Wow. That Penn State Basketball result last night was unexpected… and exhilarating… and just the most wonderful thing that I could have imagined. In case you missed it because you were watching football or the Duke game or The Bachelorette, here’s what happened: Penn State went into Blacksburg and ran the No. 15 Virginia Tech Hokies out of the gym. It was a clobbering that you expect to see in an exhibition game against a Division II team, not in the ACC / Big Ten Challenge. The Nittany Lions shot 12-for-23 from deep and won 75-55.
The game wasn’t even that close, though. Penn State led 42-23 at half and by as many as 28 in the second half. Seth Lundy didn’t even need to score any points because Izaiah Brockington could not be stopped. His 10 field goals were twice as many as anyone else on the court last night, and his 24 points led all scorers. Penn State didn’t turn the ball over until after halftime.
That Keve Aluma that we were so afraid of grabbed 12 rebounds, but only scored eight points, his lowest total of the season. Penn State’s defense wasn’t quite as good as its offense, but it did force 14 turnovers, and it helped that Virginia Tech had a bad shooting night. Most importantly, the Lions did step off the gas pedal like they did against Seton Hall and ended up cruising to a road win over a ranked opponent that has a win over national title contender Villanova on its resume. It’s safe to say that Seton Hall is in the rearview mirror. Bring on the conference slate.
Penn State wasn’t the only Big Ten team making a mockery of the ACC on Tuesday. Illinois dominated Duke 83-68 at Cameron Indoor behind 18 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists from Ayo Dosunmu. Meanwhile, Iowa torched the nets at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with 17 three-pointers to race past North Carolina 93-80. Ohio State, Rutgers, and Minnesota all won their match-ups as well to give the Big Ten a 6-1 lead in the Challenge. Thanks to the Michigan State vs. Virginia game getting canceled due to COVID-19 today, there’s no way for the ACC to catch up even if its schools win all four of their remaining contests.
What does this mean for the rest of the season? It looks like the Big Ten is still the best league in the country. Last year it may have sent 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament if Selection Sunday had happened, and that could happen for real in 2021. Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland all seem like solid bets for the big dance, and that’s nine teams already. Maybe one or two of those drop off in conference play, but that still leaves Purdue, Minnesota, and Penn State on the bubble. Even if the Big Ten isn’t the best league in the country, it’s probably still the deepest.
We’ll learn a lot more tonight about the projected cellar dwellers as Northwestern hosts Pittsburgh Pittsburgh for its first game of the season against a major-conference opponent and new-look Nebraska takes on Georgia Tech.