March 13, 2011

March is a Beautiful Thing

Yes, Penn State could actually
win this today. PHOTO:
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Today's Selection Sunday, but the madness has already begun. Penn State has taken the bubble world by storm with 3 straight victories at the Big Ten Tournament. I mean just wrap your head around this fact. Today, our Fighting DeChellises (to quote Tim) are going to be lacing up the sneakers to play for a Big Ten Title. That's right, a championship trophy. They are in the championship game of one of the best basketball conferences in the land.

A little unprecedented, huh? Who could have predicted this? (Ans: Mike Rothstein, apparently)

I don't think people have truly realized what PSU has done the last few days. Granted, there really hasn't been much time for any of this to sink in, nor have the Lions been particularly impressive in some of these victories. They didn't play all that well against Indiana or Wisconsin, but they survived and advanced. Yesterday, with a chance to seemingly put themselves firmly in the NCAA tournament, the Nittany Lions took a blow on the chin early from the Spartans, then rolled on their way to a convincing 61-48 victory. Tim Frazier had the game of his life and Talor Battle, after going through one of the most horrendous stretches of basketball I've ever seen, caught fire in the second half (with 4 straight threes in 2 minutes).

I wasn't a believer three days ago, but this team has got everybody believing now. They never had the depth for the long haul after last year's departures(evidenced by some of the questionable losses this team has suffered this season), but this team has always shown that 'any given night' potential. They've slowly found their niche at Conseco Fieldhouse and will be hoping to build on their momentum today against Ohio State.

What's gotten the Nittany Lions to this point was a part of their game that has been lacking for many years under Ed DeChellis: defense. Yes, Wisconsin missed plenty of bunnies against the Lions on Friday, but check out the tempo-free numbers of all 3 games combined:

PossPPGPts/PosseFG%TO%OReb% FT Rate%

Those numbers are insane for any team in the land. It has allowed for Penn State to win despite the struggles of their two best players, as Battle/Brooks are a combined 33.7% from the field so far. The offense has been efficient at times, stagnant at times, and downright ugly at times (see: last 10 minutes of first half against Wisconsin). But the defense and the rebounding has been there throughout, which are two of the biggest ingredients to any Big Ten championship team.

So after just 2 measly wins in 7 years at the Big Ten Tournament, DeChellis has somehow manufactured a miracle run of 3 straight that will be remembered for a long time, regardless of the outcome today. For the first time in school history, the Lions are playing on Selection Sunday in the Championship game. Looks like Talor Battle and company are going to cement their legacy with an NCAA berth. They can leave no doubt (and avoid the Dayton play-in games?) with an automatic bid if they beat the Buckeyes. Taking down the #1 team on such limited rest is gonna be no easy task, but if Talor can get a few good looks early and get in rhythm, as we've seen so many times before, there's no telling what can happen.

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