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Bracketology: Could Big Ten get 11 teams in tourney?

Photo from Penn State Twitter: Seth Lundy

The record for most NCAA Tournament teams from one conference is 11, set by the old Big East (when it had Syracuse and Pitt) in 2011.

The Big Ten could be in position to tie that mark this year, and it very well could come down to Penn State.

As of this morning, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has 10 teams from the Big Ten in his field of 68. These are the 10 in as of now: Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State and Rutgers.

Maryland is the only one of those teams squarely on the bubble, as the Terps are in the last four in group and No. 12 seed destined for a First Four game.

Penn State is listed as the final team in the next four out category, meaning the Nittany Lions are in the No. 76 spot right now. Pitt, by the way, is one spot ahead of PSU, in the No. 75 spot.

I’ve already laid out a reasonable path for PSU to get to the tournament here. Even though the Lions are only 3-7 in the Big Ten heading into tonight’s home game against Maryland, they have winnable games coming up and still can work their way into the field.

“In the Big Ten, we’re gonna get 10 teams, we deserve 10 if not 11 teams in in the tournament this year,” Penn State interim coach Jim Ferry said Thursday.

Getting 10 teams in should be the case, but 11 will be tough for this reason: Penn State and Maryland both could be in line for that potential spot, and the two teams play each other twice down the stretch.

If the Lions (6-8, 3-7) beat the Terps (10-8, 4-7) tonight, for instance, it would help PSU’s cause but probably would knock Maryland out of the field. The teams play again in the regular-season finale at Maryland on March 7, and both teams could be in a position at that point where they badly need that game to get into the field.

Then again, in the bubble story I referenced above, I actually picked Penn State to have eight Big Ten wins already going into the Maryland game and then losing that contest to finish 8-10. So, it’s possible an 8-10 PSU team and also a Terps team that wins that game both could get in.

Lastly on the PSU-Maryland topic: If one team wins both of the upcoming matchups, it’s gonna be really tough for the losing team to also go dancing.

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As a college hoops fanatic, I love bracketology and all of this discussion. Bubble talk and last four in, first four out are all some of my favorite things in all of sports.

Do coaches pay any attention to all of this stuff? I asked that of Ferry during his press conference Thursday. He’s been a head coach at the low-major (Long Island), mid-major (Duquesne) and high-major (PSU) levels, so he can relate to what bracketology means at all levels of college basketball.

“Right now, I think it’s actually too far away,” Ferry said of the bracketology and bubble talk. “Everybody feels like it’s close, but it’s too far away. So much stuff can happen within 10 games, especially this year with COVID and programs getting shut down.

“Never really paid much attention to it in my career. When I was at LIU, you had to win the last game. I was always focused on, at that level, trying to be the top three seeds in your tournament so you could match up and get good matchups to win. At Duquesne, it was about having a great non-league schedule and winning some big non-league games to help us get multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament.”

Ferry concluded by saying, “We’re not paying attention to it. I never look at it, to be honest. I don’t pay one iota. It’s about us getting better. And like I’ve always said, at the end of the year, you’re gonna look at your resume and you’re gonna see who’s got wins, who’s got good wins and who you’re playing in the Big Ten Tournament.”

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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