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Smeltzer: PSU Men’s Basketball not Getting to NCAA Tournament With Jalen Pickett Would be Hard to Swallow

Penn State Athletics

PSU men’s basketball has 15 regular-season games left with Jalen Pickett in the fold.

The 6-foot-4, 209 pound guard is out of eligibility after this season.

Following the regular season, Penn State will play at least one more game in the Big Ten Tournament.

How far Penn State gets will be determined once the team gets to Indianapolis.

Whether or not Penn State plays after the Big Ten Tournament could be determined partially by what happens in Indianapolis but mainly will be decided during the rest of the regular season.

Now, this season shouldn’t be looked at as “March Madness or Bust” for second-year coach Micah Shrewsberry  and his program. Penn State hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 2011, and went 14-17 last year, so the team is still in the process of building. With that said, Penn State has enough talent and has shown enough promise to this point to where fans can realistically hope to see their team in the tourney. Sure, Penn State men’s basketball will have more chances to make it to the tournament after this season— especially if Shrewsberry stays awhile— but its best player, Pickett, won’t have any more chances.

That’s why Penn State not getting to March Madness with Pickett in the fold would be a shame.

Penn State doesn’t get players like Pickett often.

The former Siena Saint has become one of the best players in college basketball. The clear heartbeat of Shrewsberry’s squad. He leads Penn State in scoring (17.9 PPG), rebounding (7.6 RPG) and assists (7.3 APG). Pickett is a threat to post a triple-double every time he plays, and in fact, accomplished that feat in a November win against Butler. He’s one of two players in Penn State history to do that, the other being school great and current Denver Nuggets GM Calvin Booth.

This past Sunday against Purdue at Philadelphia’s Palestra. Pickett was on his game as usual. He scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out eight assists. He did his job. The problem was, Pickett didn’t have much help.

Backcourt mate Seth Lundy turned in respectable 14 points but the rest of the squad combined to score just 23 and the rest of Penn State’s starting five scored just 12.

Penn State lost to Purdue, 76-63, and got outscored 45-26 in the second half. The game became a cruel reminder that Penn State isn’t in the conversation for the Big Ten’s best, and it could be a precursor for the near future. Penn State’s next two games are against Indiana at the Bryce Jordan Center Wednesday and against at No. 18 Wisconsin next Tuesday. There are a few ways that stretch could go.

Penn State could win both games and themselves in a solid position to dance. It could go 1-1 and tread water. Or, it could lose both and fall to 2-5 in the Big Ten. Each scenario is realistic. Indiana was in the top 15 last week, but a bad loss to Northwestern knocked it out of the top 25.

Winning at Wisconsin is never easy, but neither was winning at Illinois, and Penn State accomplished that feat last month. So Penn State could be 4-3 in by late next Tuesday night and in good shape.

It could also be 2-5 and sinking. Yes, Indiana is unranked, and yes, Wednesday’s game is in Happy Valley. But Penn State lost to unranked Michigan State in the Bryce Jordan Center last month, and Indiana is certainly capable of beating Penn State on the road. Penn State will likely go into Wisconsin as the underdog, and hasn’t won at the Kohl Center since 1995, before Pickett was born.

There are a bunch of ways this next week could go for Penn State, but one thing that’s almost a lock is that Pickett will ball out. His efforts this season have been fantastic, and there’s still work to be done. Pickett deserves to play in the NCAA Tournament but he can’t get there alone. To be clear, Penn State has talented players in addition to Pickett. Andrew Funk and Myles Dread are veterans who can shoot, and Lundy is a solid two-way player. But they aren’t stars.

Pickett is. That’s why its important for Penn State to give him the support he needs to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State’s had star players before, and the school has had a hard time getting those stars to the Big Dance. Talor Battle ended his Penn State career with more than 1,500 points for the school.

It took him all four years to get to the tournament.

Lamar Stevens broke 2,000 at Penn State. He didn’t get a chance to dance because of COVID-19.

Pickett is 161 away from 2,000.

If PSU men’s basketball doesn’t make it to the tournament this year, it will have more chances but Pickett won’t. PSU men’s basketball not getting there while Pickett is balling out would be a missed opportunity, and what happens this week could go a long way in determining whether Penn State is in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT or sitting at home come mid March.

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