The last time I wrote in this here blog, the Nittany Lions were making moves. In what appeared to be a killer stretch in the conference schedule, the Lions were fighting admirably. They beat MSU and Illinois at home, while damn near beating the league’s elite on the road against OSU and Purdue. MSU and Illinois were good wins at the time, but they’ve lost their sparkle with those teams’ struggles. And close losses don’t count in this sport.
But what really got me into this team was that Wisconsin game. That was a very important game at the time with the Lions sitting 4-4 in the league. PSU overcame an early 13 point deficit and reversed what appeared to be the same old script against the Badgers.
However, the excitement of that monumental victory wore off (hey, when you beat a team for the first time in 8 years, it’s monumental). The Lions were dealt with the roadtrip from hell trying to get to Champaigne for their Illinois game a few days later. They looked predictably jet-lagged and were never able to muster the energy to compete. I’m never one to make excuses, but I’m sorry. After playing that bruiser on Sunday then traveling for 18 hours or whatever absurd time it took to get there (after the detour in Evansville, IN), there’s no way you have the energy to play another 40 minutes of Big Ten basketball. The ugly loss wasn’t a big deal at the time, but Jeff Brooks’ gross injury certainly was. It looked like a dislocated shoulder, which would be 4-6 weeks on the shelf. Season over.
But in the following days before the UM game, the news out of PSU was Jeff Brooks was a freak. There was even talk that he would be available just 5 days after the injury. I didn’t believe it until I went to the game early and was greeted by Mr. Brooks dunking with no limitation. Maybe the season wasn’t over. But Brooks sat out the game, which should’ve been expected. So PSU decided they were going to piss away the game to Michigan for the 2nd straight year at home. The Lions blew 2 separate double digit leads to get swept by the Wolverines. I’ll never know how that happened but that put DeChellis’ team in what appeared to be an insurmountable hole (that remains to be seen).
They got another opportunity a few days later, as you always do in the Big Ten, to get a good road win against a reeling MSU squad. At the time, MSU had won just 1 of their last 6 games. That one win was an OT squeaker at home against Indiana. In probably the most disappointing performance of the year, the Lions got run out of the building. It was an inexcusable, pathetic effort from this senior-laden team that hinted to us fans that these guys were giving up on the season. No other way to explain that egg.
Thank God the schedule gave us our healthy dose of Northwestern Wildcats in the next game. It was the only medication to end the 3 game slump. The Lions rolled 65-41 as Talor reached 2,000 career points.
DeChellis says he has his team thinking every remaining game is an NCAA game, which I applaud him for. Because in reality, it is. I still think the ultimate goal to put PSU in the picture is 10-8 in conference. At 6-7, Penn State would need to go 4-1 in their last 5 games to reach that mark. The first game in this remaining stretch was the first matchup of the season with Minnesota, at home on ESPN. In one of the more interesting ‘tall vs. small’ matchups, Penn State shot 31 threes on their way to a 66-63 squeaker. Talor performed like a desperate senior, hitting 7 treys and 28 points. However, there is no way PSU is hitting 12 treys in their return trip to the Barn in 2 weeks.
So PSU needs 3 of their last 4 games. The schedule is @Wisconsin, @Northwestern, Ohio State, @Minnesota. I can only see Northwestern as a W. Does this Penn State squad seem like they can be one of the few elite teams that can go into the Kohl Center and win today? I mean, Bo’s only lost 6 conference games at home in 10 seasons (out of 82!). KenPom gives PSU a 9% chance. I say that’s very generous. The line is set at 12.
There is no more room for mulligans for this team. They have a great opportunity today to make a bubble statement similar to Nebraska’s yesterday. A sweep against Wisconsin I think will more than make up for the UM sweep and Maine loss. But that’s going to require a perfect game from the Nittany Lions, and probably some cold shooting from the Badgers. Tip’s at 6 EST. Hopefully we see a better game than the last 2 road trips.