NEW YORK — Following No. 7 seed Penn State’s 69-68 win over No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament here Friday night, Nittany Lion coach Pat Chambers said he felt his team had done enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

And anybody who had just dropped in from another planet — or wandered in from the windy streets around Madison Square Garden — and saw the way the Nittany Lions used their superior athletic ability and strength to dispatch a projected NCAA No. 5 seed would have believed him. Meanwhile, nobody who has followed the team all year blamed him for pounding the table for his troops.

But the simple fact of the matter was that very smart people who follow the patterns of the NCAA Selection Committee very closely — and who have no rooting interest for or against Penn State when it comes to postseason play — said the Lions had to win at least one more game to even be in the discussion for an NCAA bid.

Of course, they could not do that. Their impressive run at Big Tens ended with a 78-70 loss to Purdue in Saturday’s semifinals. And, since the tournament was played early this year to accommodate the move to MSG, Chambers and company must now wait until NEXT Sunday to discover their NCAA fate.

By way of a spoiler alert, stop reading now if you don’t want to know how this is going to play out.




Penn State — even though it had a respectable No. 30 ranking in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings prior to Saturday’s action — is not getting in. This is not going to come as news to people who follow college hoops closely. But at this time of year, a lot of PSU football fans turn their attention to basketball for a few weeks. So I'm trying to let them down gently.

Just to be clear, I believe that if this team does somehow find its way into the tournament, it will prove it belongs — even without injured forward Mike Watkins. It has star players — and one of the nation's best guards in Tony Carr. It can compete with — and has a chance to beat — anyone on a given night. It offers an exciting style of ball and clearly is not afraid of the big stage. It has been in every game it has played.

The Nittany Lions themselves were making these arguments in the locker room after the game Saturday. And I respect them for that. I also respect the hell out of them for never giving up this season. Not when they were 3-5 in the Big Ten and everyone (including me) thought the season was lost. Not when they were clearly gassed in the second half vs. Purdue — their third game in as many days — and fell behind by 18 with 3:43 remaining. Yet with no realistic chance of winning, they kept fighting and slashed the final margin to eight.

But nobody on the Selection Committee cares about what I think.

What they will care about:

• PSU had home losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota, two Big Ten programs that struggled for most of the season. From an RPI perspective, those losses both turned out to be worse (believe it or not) than a home defeat to Rider.

• The Lions had a respectable three “quadrant one” wins. But they were all against the same team — Ohio State.

• Penn State played a poor non-conference schedule. And its best non-conference win was against? Would you believe Montana (No. 92 RPI)?

• The Big Ten is having an historically off year. It appears the conference is only going to get four teams into NCAAs — Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State. If that turns out to be the case, it will mark the fewest Big Ten squads to make the tournament since only three did in 2004 (Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin). It is so bad that Nebraska went 13-5 in the league — albeit it against an extremely favorable draw — and seems to be out.

Of course, there is a temptation here to say the Lions have only themselves to blame for blowing an opportunity to actually compete for a Big Ten regular-season title in a year where they had the talent to do so. That had they finished in the top four instead of No. 7, they would have received a double bye — as Purdue did — and not been gassed in the semis. That had defensive ace and glue guy Josh Reaves not missed four league games due to an academic suspension, things might have been different. That Chambers needed to set up a better non-con schedule or at least beaten two of the three RPI top 66 teams on it schedule. PSU lost to all three — Rider (66 - home), N.C. State (55 - road) and Texas A&M (23 - neutral).

But it can just as easily be argued that learning from all of those missteps allowed Penn State to become the team that it now is. Namely, a tough, athletic, talented group nobody wants to see pop up as their opponent come Selection Sunday.

The sad part for not only Nittany Lions fans, but also college basketball junkies in general, is that nobody is going to.