Joe Lunardi’s updated bracket has Penn State in comfortable spot before Big Ten semifinal

Penn State’s tournament stock continues to be rising at the perfect time, and because of it, the Nittany Lions could already be in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. According to the latest update from ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, the Nittany Lions will be invited to the big dance on Sunday when tournament bids are officially extended.

Penn State arrived in Chicago for the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament likely needing to get at least one win to feel better about its tournament odds. After finishing the regular season with big wins against Northwestern and Maryland, the Nittany Lions were still a bubble team looking to pad their profile just a bit. They did that with a victory over Illinois on Thursday, but things look even better after knocking off Northwestern in overtime on Friday night.

Lunardi currently has Penn State among his last four teams in the tournament that will not have to play in the opening round games. And just to provide a little bit more of a cushion, Lunardi lists Penn State as his first of four teams not having to play an opening-round game. Even if Penn State were to lose on Saturday against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament semifinal round, things look very promising for Penn State to end its tournament drought with this run it has been on.

Lunardi has Penn State facing Missouri from the SEC in the West region. Lunardi’s updated bracket has Penn State with a 10-seed, with a seven-seed for the Tigers. Houston is Lunardi’s top seed in the West region. A potential victory over Missouri could pair Penn State up with future Big Ten member UCLA in the second round. Indiana is a four-seed in Lunardi’s bracket in the West, and Illinois joins the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers as a Big Ten representative in the West with the nine-seed.

The other three teams Lunardi feels will not have to play in an opening-round game include Providence, Utah State, and Rutgers. Mississippi State, NC State, Pittsburgh, and Arizona State (in that order) are Lunardi’s last four teams in. Oklahoma State, Nevada, Clemson, and Vanderbilt are the first four teams missing the tournament according to Lunardi. Penn State lost a game earlier this season to Clemson and is 0-2 against Rutgers. Wisconsin and Michigan, in all likelihood, will also miss the tournament according to Lunardi.

Penn State has a chance to punch its own ticket to the NCAA tournament though. The champion of the Big Ten tournament will receive an automatic spot in the big dance. Penn State would have to beat Indiana on Saturday and then the winner of the Purdue-Ohio State game on Sunday. Purdue and Indiana are already locks, but Ohio State is the bid-stealer to watch out for at this point in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are looking to make history by reaching the Big Ten championship game as a 13-seed. An Ohio State Big Ten championship could be dangerous for Penn State’s tournament chances, but even that may not be enough to squeeze Penn State out at this point, especially if the Nittany Lions can take down the Hoosiers to reach the Big Ten championship game as well.

Penn State has not been in the NCAA Tournament since 2011. The drought appears to be over.

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