Apparently the Midwest has no love for Penn State. That was made loud and clear last week with back-to-back losses to Illinois, at home, and Indiana on the road. Both teams are on the bubble and both came out swinging and had us as their main target. So the win streak ends at eight and No.9 remains the benchmark that all other PSU men’s basketball squads aspire to in the not-so-lustrous history of Nittany Lion lore; until further notice at least. Welcome to the life of being the hunted as opposed to being the hunter that we became so accustomed to this year. So goes the ebb and flow inside the roughest conference on the planet as teams battle for post-season position.
The good news is, we’ve been down this road before. Just last month in fact, for all those that just hopped on board when things got super-hot. Remember when that hard-fought, feel-good win over Iowa at the Palestra translated into a three-game losing streak? Well, here we are again. The only difference now is we jumped so deep into those brackets in between then and now that nothing short of a monumental collapse could keep us from lacing up those dancing shoes in March. I’m not naïve enough to believe a collapse is impossible but from everything we’ve seen out of this team, it’s highly unlikely.
The absence of Myreon Jones has been a challenge for this team and getting the sophomore playmaker back on the floor could be just the trick that tips the scales back in PSU’s favor. Penn State managed to survive the first three games after he went down with a mystery illness but have missed his sweet shot and floor leadership over the past two matchups. As much as Lamar Stevens is the unquestioned star of the show, Jones had steadily turned into the show’s creator. He was a game-time decision against Indiana so his return appears to be imminent and couldn’t come at a better time.
As it stands today, Penn State is 20-7 overall. They only slipped seven spots to No. 16 in the AP poll despite the losses, and still hold their own destiny for a top-4 finish and the much-coveted two-game bye in the Big Ten tournament as they enter the final four-game stretch of the regular season. Next up on the docket is the first bookend of two final home games and a date with Rutgers on Wednesday night. Tipoff is at 7:00pm and if anyone has payback coming, it’s the Scarlett Knights, who put a screeching halt on our momentum once already as the Lion’s kicked off that three-game slide back in late-January. Being the hunted is never easy, so dig deep, keep the faith, and get ready to March this team onto madness!