Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions battling for a First Round bye

Penn State, Illinois and Rutgers are locked in a battle, for a first round Big Ten Tournament bye. How can Penn State Basketball vault two places to finish 10th, in the regular season?

While Big Ten Conference basketball fans are fixated on the heavy-weight match-up taking place in East Lansing, Saturday at high noon, Penn State Basketball, Illinois, and Rutgers are slugging it out for the right to play their first conference tourney game, on Thursday. The coveted extra day of rest and preparation can make a huge difference for a team and possibly lead to a deep tournament run.

Penn State’s nail-biting win over Rutgers at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Wednesday inched the Nittany Lions ever closer, to snatching the first round bye. Senior defensive standout Josh Reaves wreaked havoc in both the front and back court, with three defensive rebounds, three blocks and two steals, in that game. A check of the box score shows that the Nittany Lions scored 15 fast break points and scored 17 points off of turnovers, against Rutgers. Penn State has won six out of their last nine contests.

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Penn State needs to beat Illinois at the Bryce-Jordan Center, on Sunday, to accomplish their part, and get the bye. Should they win, their  7-13 conference record would move them into 11th place, by virtue of Penn State’s tie-breaking win, over Michigan. The Lions would need an assist, to move into the tenth position.

Enter the Hoosiers

Indiana has already assisted Penn State with a win over the Illini, on March 7th. They meet Rutgers, in a high-noon shoot-out, on Sunday. The Hoosiers need to take care of business at home and propel themselves to an 8-13 conference record. A win will firmly cement their place into the Thursday bracket, at the United Center, next week.

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A Hoosier win would also send Rutgers slipping to 12th place, due to the Illini winning against them 99-94, on February 9th.

Ultimately, Penn State can only work to control the outcome of its own contest. It needs help from the Crimson and Cream, for the bye.