It’s late February, and Penn State men’s basketball is relevant.
That doesn’t happen every season, so Penn State fans should be excited that it’s going on right now.
Although there’s excitement, there’s also anxiety.
Penn State is on the NCAA Tournament bubble and can’t afford many more setbacks.
The team has four games left, and here are my predictions for each one.
AT OHIO STATE
Wednesday, Feb. 23
Ohio State is the only Big Ten team that’s lost to Minnesota. That pretty much sums up how things are going in Columbus. Ohio State is 3-13 in the Big Ten, behind every team in the league expect the woeful Gophers. Coach Chris Holtmann might or might not be on the hot seat, but it’s indisputable that his team hasn’t been good. Penn State, for all its problems and inconsistencys, has been better than Ohio State this season.
With that said, this matchup feels like trouble for Penn State. Coach Micah Shrewsberry’s team is 2-6 on the road in Big Ten play, and although he’s unpopular right now, Holtmann is an established head coach. Additionally, Ohio State’s top three scorers, Bryce Sensabaugh (16.5 PPG), Justice Suieg (12) and Zed Key (10.8) are all at least 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds. Penn State’s had trouble inside all season, so this could be a problem.
Overall, Ohio State just has the feel of one of those games that Penn State should win, but won’t.
Sunday, Feb. 27
Penn State’s first game against Rutgers this season inspired Shrewsberry lighting into his team perhaps more than he ever has in a postgame press conference since he became Penn State’s coach. It will be hard to the second meeting to go any worse, but Rutgers is still a tough out. Rutgers is 17-10 overall, 9-7 in the Big Ten and a good bet to bet to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Last season, Penn State dominated Rutgers at home before losing a tight one in Piscataway. I think the opposite plays out this season.
Wednesday, March 1
This is the one game that I can’t see PSU winning. No Big Ten team is better than No. 21 Northwestern at the moment. Northwestern is on a five-game winning streak with the last three being against Purdue, Indiana and Iowa, all at home.
Chris Collins’s team is on fire, and since it’s only one game back of Purdue in the Big Ten standings, there’s a good chance its still fighting for a regular-season conference championship next week. The combination of Northwestern’s quality and Penn State’s road struggles doesn’t bode well for this game.
Sunday, March 4
Like the Rutgers game, this is a tossup. Maryland beat Penn State by six earlier this month, and this past weekend showcased the best and worst of Terps basketball. Maryland took care of Purdue this past Thursday and lost to Nebraska, the Big Ten’s 12th-place team, at home three days later.
Both Penn State and Maryland are inconsistent, so it’s hard to predict a Penn State-Maryland game. Right now, I’ll say PSU wins on Senior Day. But with this game being two weeks out, it’s quite hard to say what will happen.
So, I have Penn State going 2-2 the rest of the way.
If this happens, it will finish 18-13, and will need at least two Big Ten Tournament wins to have a chance to dance. Get ready to be nervous well into March, fans.