For the past few days my life has revolved around two things: school and basketball.
I don’t care to explain the amount of time I have spent watching analysts slowly poke around on the touchscreens they never use, filling out bracket after bracket, hacking through various numbers and figures about why this 11 seed is going to beat this 6 seed and about why this is the year a Cinderella could win it all.
And I normally wouldn’t go to such lengths to ensure that any one of my many brackets is filled out as flawlessly as they all are, but it just so happens that I went and got myself into a rather large pool of people doing the exact same thing. Thus, though I’m starting to realize that this — and not a secret congregation of my professors hell-bent on destroying my GPA — is the reason for my lack of time, I cannot seem to help myself.
Of course, this is perfectly fine, I think. As a starving college student, $150 seems like a pretty great prize for scribbling a couple names down on a piece of paper for five minutes, especially when I have every sports-talk radio, newspaper and even the president telling me exactly how to do so.
But as I take absurd liberties and pen Davidson into the Elite Eight, I cannot help but to lament for a moment. Why is Penn State so awful at basketball?
Having gone to the Michigan game earlier this year, on the recommendation of a bored roommate who offered the enticing, “well it is $1 hotdog night,” as a kind of half-hearted incentive for watching what we assumed would be a shellacking of epic proportions, I experienced firsthand how spectacularly awesome it would be to have a good basketball program.
Now I am no expert in college basketball — not by a long shot. I really can’t boast any insider knowledge on the subject, and I pretty much have a historical recollection of the annual March Madness tournament that dates back to somewhere around February of my freshman year. All of a sudden Talor Battle and company were playing half-decent, and I started to pay attention.
But it doesn’t make sense. Penn State is a huge school, with massive resources and a solid fan base. Why has Penn State been unable to develop a program that could at least consistently compete against nearly identical schools like Ohio State?
Most people will tell you it’s because of the program’s reputation, which the top recruits in the country see, laugh at and then automatically look elsewhere. And no doubt this is a large part of the reason we can’t seem to build anything much at all.
Yet, if one really starts to look at it, Penn State’s program isn’t really that bad. Perennially, the Nittany Lions receive one of the hardest schedules in all of the NCAA, according to the Ratings Percentage Index, which factors in things such as winning percentage, opponents winning percentage and opponents’ opponents winning percentage. This year, Penn State had the 30th hardest schedule in the country and the 3rd hardest in the Big Ten conference. Additionally, though the team went 2-17 in Big Ten play, many of these losses were only by single digits — signs that point to the fact that Penn State competed with, but ultimately fell to a better opponent with the top recruits that characterize, arguably, college basketball’s strongest division.
Outside of the Big Ten, Penn State had a winning record, 8-5, and though the teams they played were usually much worse, it still shows the inherent strength of a program that could shine if it wasn’t constantly standing toe to toe with relative superpowers like Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
So my conjecture is this — and please note it’s relatively worthless one because it will never happen — but here it goes anyway: If Penn State were to switch divisions, say to the Atlantic 10 or maybe even the Big 12, with the team they have now, the Nittany Lions could potentially garner a mid-range to top record, one that could, in time, perhaps buy them a semi-consistent berth in the March Madness Tournament.
It’s a bold statement, I know. But when I look at some of the teams in the tournament this year I can’t help but wonder what could have been.
And even if such a squad would only ever make it to the second or, in what would have to be a stunning upset, the third round, you can’t blame a guy for dreaming.
Anthony Bellafiore is a junior majoring in English and is The Daily Collegian’s Thursday columnist. Email him at email@example.com.