22 wins for Penn State means NIT berth

A promising season for Penn State will end without the NCAA Tournament.

The Nittany Lions (22-11) were snubbed from the NCAAs despite notching the second-best one-season win total in program history. They were tied for fourth in the Big Ten at 10-8, their best conference record in 13 seasons.

But Penn State fell to Purdue in the second round of the conference tournament, and was also hurt by a relatively weak nonconference schedule and several upsets in other conference tournaments, which reduced the number of at-large openings for bubble teams.

The Nittany Lions' consolation prize is a No. 2 seed in the NIT Tournament and a first-round date tomorrow at home against George Mason.

Still, the NCAA snub stings in Happy Valley, especially after seven other Big Ten teams made the NCAA field.

"We're very, very disappointed, but coming into this thing I thought it was going to be real hard to get eight teams into the tournament, and I thought we needed one more win," coach Ed DeChellis said.

A double-overtime loss to Iowa, the 10th-place team in the Big Ten, in their regular-season finale also hurt the Nits' resume.

Penn State did have four wins over Top 25 teams, including a road victory at Michigan State and a season sweep of Illinois, along with six victories over Top 50 RPI teams.

"I feel really bad for Eddie [DeChellis]," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I think they knew they didn't play quite the schedule you needed nonconference wise, but they did pretty well in the conference."

Coming into the Big Ten tournament, Penn State had the second-worst RPI (63) of the Big Ten bubble teams and an unimpressive strength-of-schedule ranking of 95.

"I'm glad for the other teams that won, don't take it the wrong way," DeChellis said. "But when teams are kind of out and play themselves in for 3 days, you can figure out the numbers and add up and find out how many at-large bids are left."

The players watched the tournament selection show last night in private from the locker room. It was understandably subdued afterward, senior forward Jamelle Cornley said.

All told, it has still been a successful season for Penn State, a program mired in mediocrity for much of this decade. The team must refocus when it returns to practice today to prepare for the NIT.

The Nittany Lions last played in the NIT in the 2006, losing in the first round.

"You can try to flip the script really and play with a chip on your shoulder," Cornley said. "By coming out and practicing hard tomorrow and not forgetting what happened, making sure we're still playing with a lot of intensity."

Saint Mary's was another team which received a consolation prize a few hours after getting passed over by the NCAA selection committee. The Gaels and playmaking guard Patrick Mills earned a No. 1 seed in the 32-team NIT field, along with San Diego State, Creighton and Florida.

Mills broke his hand on Jan. 29 and missed a big part of the season, rushing back for the West Coast Conference Tournament. After losing to Gonzaga, the Gaels played a game against Eastern Washington trying to remind the committee what they look like with their star in the lineup.

It evidently didn't make much difference.

Also selected for the NIT were Davidson and star guard Stephen Curry, the darling of last season's NCAA, and Kentucky, which had played in the past 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. *