Penn State was getting pounded, by a bad Nebraska team that was playing its best basketball of the season.
Halftime: Huskers 37, Nittany Lions 23.
But it was just three days earlier, on the road against a good Maryland team, that Penn State was in a similar situation. It trailed by 16 in that one, yet stormed all the way back and stunned the Terps, 66-61.
Having just rallied for that victory, the Penn State players no doubt felt they could come back to win this one. Nebraska isn’t anywhere near as good as Maryland, which helps, and so what we saw in the second half Wednesday night could have been very much expected.
Penn State played a tremendous 20 minutes on both ends and beat Nebraska, 72-66, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of conference tournament games in my life. You know what you’ll often see? When a team picks up a terrific victory in the first round — no matter how good or bad the opponent is — it serves as a massive confidence and momentum boost for that club.
This is what suddenly makes Penn State potentially a very dangerous team in this tournament.
Now, the Lions were already gonna be dangerous. They compete well against everybody, and are capable of beating just about any team in this loaded conference.
But with this storm-from-behind victory, and the advantage of playing on the first day, things could get very, very interesting.
Yes, I said ADVANTAGE of playing on the first day. So many teams in so many conferences love getting a bye, or even a double bye, thinking it will serve them well.
Wisconsin will be thinking that today when it plays Penn State. The Badgers have lost five of their last six down the stretch and probably figure the extra day off will help them.
Penn State absolutely stands to gain a whole lot more from this kind of win over Nebraska than Wisconsin is gaining by sitting around doing nothing.
So when the Lions and Badgers meet today, do not be at all surprised if Penn State comes out, plays very well and gets a win.
What. A. COMEBACK!
Check out all the highlights from Penn State's thrilling Big Ten Tournament opening round win 🆚 Nebraska sparked by a furious second half surge! pic.twitter.com/NULf0DokQm
— Penn State Men’s Basketball (@PennStateMBB) March 11, 2021
This sort of thing is exactly what Talor Battle and the Lions did in 2011 in the Big Ten Tournament. They won their regular-season finale over Minnesota, then came into the Big Ten tourney and knocked off Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State to get to the title game, only to lose to Ohio State. Those three wins got PSU into the NCAA Tournament.
Can this Penn State team do what that 2011 team did? It remains to be seen.
But given how things played out in the win over Nebraska, it puts the Lions in position to feel great about themselves tonight and to come out Thursday with a ton of momentum.
BUBBLE TALK: Look, I know there are a growing number of people who think PSU can still get into the NCAA Tournament by winning three games in this Big Ten tourney.
I don’t believe the Lions can get in by winning three games.
Maybe I’ll be wrong. But I’ve studied bracketology for my entire adult life, and I just cannot believe that a team that finished 7-12 in its conference during the regular season can get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
It’s never happened before. Yes, this is a ridiculously crazy year, and there are a lot of metrics that say Penn State could be deserving of a bid if it wins three games in Indy. If PSU goes 3-1 in the tourney, it would be 13-14 overall and 10-13 against Big Ten competition — regular season and tourney included.
Some people will say all these games against a team from your conference count the same, so 10-13 in the league certainly looks a hell of a lot better than that 7-12 record in the regular season.
But 7-12 does matter. It has to. I don’t want to see a tournament selection committee tell me that a conference regular season doesn’t matter, which is what would happen if PSU were to get in.
No, I still don’t think Penn State gets into the NCAA Tournament with three wins in this tourney. But at this point, who knows?
If the Lions win two more games, at the very least they’ll make all of this very interesting and put themselves in the discussion.
COACHING SEARCH: If by some chance two more wins were to get Penn State into the NCAA Tournament, what would that do to the coaching search and Jim Ferry’s chances of getting the job on a full-time basis?
As you can see, there is a TON riding on what potentially could happen in the next couple of days.
TONIGHT: Penn State vs. Wisconsin, tipoff around 9 p.m. on BTN
AFTER THAT: If PSU beats the Badgers, it would get Iowa in the third round Friday. Iowa is terrific, led by likely national player of the year Luka Garza. But … the Hawkeyes’ Joe Wieskamp is questionable for this tournament with an ankle injury. He averages 15 points per game. So, if the Lions can somehow get by Wisconsin and catch Iowa short-handed, that could be a legitimate chance for a third win in this tournament.