For all you Penn State fans out there who are watching your hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid fly out the window, I sympathize with you.
After an amazing non-conference season, followed by a great start in the Big Ten with key wins over Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State, the Nittany Lions have lost three straight—and these games weren't even close. The Lions have lost by an average of 14.7 points a game during the skid.
Talor Battle, the number one scorer in the Big Ten, has averaged just 6.3 points a game, including a goose egg in the latest loss at Purdue. Stanley Pringle and Jamelle Cornley have also had problems.
So is this the real Nittany Lions team? Were we playing above our means prior to this, or are we just in a slump? Is this the type of play we can expect for the rest of this season?
In our first nine conference games this year, the big three of Cornley, Pringle, and Battle were averaging 48.7 points per game. In the three losses since, they are averaging just 29 points per game. That's a significant drop-off for three players who account for approximately 75 percent of the Lions' offense. As they go, so does the team.
In all fairness, the level of competition has been tough. However, the remaining schedule only has one team with a losing record on it: Indiana. Iowa also has a worse conference record than the Lions.
However, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Illinois are each looking to make statements for getting bids to the big dance, and each of them is currently ahead of Penn State in the conference standings. The Lions' success this year has made them a target for a "statement" game for these teams.
Basically, there are no "easy" games left, especially if the team continues to play like they have.
To get into the tournament, the Lions will need to finish with a winning record in Big Ten play. Wins over Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio State are the most likely, but still not a sure thing. At least a split with the Illini would bolster their RPI, but they will need to get back to the formula that helped them beat teams like Michigan State and Purdue.