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Bracketology: Here’s what PSU must do to make tourney

Let’s get this important part out of the way first: Penn State has a home game left against No. 4 Ohio State and a road game at No. 15 Iowa. The Nittany Lions probably will lose both of those games, and they actually CAN afford to lose them.

It would mean, though, that PSU would have to win all of its four other games: Sunday at home against Nebraska, then the final three — at home against Purdue and Minnesota, plus at Maryland in the regular-season finale.

Those last three games all will be difficult. Penn State would need to go 3-0 against quality competition, when 0-3 is actually a possibility.

Sunday’s Nebraska contest is the biggest must-win game of the season. The Cornhuskers are winless in the Big Ten (0-9), and there’s just no way Penn State can afford to lose this game.

The Lions are 4-8 in the Big Ten (7-9 overall), and an 8-10 record should get them on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Once again, that would include winning at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament, guaranteeing at least a .500 overall record and no worse than a 9-11 record against Big Ten competition.

In this incredibly difficult league, and playing the toughest schedule that any team in the nation has played in 20 years, yes, that absolutely should be enough.

Can Penn State go 4-2 the rest of the way to get to 8-10? Yes, but it will be difficult.

If the Lions can pull off a stunning win over either Ohio State or at Iowa, then wow, the chances suddenly start to look good.

But we just can’t assume that will happen. Both the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes are better teams than PSU and bad matchups for the Lions.

If PSU does lose those two games, there will be zero margin for error left. The Lions simply cannot get into the NCAA Tournament with a 7-11 Big Ten record and 10-12 overall regular-season record, so they’d have to win the final three games in order to get to 8-10 in the league. (OK, maybe getting to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament could be the miracle the team would need, but I’m not getting into all that here.)

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Penn State as the No. 73 team in his daily bracketology update, so the Lions are the first team in the next four out category.

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There’s no getting around this: PSU’s 60-58 loss at Michigan State earlier this week was a really bad and painful loss.

The Spartans just simply are not any good this year. They were blown out at home Saturday by Iowa, 88-58, in the worst home loss of Tom Izzo’s illustrious career.

Penn State rallied in that game and led 58-54 with 3:16 to go, then blew it, failing to score again and losing. A win there would have made a world of difference with the league and overall records, making 8-10 easier to reach.

But, PSU lost that game. We’ll know in a couple of weeks just how devastating or not that loss will turn out to be.

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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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