Penn State Has Yet To Notch a Conference Win, What’s Next?
And Penn State’s First Victim Is...?
Sitting at 7-11 overall and 0-7 in conference, the Penn State men’s basketball team has fallen short of countless expectations. A team expected to vie for an NCAA tournament bid has instead found itself desperate for its first conference win.
All seven Big Ten opponents that defeated the Nittany Lions have been ranked in the top 25 at some point this season, with five currently in these rankings. The 23rd-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes barely escaped the Bryce Jordan Center Wednesday night, 89-82, when Penn State had arguably its greatest offensive performance of the season.
Even so, a sparse crowd to be of little resistance to the Hawkeyes. In past seasons, the Bryce Jordan Center has served as a house of horrors for visitors, especially so for mid-week games. Yet, with Penn State eclipsing 60 points only twice in the last five games, one must question what offensive threat, if any, is to be feared by a team venturing to Happy Valley.
With a Saturday night showdown at Minnesota with the Golden Gophers looking daunting, the logical answer for the first conference win should be against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Yet, even this doesn’t seem to be a sure win in the stacked Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights are just a game removed from an upset, home victory against 16th-ranked Ohio State. Head coach Steve Pikiell has his team above .500, and primed to finish with a winning record for the first time in his tenure.
So, the question looms once more: who will Penn State’s first conference win be?
A home game against the Carson Edwards-led Purdue Boilermakers comes next, with road contests against Northwestern and Ohio State shortly following. According to both Las Vegas and ESPN’s matchup predictor, Penn State is not expected to win any of these games, which would theoretically drop their conference record to 0-12.
The second-ranked Michigan Wolverines come to town next, followed by a trip to West Lafayette, Indiana. Both games will be rematches, yet to expect victory in either matchup would be simply foolish.
Quite frankly, the game most Penn State fans should have their eyes on is a road matchup with Illinois, an equally atrocious, if not worse team thus far in the season. The Fighting Illini currently sit at 5-12, with only one conference win on their resume. It is entirely feasible that entering this contest, both teams will be duking it out for sole ownership of the title for “Worst Team in the Big Ten."
If the Nittany Lions are going to miraculously turn around what seems to be a lost season, an immediate overhaul in playing style is necessary. Averaging just under 68 points per game simply won’t cut it in a conference that dictates itself on physical play and taking care of the basketball.
Speaking of controlling possession, the Nittany Lions have coughed up the ball a whopping 13 times per game, an astronomical yet easily explainable rate: the freshmen have been freshmen.
Without a true point guard to lead the charge, players such as Rasir Bolton have been thrust into leadership roles that they are not accustomed to, and the results have been devastating.
Until Penn State can do a better job in all facets on the offensive end, it appears to be a long way to go for the first conference victory, possibly until after Groundhog Day. Regardless of if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, this team won’t have six more weeks of basketball, barring a complete 180° by the team, a season culminating with a home game against Illinois is more than likely, and who’s to say this game is a guaranteed win.
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.