Penn State Basketball: Are Nittany Lions a legitimate NCAA contender?

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INDIANAPOLIS – MARCH 12: Cheerleaders for the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Penn State Basketball is on-pace to produce the best season under head coach Patrick Chambers, but the question remains, are they legitimate NCAA title contenders?

No. 20 Penn State Basketball (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) is off to its best start under head coach Patrick Chambers in terms of both conference and nonconference play. It is the second time that the Nittany Lions have accumulated 10 nonconference victories in Chambers’ nine-year tenure. However, the 2017-18 team needed 17 contests to reach a dozen, and they began conference play 1-2. PSU earned its first rankings in the AP poll for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign in Week 7.

Penn State picked up its season-best fifth straight win with an exciting 89-86 victory over then-23rd-ranked Iowa on Saturday at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Trailing 76-72 with under five minutes left to play, the Nittany Lions knocked down five straight shots, with four coming in the paint, to re-take the lead 83-79 with 41 seconds remaining. Myles Dread, who tallied 14 points, then knocked down six straight free throws to seal the victory. Overall, there were 30 lead changes and 10 ties in the game.

Penn State received 46 points from its bench, which was especially good news as Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens were limited as a result of foul trouble. Izaiah Brockington led the way for PSU with a career-high 23 points with 15 coming in the second-half while Lamar Stevens and Curtis Jones added 16 points apiece. The Nittany Lions were outshot overall and from the three-point line as well as outrebounded by the Hawkeyes, but they made two more free throws and won the turnover battle (15-to-8).

PSU Rankings/Schedule

Penn State is currently 18th in the NCAA net rankings, which is one spot lower than the last edition of the rankings. PSU is also 23rd in KenPom’s rankings and 18th in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings. The Nittany Lions is a perfect 9-0 at home, 2-1 at neutral venues, and 1-1 in true road contests. The Lions are 28th in RPI as they are 3-1 in Quadrant I games as well as 3-1 in Quadrant 2 contests. Their biggest wins are over Maryland, Iowa, and at Georgetown. Penn St. has played one of the worst nonconference schedules in the nation.

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