With just four games left to play in the regular season for Penn State, tournament aspirations are coming down to the wire.
The Nittany Lions currently sit in sixth place in the conference with a record of 8-6.
The Big Ten is in the midst of what many experts describe as a down year, with most tournament prognosticators projecting only four teams—Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan—to make the dance.
Nebraska, which sits at fourth place in the Big Ten with a 10-4 conference record, and Penn State are a common feature as teams just on the outside looking in, with a slight edge being given to the Cornhuskers as the possible fifth representative to play in the tournament from Big Ten country.
In ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi’s most recent projected tournament field of 68 teams, Lunardi has Nebraska in the “First Four Out” category while failing to mention Penn State all together.
Tuesday night, however, Lunardi said on ESPN Radio that right now he sees the Nittany Lions as having a lot of work to do, but not to ignore them as a possible last second addition to the field.
Lunardi stated that while Nebraska has the current edge over Penn State, the Cornhuskers can ill-afford to drop any of their four remaining games, while Penn State could probably drop one of its final four and still find a way into the bracket.
Penn State and Nebraska meet in Lincoln for the season finale, but that is where all similarities stop between the two schedules.
The Cornhuskers, 54th in the RPI, have matchups with Maryland (60 RPI) and Indiana (108 RPI) at home and a contest at Illinois (185 RPI) remaining. None of the teams have a winning record in the conference.
Penn State, 86th in the RPI, hosts Ohio State (17 RPI) and Michigan (38 RPI), as well as a matchup with Purdue (11 RPI), a Joe Lunardi 1-seed, on the road.
While the Nittany Lions pale in comparison to Nebraska when it comes to RPI, it only serves to edge closer with Penn State’s far more difficult schedule.
Penn State fares far better in the KenPom rankings where the Nittany Lions are 40th, and Nebraska is 52nd, but the Cornhuskers did just receive the ninth-most votes of teams outside Monday’s Associated Press Top 25.
The Nittany Lions own an overtime victory over Nebraska in January, which came without star defender Josh Reaves, and have the best win among the two teams — a win at Ohio State — but with such a drastic difference in the measurements of the rankings, it ultimately will come down to what the committee arbitrarily favors most.
If Penn State can just not disappoint in the final push towards March and combine it with a solid outing in the Big Ten Tournament, there’s no reason these Nittany Lions shouldn’t be dancing come Selection Sunday.