CHICAGO — No horde of Hoosiers will head through Hammond on the way to the United Center on Sunday afternoon. The dream of an all-Hoosier State Big Ten final was thoroughly quashed by a group of interlopers from The Keystone State in Saturday’s second semifinal.

Penn State controlled most of the second half before staving off a desperate Indiana rally for a 77-73 win.

Rather than getting the first Indiana-Purdue Big Ten Tournament matchup since 1998, Sunday’s title game will feature something even more unusual: a chance for Penn State to win a conference title.

The 10th-seeded Nittany Lions haven’t done that since winning the 1991 Atlantic 10 Tournament. It is the lone conference title in Penn State basketball history.

As crazy as that may sound, it isn’t even the most newsworthy item involving Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry on Saturday.

For most of Saturday afternoon, Shrewsberry’s name was trending due to his connection with a far stronger basketball brand: Georgetown. The Hoyas are replacing Patrick Ewing after 6 failed seasons, and Shrewsberry fits the profile of what can win at Georgetown.

Or what can win at Notre Dame. You don’t shove a program legend like Mike Brey out the door without having an idea about his replacement, and the Fighting Irish already pushed him into “retirement” before the season even ended.

Shrewsberry, an Indianapolis native who has worked as an assistant at Butler and Purdue as well as the big-boy basketball Irish — the Boston Celtics — would also fit in perfectly in South Bend.

The din around those jobs is growing so loud that Shrewsberry was asked whether he or his agent have been in contact with either.

“Basketball season’s going on. I have complete tunnel vision on our team and State High basketball,” he said, also alluding to his son’s high school team. “That’s all I’m focused on.”

“I’m happy to be here (at Penn State). Nobody wanted me a few years ago. I love our guys. We’re going to prepare for a championship (Sunday).”

Shrewsberry’s focus isn’t in doubt. Not given what the Nittany Lions are doing. And his love for Penn State is legitimate given the opportunity the school provided him.

But he also didn’t utter the word “no.”

Make no mistake. There’s a market for Shrewsberry’s services. And Penn State athletic director Patrick Kraft must move boldly given this generational opportunity to change the makeup of his entire athletic program.

Penn State: The Rodney Dangerfield of basketball

Back in December, Shrewsberry had to plead for Penn State fans to show up to Bryce Jordan Center to support his team.

That’s just the way it is for the Penn State basketball program. And that’s the way it’s always been.

Perhaps no entity is more disrespectful to Nittany Lion hoops than Google’s search algorithm. Improbably, the top search query for the term “Penn State basketball” is… “Is Penn State basketball D2?”


Penn State’s program is so far removed from respectability that there are people — many of them, apparently — who aren’t even sure whether it’s in Division I. No other Big Ten program faces that level of anonymity or indignity.

The longer Shrewsberry is in Happy Valley, the less that is going to happen. Until it’s never asked again.

But if he leaves Penn State? Good luck fighting the algorithm.

Patrick Kraft’s test

Whenever Penn State’s season ends — and don’t bet against this team challenging for its first Final Four appearance since 1954 — the program will reach the most significant crossroads in its history.

Penn State is a football school first and foremost. And a wrestling school after that. There’s even a growing niche for the relatively new hockey program.

If basketball is ever going to get a seat at the table, this is the time for it to happen. They’ll be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 with a chance to win a game for the first time since 2001.

And Kraft, in his first year as Penn State’s AD, is going to determine that path.

Kraft is a football guy. He walked on at Indiana and earned a scholarship. But that also means that Kraft should be acutely aware of what a quality basketball program can add to a school. At Indiana, basketball is the show.

It’ll never be the show at Penn State. But Kraft seems like a guy who can uniquely recognize it can be something far more than it has been historically.

Penn State can be a lot more like Ohio State, which is first-and-foremost a football school — but a football school capable of winning national titles in basketball.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh aren’t exactly shabby recruiting grounds. Someone just has to convince those players to come to State College. Shrewsberry, who has a very NBA-friendly offensive style, seems ideally suited.

Perhaps the resources wouldn’t be there for Penn State to make such a move in the past. After all, the school is still on the hook for 8 more years of James Franklin at $8.5 million per.

But thanks to the Big Ten’s new media contract, every sport should be able to share in the largesse starting in 2024. This is the moment to invest in Penn State basketball.

If Shrewsberry leaves, it’ll already be too late.