Penn State Gets Stuck On Outside of Tournament Draw
There is no doubt in my mind that the Penn State Nittany Lions, under second-year coach Jeff Tambroni, would have been a worthy competitor in this year's NCAA tourament. There is also little doubt that, under the rules of admission to the tournament, the Lions deserved to be left out of the 16-team scrum that will culminate with the national title game on Memorial Day.
If a few things had broken favorably in the past week -- if Princeton had beaten Yale to claim the Ivy League championship and if Notre Dame had avoided a stunning upset by St. John's in the Big East tournament semifinal -- Penn State (9-6) might have been sitting pretty on Selection Sunday.
It might have even been handed a first-round rematch at No. 4 seed Notre Dame, where the Lions edged the Irish, 4-3 in overtime, on February 26. That was Notre Dame's lone loss until its stumble against St. John's.
Even after its loss to Drexel in the CAA semifinals, Penn State, which already had beaten the Dragons in Philly in the regular season, was in decent shape. But the Lions still needed help, and that's a dangerous place to be. First, Notre Dame's lousy shooting got the best of it in that St. John's loss, and the Irish took a precious at-large slot. Then, Yale embarrassed Princeton on its home field. Suddenly, that conference tournament loss to Drexel loomed large for Penn State.
In the end, it boiled down to an excruciating number that broke well for Princeton, at the expense of Penn State. Princeton (11-4) had an RPI (10) significantly better than the Lions (16) and backed into the final at-large spot. Had Penn State advanced to the CAA final to play UMass (RPI 2), things might have turned out differently. But the Lions never got there, and for that they get to stay home.