out of the 48-team NCAA Tournament due in part to their 3-1 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney.
“The loss [to Michigan State] is probably going to keep us out the of NCAA tournament,” forward Julian Cardona said before the announcement. “We were a bubble team to begin with, but more on the inside of the bubble. Now we are on the outside looking in … I don’t think we’ll make it.”
After receiving the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Ten tournament and getting the only bye, the Lions were forced to wait more than 12 days to play a game because of the cancellation of the Oct. 31 against Penn, which proved to be a factor against a Spartans team on a roll.
With a decisive two-goal loss to the Spartans, the Lions’ Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) took a hit, but it wasn’t this game alone that put the team in a hole.
Expected wins on Sept. 25 against Lehigh, who was 0-7-0 at the time, and on Oct. 28 versus Ohio State, the Big Ten’s worst team, turned into a loss and tie, respectively.
Despite these undesirable results, the Lions’ RPI was still ranked No. 53 following the conference tournament. However, Michigan State’s win put them over the top in RPI, and the Big Ten already had teams better in the big picture with Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern.
“Our RPI was pretty good so that might give us a chance. But the fact that Michigan State won the tournament did not help because Indiana and Michigan will probably get in before us because their RPIs are higher,” Cardona said before the team was left out.
RPI also played a key role in the determination of many at-large bids, including teams who had less impressive overall records than the Lions. For example, teams like Boston College (8-5-5) and South Florida (8-5-4) rode RPIs of No. 38 and 26, respectively, to a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Big Ten, which had just two teams in the 2011 tournament, is well-represented this year with the Hoosiers, Wolverines, Spartans and Wildcats receiving a bid.
Despite not making the tournament, goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton felt before the selection show that the Lions were still among the Big Ten’s elite.
“I think we’re still the best team in the Big Ten,” Wolverton said. “… Even though we lost to Michigan State, we got hot at the right time.”