Penn State basketball likely punched its NCAA Tournament ticket Thursday night with a 79-76 win over Illinois.
Now, the focus is solely on winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Here are five things to know before 10th-seeded Penn State’s (20-12) matchup with second-seeded Northwestern (21-10) in the quarterfinals.
PENN STATE IS IN… PROBABLY
Crazier things have happened, and team’s have been snubbed from the NCAA Tournament before.
But odds are that Thursday’s win over Illinois punched Penn State’s first NCAA Tournament ticket in a dozen years. After what felt like forever on the bubble, it feels like the team is playing with house money for the rest of its Big Ten Tournament, however long that may be.
IN IT TO WIN IT
Just because Penn State basketball has likely played itself into the NCAA Tournament doesn’t mean it has nothing left to play for.
Coach Micah Shrewsberry made that clear after the game.
“I love this group, and we want to keep playing here,” Shrewsberry said. “I’m not going to put anything in front of (Friday’s) game. We’re going to play as long as possible.”
Penn State’s last meeting with Northwestern was one to remember. One, because it was one of the most exciting Penn State games in recent memory.
Two, because, well, it happened eight days ago. In case anybody needs a refresher, Penn State beat Northwestern 68-65, in overtime, on a 3-point shot by Cam Wynter with less than a second left.
Beating Northwestern in its house wasn’t easy, and doing the same in Chicago in front of what figures for be a partisan Northwestern crowd probably won’t be, either. Second-seeded Northwestern is going to the NCAA Tournament, and only Purdue, ranked No. 5 in the nation, finished with a better regular-season conference record. Going deeper into the numbers, Northwestern is 12th in the Big Ten in scoring average, but makes up for it with defense. Only Rutgers allows fewer points per game in the Big Ten than Northwestern. Where Northwestern struggles defensively is stopping the 3-ball. The team is 10th in the conference in opposing 3-point percentage, and Penn State is first in 3-pointers made and behind only Michigan State in 3-point percentage offensively. Penn State went 13-29 from behind the arc (44.8% in the first meeting, and a similar night could mean trouble for Northwestern.
PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC
Perhaps no Penn State player has been less consistent than Andrew Funk. The fifth-year senior who transferred from Bucknell before the season has been awesome at times (two 20-point performances against Illinois) and practically invisible at others (three points combined against Ohio State and Rutgers. Nobody in the Big Ten has made more 3s than Funk, so Penn State is a much better team when he’s hot.
HOW TO WATCH
Penn State is a 1.5-point underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 6:30 ET at Chicago’s United Center on the Big Ten Network. Here’s more information on how to watch and listen to the game.
TV Announcers: Brandon Gaudin (PXP), Robbie Hummel (color), Andy Katz (sideline)
Radio: Penn State Sports Network
Radio Announcers: Steve Jones (PXP), Dick Jerardi
SiriusXM: Channel 84 (regular and app)