Last week, the question officially flipped from if Penn State would be dancing to how high the Lions would be seeded in the brackets. Today, after winning their eighth straight game 77-61 over Northwestern, the question now becomes if they will lose again. Yeah, it’s like that Nittany Nation. Go ahead, rub those eyes and pinch yourselves all you want, this time it is not a dream. I’ve believed in this team for a while now, with plenty of gripes and grumbles thrown at me along the way, but after finally seeing them up close and personal with my own two eyes, they left no doubt that this climb is as real as it gets!
The only downside to all this is that it eventually will come to an end. It has too. So, with six regular season games left on the table, time is running out if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet. Combined with Tuesday’s win at Purdue, Penn State now sits inside the Top 10 at No. 9 with a huge showdown against the Fighting Illini on deck inside the BJC on Tuesday night. What has stood out the most during this eight-game (and counting) win streak hasn’t been the all-conference play of Lamar Stevens or that stifling Penn State D.
As much as I want to lean on the fact we can lose a starter like Myreon Jones (flu-like symptoms) for multiple games without skipping a beat, it’s the barrage of three-point shots that seem to have impacted the entire squad in a positive way. When offensively-challenged Jamari Wheeler starts hitting them like he did on Saturday, it spells automatic doom for any opponent. At this rate, it won’t be long before Big Mike Watkins is draining buckets from beyond the arc and if that happens, you may as well fill us in as a Final Four contender when those brackets come out next month.
On Saturday afternoon, Stevens led the pace with 23 points and seven rebounds as he continues his assault on overtaking the all-time scoring record as a Nittany Lion. Myles Dread continued to have the hot hand in replace of Jones by adding 16, Watkins put in a workmanlike 11 points and nine rebounds, and yep, defensive wizard Jamari Wheeler had 11 points, six assists and four rebounds on the day, including those two three-pointers that managed to evade him all season long. The visiting Wildcats were able to pull to within seven late in the game before Pat Chambers flipped that magic switch and Penn State ran away with another convincing victory to get them to 20-5 overall and one step behind Maryland in the Big Ten standings at 10-4.
A struggling Illinois squad comes into Happy Valley in desperate need of an upset. Tip-off is at 6:30pm in the Jordan Center. Now, when was the last time WE were on that side of an upset-alert? Probably never, at least as far back as I can recollect. In 1952, Penn State reached the Final Four, so the history books tells us, and in 1996 we peaked at No. 9 this late in the season, just to put our current position in a little perspective. In between, we’ve pulled off some upsets for sure and even had a court-storming or two, but nothing even comes close to the potential of Pat Chambers and this group of Nittany Lions. Eventually, it will all come to an end but while we’re on top, hop on board and enjoy the ride!