By Teddy Gutkin
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS:
Record: 18-11 (9-8 in Big Ten)
Tournament Seed: 6
First Round Opponent: Winner of #14 Illinois vs. #11 Minnesota
Season Summary: For the first time since 2011, the Nittany Lions have a team that actually resembles a Division I program. Led by superstar sophomore Tony Carr, Pat Chambers’ squad has put together a resume that includes an 18-11 record (9-8 B1G) and two victories over the 2-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. Written off by just about everybody heading into the season, Penn State has a legitimate shot at making their first NCAA tournament in 7 seasons (they’re currently listed in Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four Out,” which means if the season ended today they would barely miss the tournament), and if they can secure a road win against Nebraska and make a deep run in the Big Ten tournament, we could see Penn State participating in the Big Dance.
Players to Watch: Tony Carr has been the best player all year long for the Nittany Lions, and you could easily make an argument that he’s one of the best players in the entire conference. Carr leads the Big Ten with a 19 PPG scoring average to go along with his 5 RPG and 5 APG. He’s also an efficient three-point shooter, knocking down 47% of his attempts from deep. Yet, Carr isn’t the only playmaker on the Nittany Lions. Fellow sophomore forward Lamar Stevens averages 15 PPG, and knocks down 47% of his shots. Stevens is also a solid defender, and averages just over 1 block per game.
X-Factor: Mike Watkins is one of the Big Ten’s most underrated players, despite leading the league in both field goal percentage (68.5%) and blocks per game (2.3). Watkins, who averages 12.1 PPG, is an efficient scorer inside, though he has struggled to finish lately, failing to make 50% or more of his shots in his past three games. If the Nittany Lions want to make a run in New York City, Watkins will need to step up, especially on the defensive side against a league filled to the brim with talented offensive big men.
Verdict: The Big Ten is as wide open as it’s been in years, and the Nittany Lions are certainly contenders to make a run at their first-ever conference championship. Unfortunately, their offense outside of Tony Carr has been a bit too inconsistent this season, and the Nittany Lions’ lack of depth off the bench is cause for concern. They could easily surprise some folks and win a game or two, but that’s about as far as Penn State will go.
Thanks for reading our first preview for the Big Ten Tournament. Check back Friday for our Michigan preview, and be sure to check the website all week long to get your fix on all things Big Ten!