Penn State is off to a decent start in Big Ten play this year. The Nittany Lions opened by winning a pair of road games against Northwestern & Illinois to get the season started, and threw a scare into Minnesota at home this past weekend before bad free-throw shooting cost them. With a 2-1 league record, could this be the first time since 2001 that folks in central Pennsylvania have something to talk about in January and February that's not football recruiting?
It's possible. While Illinois is down this year, they also lost close games to Wisconsin and Indiana. Both of those games were on the road, so PSU played Bruce Weber's team as well in Champaign as two recognized contenders did when they were at home. And winning two straight road games in the Big Ten is never easy, particularly if you're not championship-level.
The Lions have two quality forwards. Geary Claxton is going to be in the mix for league MVP. The 6-5 senior is averaging over eighteen points a game and grabbing nearly nine rebounds each time out. Jamelle Cornley provides support with 12 points/6 rebounds a game. A key to their success will be whether guard Danny Morrissey can hit from the outside and keep defenses honest. When he can, Penn State's going to be a tough out.
Reasonable goals for the Nittany Lions would start with finishing ahead of Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois in the standings. That gets them up to seventh place and locks up an NIT bid. From there, they should aim for eight conference wins. With two road games already in the W column, they are off to a good start. They get another crack at a contender at home tonight, when Wisconsin comes in (tips at 9 PM EST on the Big Ten Network). We'll see if this PSU team can finally make the winters a little more bearable in the Pennsylvania mountains.