NCAA Tournament: Does the Cinderella Slipper Fit Penn State?
The Penn State Nittany Lions entered Thursday night’s First Round NCAA Tournament clash against Texas A&M as a slight underdog. Texas A&M was the bigger and more athletic team, and they were both coming off of defeats in conference tournament title games.
The game was close early, but the Nittany Lions went on a run to take the lead and then impressively pulled away and buried the Aggies, winning by a score of 76-59 after a halftime lead of 16 points.
Can Penn State Make a Run?
What are some things you look for in a double-digit seed that makes a run in the NCAA Tournament? Ideally, the team would be led by a group of veterans. They would shoot well from the perimeter. The double-digit seed would have a high-quality group of guards. The Penn State Nittany Lions have a starting lineup with multiple seniors, and they led the Big Ten in three-point shooting.
As for a group of good guards? Star point guard Jalen Pickett leads the Nittany Lions. The senior transfer punished Texas A&M with 19 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists to lead his team on Thursday night, and it was a continuation of what Pickett did to Big Ten opponents all season. He is a more oversized guard that can take the ball into the post and score over smaller opposition or pick apart the defense to find perimeter shooters.
Head coach Micah Shrewsberry said this of his team’s ability after a win in the Big Ten Tournament over Indiana, “guards win in March.” Pickett gives his team a chance against pretty much anybody, and his supporting cast has really stepped up in recent weeks after the month began with Penn State very squarely on the outside of the tournament looking in.
Players like Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk can get hot, and torch teams from the perimeter (Funk had 27 against Texas A&M), and the Nittany Lions can handle their own on the glass. Something they showed by hanging with the Aggies on the glass.
How Far Can They Go?
On Saturday, Penn State will battle the second-seeded Texas Longhorns at 7:45 pm. The Nittany Lions are 5.5-point underdogs to the Big 12 Tournament Champions. With Houston’s injury problems, both teams will be peaking ahead to a region potentially there for the taking.
Texas has even more size and athleticism than A&M presented, and Marcus Carr and Sir’Jabari Rice are bigger guards that could match up well with Jalen Pickett’s unique game. Looking further down the line, Penn State is +1600 to make the Final Four. That puts them at the same odds as Michigan State and Memphis but with lower odds than teams like Auburn (+1000), Indiana (+1000), and San Diego State (+500). PSU at +1600 is good value and worth taking a shot on, but Texas will be a considerable challenge for the Nittany Lions to advance to the second weekend and truly put on Cinderella’s slipper.
Odds Courtesy FanDuel Sportsbook