If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about from being a reporter, it’s that you have to admit when you’re wrong.
And I was wrong.
Last week in this very same spot, I predicted that the Penn State men’s basketball team would not make the NCAA tournament.
On Selection Sunday, the Nittany Lions heard their name announced for the first time during the Ed DeChellis Era.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion,we’ll take a closer look at the Lions’ bid, breakdown the first-round matchup with the Temple Owls and offer our picks for the Final Four.
Let’s start with the Lions.
Off to the Dance
For the first time since 2001, the Penn State men’s basketball team will be playing the NCAA tournament. The Nittany Lions enter the Big Dance as a No. 10 seed, where they will face the No. 7 seeded Temple Owls.
Ironically, the Lions and Owls met in the 2001 tourney, where the Owls eliminated Penn State in the Sweet 16.
On paper, Penn State matches up well with the Owls, and the 10-7 games are a spot in the bracket where upsets often occur.
Penn State coach Ed DeChellis was thrilled to see his team’s name appear on the screen, especially as a No. 10 seed. Many experts believed the Nittany Lions would be further down the bracket, perhaps a 12 or 13 seed.
“That was a special moment,” said DeChellis, who led the Lions to their first tourney bid in his eight seasons as PSU’s head coach.
As sweet as the moment was for DeChellis, it was even sweeter for senior Talor Battle, who waited his entire Penn State career for a bid in the tourney.
“There are some things in life you hope really work out, and this was one I was just praying for to work out,” DeChellis said.
In the end, everything worked out for the Lions, who got hot at the right time. While they had some bad losses (Maine, Maryland, Michigan), their performance in the Big Ten Tournament helped their case immensely. The Lions went 3-1 in the tourney, posting wins over Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State before falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Those wins probably pushed the Lions into their spot as a No. 10 seed. According to DeChellis, he wasn’t shocked by the somewhat high seeding.
“That didn’t really shock me,” DeChellis said. “Nothing shocks me with the NCAA Tournament and seeding.”
If the Lions are able to get past Temple, they would more than likely face twice-beaten San Diego State in the second round. The last time the Lions were in the tournament, in 2001, they were a No. 7 seed and upset a No. 2 seeded North Carolina squad.
While an upset of SDSU seems unlikely, I like Penn State’s chances against the Owls. Of course, it depends on the play of Battle. If he’s on, Penn State should survive to see the second round.
You have to feel good for Battle. He’s played his heart out this season and he’s certainly earned this trip to the Big Dance.
DeChellis said that all of his seniors earned this trip to Tuscon, Ariz.
“I’m very happy for them, very proud of them. They’ve stayed the course. We’ve had some tough days. We’ve had some disappointing losses, but those kids have always stayed the course. They’ve been great kids for me. They’ve been great for the university and wonderful student athletes. I’m really proud of them,” DeChellis said.
As far as the matchup with Temple, DeChellis said that his assistant coaches were on the case, scouting the Owls as soon as the matchup was announced on CBS’ selection show.
“I got Danny Earl on it. He’s thinking about Temple. I’m going to try and take at least an hour or an hour and a half until we get home and try to relax on the plane,” DeChellis said. “They’ve got some stats for me to look at and I’ll do that on the plane. I just need an hour to wind down. It’s been a long five days.”
If the Lions can win on Thursday, DeChellis and Company could be in for another wild weekend.
Final Four Picks
For college basketball fans, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. If you’re like me, you’ve probably made your picks and already second-guessed them. Well, here at gantdaily.com, we’ll offer our annual Final Four picks.
I like Ohio State, San Diego State, Kansas and Pitt to make the Final Four. That’s three top seeds and one No. 2. As for who will be cutting down the nets? We will save that for a future edition of Morelli OnLion.
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He is also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at email@example.com. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!