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What can Penn State basketball do to make the NCAA tournament?

After a 13-6 start to the 2022-23 season, here is that Penn State basketball needs to do to make the NCAA Tournament in March.



Jan 21, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Jalen Pickett (22) dribbles the ball after grabbing the rebound during the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State defeated Nebraska 76-65. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State basketball last officially appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2011 — that run ended just as it began as they were stunned by Temple at the buzzer in the first round. Only three Power 6 teams have a longer drought: Washington State, DePaul, and Boston College.

There is a caveat here as well: Penn State would have made the 2020 NCAA tournament had it been played. The 21-10 record posted by that team not only would have been good enough for an appearance, but would have resulted in one of the highest seeds in school history.

Alas, the record book ends on March 11, 2020, leaving Penn State with no tournament appearances since 2011. Given where the team is, the 2022-2023 iteration of the Nittany Lions are certainly in the conversation to get back to the big dance.

Where is Penn State basketball now?

Depending on where you look, you may have seen “bracketologists” around the nation starting to pay attention to the Nittany Lions. Regardless of which side of the bubble each analyst projects Penn State basketball to be, the consensus opinion is that this team is firmly on the bubble — meaning close to being in the tournament picture.

Generally speaking, a 13-6 record out of the Big Ten would be more than enough to be squarely in the tournament field; however, Penn State played a very soft non-conference schedule.

According to popular basketball analytics site — which is actually used by the NCAA Selection Committee — Penn State played the 287th toughest non-conference in the nation. The good news is that the Nittany Lions didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with any losses to second tier opponents like Michigan did with its loss to Central Michigan University.

The team is 10-0 in Quadrant 3 and 4 games. What could hurt the Nittany Lions on Selection Sunday is the failed opportunities they had to pick up marquee wins in the non-conference. A two-point loss to Virginia Tech and an overtime loss to Clemson were coin flip games that would have taken Penn State’s resume to a whole new level if even just one of those games went the other way.

The good news is that playing in the Big Ten gives you plenty of chances to snag quality wins. Penn State basketball has already picked up two Quadrant 1 wins in conference play by beating Illinois and Indiana. Two Quadrant 1 wins will not be enough if that is all the Nittany Lions have come March, but for now, it is plenty enough to keep them in the discussion. 

What does Penn State have to do?

Here is what Penn State basketball must do in order to have a shot at the NCAA tournament later this year.

Defend the Bryce-Jordan Center

  • Penn State has done an incredible job of defending their home court so far this year. They will need that to continue in order to stay in the conversation. The team is 10-1 at the BJC, with the lone loss to Michigan State in December. The Nittany Lions have 5 home games left; they need to go 4-1 at worst.

Don’t Lose to Bottom of the Conference

  • Minnesota and Nebraska are both having rough seasons and are the bottom two teams in the Big Ten; both teams are still on the schedule for Penn State basketball. While both those games will be played on the road, Penn State cannot afford a loss in either of them.

Steal another Quadrant 1 Win on the Road

  • Penn State has 7 road games left, and as of now, 5 of those would be a Quadrant 1 wins if the Nittany Lions are able to walk away with a victory. If Penn State basketball is able to successfully defend their home floor, they just need to steal one of these games on the road. 

Win One, Maybe Two in the Big Ten Tournament

  • Penn State will get additional cracks, likely at quality teams, during the Big Ten Tournament, which is scheduled for March 8-12th. Depending on how the last 12 regular season games end up playing out, Penn State could just need to win one of those games to go dancing. If the team struggles, especially at home, they would need a deeper run into the conference tournament.

Magic Number

  • If Penn State is able to get to 21 wins — including wins in the conference tournament — the Nittany Lions will all but be assured a spot in the tournament. That means that Penn State basketball will need to win 8 more games this season; there are 12 left on the schedule now, with potentially up to 5 more added via the conference tournament.

Penn State will have to play their best basketball down the stretch — if the team comes up short of that 21 win mark, say 18 or 19 wins, it is likely a trip back to the NIT will be in the cards for this team. Penn State will also need to improve their road performance during the stretch run.

To date, Penn State basketball has only won a single game outside the friendly confines of the Bryce-Jordan Center. If that number stays the same until Selection Sunday, the Nittany Lions won’t be hearing their name called for the 12th-straight year.

Jaret is a Penn State alum who covers Penn State sports for Basic Blues Nation. He is very passionate about the Nittany Lions and loves sharing his passion for the school through writing.


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