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NIT bracketology: Will Lions get into field?

Photo from Penn State Twitter: Seth Lundy

Raise your hand if you love bracketology. My hand is raised, without question. This stuff has always fascinated me as a huge college hoops fan, watching Champ Week and trying to determine what teams need to do to get into the NCAA Tournament field.

I respect the hell out of Joe Lunardi, who has turned himself into a college basketball icon by creating a science that appeals to hoops junkies like me. It’s amazing to me that there are still people out there who criticize Lunardi for his projections, like they have any idea what they’re talking about compared to THE preeminent authority.

Joe Lunardi invented bracketology, and the world is a better place for it.

OK, so what does any of this have to do with Penn State?

Well, nothing this year.

The Nittany Lions aren’t going to the NCAA Tournament. They were squarely on the bubble for a long time, but that ship sailed a couple of weeks ago.

There is, however, a bracketology for the NIT, and it looks very favorably upon the Nittany Lions.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t spell NIT with the Nittany Lions,” and it’s funny how much that has caught on over the years.

Selection Sunday is tomorrow, and the unveiling of the field of 68 is exhilarating to college hoops fans who can’t wait to see who their team will play.

But later Sunday, after the NCAA field is revealed, the NIT will announce its 16-team field for this year’s tournament, which will be played entirely in Texas.

Tonight at 8:30 on ESPNU, the NIT field will be announced.

And barring some unforeseen scenario, Penn State will be in it. Yes, even with an 11-14 overall record and 7-12 mark in the Big Ten, because there is no record requirement to make the field this year, and the Lions have a lot of good metrics helping their cause to make the tournament.

I asked interim coach Jim Ferry after the Lions’ Big Ten Tournament loss to Wisconsin if indeed PSU will play in the NIT if it has the chance. Here’s what he said:

“We will absolutely play in the NIT, and we are all on the same page — school, the players, we all want to keep this thing going. So, if we get invited, we’d be more than happy. We’d be excited to play in the NIT, absolutely.”

At The Barking Crow bracketology site for the NIT, Penn State is the No. 3 overall seed for the tournament, meaning the Lions not only are comfortably in the field, but also one of the favorites to win the tourney.

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PSU’s first-round matchup, according to this site, would be No. 14 seed Indiana. That would be a fun matchup between Big Ten teams.

At the DRatings bracketolgy site, Penn State is listed as a No. 3 seed — the last of the four No. 3 seeds, actually, and the No. 12 team in the field. So that site sees the Lions getting into the NIT comfortably, as well.

Things could change in these projections based on this weekend’s conference tournament action. Still, based on these two NIT bracketology sites, there is every reason to believe Penn State will be in the field.

The only reason to believe otherwise would be if somehow the administration decided to decline an NIT bid. It will cost money to send the team to Texas and have it stay there for the tournament, so if you look at all the financials, Penn State likely would suffer a loss if the Lions make it to the NIT and stay for a while.

Ferry made it seem like everyone is on the same page with regards to accepting an NIT bid. And hopefully that will indeed be the case.

These players deserve a chance to keep playing after battling all season. And it’s certainly possible that this PSU team — if it’s hitting shots, which is always the key — could make a deep run in the NIT and maybe even win it all. If that happened, it would be Penn State’s third NIT championship since 2009.

PSU is looking to hire a new head coach as soon as the season is over, so it’s possible the school administration might just say no to the NIT so that it can move on and hire a coach.

That would be a really rotten thing to do to the players and Ferry, if indeed they do want to keep playing and are looking to accept an NIT bid.

What can we expect? Look for Penn State to get an NIT bid tonight and for the school to accept it. But no matter what happens — even if the Lions were to win the tournament — I do not believe it will lead to Ferry getting the head coaching job.

At this point, if the school were going to hire Ferry permanently, it probably would have already done so.

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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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