PSU confident, hopeful bubble won’t burst
The Penn State men’s basketball program took down Big Ten coach of the year honors for Monaca native Ed DeChellis Monday, and all-conference recognition for players Talor Battle and Jamelle Cornley. Left to be determined is whether the icing on this cake will be its first bid to the NCAA tournament since 2001.
It’s that pursuit of the NCAA Tournament that is dominating thoughts of observers, although Battle is doing his best to ignore it.
“We really don’t talk about being on the bubble or anything like that,” he said yesterday before practice.
DeChellis, in his sixth season at Penn State, has produced his best team, one that went 21-10 overall to equal a school record for regular-season wins. The 10 Big Ten wins were the most for the Lions since the 1995-96 season.
But will it be enough to get Penn State into the Big Dance?
” I hope so. I really, really hope so,” DeChellis said.
ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Penn State in his current tournament bracket as a No. 12 seed. But Penn State also is listed, along with New Mexico, Arizona and South Carolina, as the last four into the field, meaning their grip is tenuous.
Others project the Lions will need at least one win in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins for them Thursday vs. Indiana, or maybe two wins, to be sure about making the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to try to take it out of everybody’s hands and play the best we can in this conference tournament and win some games and make it to the NCAA Tournament,” said DeChellis, who was the conference media’s pick for coach of the year. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo was the coaches’ pick for coach of the year.
Penn State backers and critics both can find justification for their positions in the season’s results. The Lions lost to their two toughest nonconference opponents, Rhode Island and Temple. Yet, during conference play, they swept Top-25 team Illinois, split with No. 24 Purdue, won at No. 7 Michigan State, and split with Michigan and Minnesota, each projected by many as NCAA Tournament teams.
DeChellis cites those conference results to show that his team already has done enough to make the big tournament.
“I think any time you finish above .500 in your Big Ten season is a milestone,” he said. “I think that’s really important. I think winning over 20 games — over 20 games — is a milestone. I think beating four top 25 teams, a couple of them on the road, is a milestone. I think beating six teams in the top 50 RPI is a pretty good part of your resume. I think winning games on the road at Michigan State, Illinois — that we proved that we can go on the road against very good teams and win — is part of your resume. I would point to those specific things and say that’s pretty good.”
To be safe, Penn State needs to win Thursday vs. Indiana, a team the Lions already have beaten twice this season. But DeChellis is encouraging his team to have a goal beyond that, to win the Big Ten Tournament.
“We’re trying to do something that we haven’t done here before,” he said.
Sophomore point guard Battle, who led the Big Ten regular-season scoring chase with a 17.3-point average, was named first team all-conference by media and coaches.
Cornley, a senior forward who averages 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds, was picked second team by the media and third team by the coaches. Cornley is nursing a partially separated left shoulder, suffered against Illinois last week. He played 46 minutes Saturday in Penn State’s 75-67, double-overtime loss at Iowa, scoring 10 points, but getting just one rebound. DeChellis said Cornley’s difficulty lifting his left arm helped explain that.
Best wins: at Michigan State, Illinois (twice), Purdue and Michigan
Key non-conference losses: Rhode Island and Temple
Non-conference weak links: New Jersey Institute of Technology, Hartford, Towson, Army , Lafayette