Penn State basketball fans haven’t seen their team play in the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
This season, the team has a chance to make it back.
Of course, there will be plenty of disappointment if coach Micah Shrewsberry’s squad doesn’t get there.
There’d be plenty of reasons for Penn State fans to be disappointed. Near the top of the list would be not having the pleasure of watching Jalen Pickett play in March Madness.
College basketball fans, in general, will miss out if Pickett doesn’t play in the Big Dance.
He’s that good.
Shrewsberry knew he was good before this season.
But the fifth-year senior has surprised even his coach.
“What he’s doing right now has been unbelievable,” Shrewsberry told reporters at Monday’s weekly media availability at the Bryce Jordan Center.
What is Pickett doing right now? He’s dominating. Last Tuesday against Illinois, he had one of the best statistical games in Penn State history; 41 points, eight assists and just two turnovers. It was the most points in Bryce Jordan Center history, the most points a Big Ten player has scored this season and the first time a Penn State player had dropped a “40 burger” since 1961 when John F. Kennedy was president.
It’s been even longer since Penn State’s had an All-American. Jesse Arnelle, who played in the 1950s and starred on Penn State’s only Final Four team in 1954, is the only player in school history to accomplish that feat. Pickett is well on his way to joining him.
Four nights after dominating Illinois, Pickett put on a show again. At Minnesota, Pickett dropped 32 points, matched his previous total with eight assists and added nine rebounds, flirting with what would have been his second triple-double of the season. For his efforts, Pickett deservedly received National Player of the Week honors.
Pickett has done it all for Penn State. He leads the team and is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (18.6 PPG), leads Penn State in rebounding (7.4 RPG) and leads the Big Ten in assists, ranking fourth nationally in assists per game at 7. He’s the only Big Ten player in the top ten in scoring, rebounding and assists average and the only player in the nation to average at least 18/7/7. Former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine did that in the 2015-16 season. Nobody else has done it in the past three decades.
A player like Pickett makes everybody around him better.
“When he’s in a groove like this,” Shrewsberry said, “other guys are gaining confidence because they’re playing right next to him.”
For Shrewsberry and every logical person who follows Penn State basketball, Pickett is the team’s “Batman.”
“I bet Robin feels good when Batman walks in, right?”
“Robin doesn’t have the car, the tools, the belt, the butler, none of that stuff. … But when Batman rolls in, Robin takes it to a different level,” Shrewsberry said.
Pickett is one of three basketball players in the past 25 years– at any level– to have 70+ points, 15+ assists, 10+ rebounds and shoot at least 65% from the field and 90% from the foul line over two games.
Who are the other two? Just guys named LeBron James and Steph Curry—no big deal.
Pickett has to work to be as good as he is, and his teammates notice that work.
Pickett is nine assists away from tying Tim Frazier’s single-season Penn State mark set in the 2011-12 season, and he credits his teammates for this achievement being possible.
“I’m just enjoying every game we play,” Pickett told reporters. “These guys make it really fun for me, and finally getting a couple wins in a row is definitely fun. As milestones come, they just kind of happen. It’s great to look back on it, but just credit to my teammates for this one. A lot of assists have been passed out because these guys work on their game all the time and just make a lot of shots.”
Penn State fans have been thinking about March Madness for a while, asking questions such as: will Penn State make it? What must it do to get in and how will it fare over its final four regular-season games plus the Big Ten Tournament?
Pickett says he isn’t worried about that. Instead, he’s focused on Penn State’s next game, which is Thursday at Ohio State.
“It’s not March yet,” Pickett said. “Selection Sunday has not come up yet, so just 1-0. Just trying to keep doing my best, keep getting wins, build the resume and, hopefully, we can get there.”