With the Big Ten Tournament now officially in the rearview and Penn State’s postseason future up in the air, let’s take a look at what we took away from the competition that went down over the weekend in Madison Square Garden.
First things first, the verdict is out. Coach John Beilein and his Michigan Wolverines show up big time in postseason action. After winning the Big Ten Tournament for a second consecutive year the Wolverines look primed to make, at least, another sweet sixteen run. Moritz Wagner is the real deal and a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere on the court. Kudos to you Michigan for taking care of business.
Now let’s talk about Penn State and their tournament run. The Nittany Lions made it to the conference semi-final before Purdue outlasted Penn State to earn a date with Michigan in the championship game.
Penn State started things out with a so-so game vs Northwestern. A tournament team a year ago, Northwestern was looking to rebound from a poor regular season performance with a conference tournament run. The Nittany Lions were successful in dashing these hopes early in the Big Ten bracket. They pulled away late in the game to seal the deal on a 65-57 victory.
Next for Penn State was another showdown with the Ohio State Buckeyes. PSU had beaten the 13th ranked Buckeyes twice in the regular season, but a third victory seemed like a long shot. Add the fact that top rebounder and post protector Mike Watkins was sidelined with an injury and a victory seemed highly unlikely. In their typical fashion the Nittany Lions kept the game close through the first half as neither team pulled away by much more than 6 points. With less than a minute remaining Penn State found themselves within one point of the Buckeyes and well… I’ll let the video do the talking CLICK HERE . And so it was, Penn State completed the three game sweep against Ohio State winning 69-68 and advancing to the Big Ten semi-final where they would face Purdue.
Against the Boilermakers, Penn State was competitive and did what they had to to keep the game within reach. The contest was tied at the half and until the Nittany Lions finally folded with about ten minutes remaining things stayed close. In one of his final games as a Penn Stater senior guard Shep Garner was fantastic, passionate and electric. He finished with a career high 33 points as the lions lost by 8. The positive take away from this one is that Penn State didn’t beat themselves, they were just outplayed. Purdue shot lights out late in the game and Penn State’s worn down starting five was too fatigued to consistently hit their attempts. We knew Penn State’s depth was an issue and it was this factor that decided the outcome of this one. Purdue went on to lose to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament final.
Penn State’s Tony Carr was the team MVP for the tournament and was rewarded with an all-tournament team selection. The sophomore scored 25 vs both Northwestern and Ohio State before suffering through a 4-18 night against Purdue. He rebounded and passed extremely well and his decision making was notably better than earlier in the season. A sure sign of his improving maturity and decision making skills as a player.
Lamar Stevens provided steady production for the Nittany Lions averaging just over 12 points a game in Big Ten Tournament play but he did it on 10-38 shooting from the field. If Lamar is to become the deadly no. 2 option for Penn State that he is capable of being, he will have to become more efficient offensively, particularly in the mid-range game.
The same holds true for junior guard Josh Reaves who made 8 of 35 shots in tournament action, including a cold 0-9 vs Purdue. Reaves was excellent on the defensive end but the energy he exerts on that side of the floor hurts his offensive production. I’m not by any means saying Josh should stop playing great defense, but he should learn to pick his spots on the offensive end in a more effective manner.
And finally we have Shep Garner to talk about. Shep may arguably have been the Nittany Lions best player throughout the tournament. He made thirteen 3’s over 3 games and was hot from deep against Purdue going 6-8 from behind the arc in a game where he scored 33. He also provided quality minutes on the defensive end, playing with an intensity that resulted in the steal which afforded Penn State the chance to win the game against Ohio State. In a season where he may have seemed overshadowed at times Shep Garner’s play in the Big Ten tournament solidified his place among the best to play at Penn State. Thanks for all you’ve done Shep!
Moving forward I don’t think that Penn State is going to make the NCAA tournament. I think they will be in the NIT where they will likely be a 1 or 2 seed. Penn State definitely had a chance to make the NCAA tournament but an 0-3 finish to the season crushed the momentum the Nittany Lions had built up through the second half of the year. There is a slight chance they could be placed in the tournament on selection Sunday for the first time since 2011 but in my opinion the resume just is not there.
It may seem like it on the surface, but this wasn’t a lost season for Penn State. Tony Carr evolved into a true superstar, the squad got another year together under their belt while Pat Chambers and co. had success against the top teams in the conference. Penn State has the talent to be in the tournament but a more experienced team next season will cut out the inconsistencies and win the games they are supposed to which is what undoubtedly kept Penn State out of the tournament this season.
All-in-all it was a fun year for the Nittany Lions and this team has yet to approach their ceiling. I’m anxious to see what happens in this postseason and I’m excited to see where this thing goes in the future. Climb with us!
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