No. 10 Penn State (22-13) returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade when the Nittany Lions take the court against No. 7 Texas A&M (25-9) at 9:55 p.m. tonight during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.

The two programs enter the tournament on a similar trajectory — Penn State is 8-2 in its last 10 contests, while Texas A&M has won 10 of its last 12 matchups.

Both teams also reached their respective conference championship games. Alabama handed the Aggies a 19-point loss in last weekend’s SEC title game. The Crimson Tide win avenged a six-point Texas A&M win in the Aggies’ regular-season finale. Penn State dropped a two-point game against Purdue.

Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament appearance is its first since 2018.

Led by 2023 SEC Co-Coach of the Year Buzz Williams, the Aggies are averaging 73.2 points per game this season. Williams coached tournament teams at Marquette and Virginia Tech.

Penn State, under second-year coach Micah Shrewsberry, averages 72.3 points per contest.

Penn State guard Jalen Pickett averages 17.9 points per game to pace the Nittany Lions’ scoring efforts this year. He also averages 7.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per contest. On Wednesday, Pickett collected more national accolades as he was announced a National Association of Basketball Coaches second-team All-America and a U.S. Basketball Writers Association third-team All-America selection.

Guard Seth Lundy has been a consistent presence in the Nittany Lions starting lineup. He’s scoring 14.4 points per game, and he’s averaging 6.3 rebounds per contest. Lundy is shooting a team-leading 40.6% from 3-point range and his 25 steals this season only trail Pickett’s 34.

Bucknell transfer Andrew Funk leads all Big Ten players with 102 3-pointers through 35 games. Funk averages 12.1 points per matchup, and his 85.7% free-throw percentage is a team-best.

Lundy and Funk combine for the top two 3-point shooters in efficiency in the Big Ten.

Fellow transfer Camren Wynter (Drexel) has tallied double-digit scoring efforts in six of Penn State’s last 10 games. Wynter was a member of the 2020-21 Drexel team that reached the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Texas A&M includes one of the SEC’s most prolific players this season in guard Wade Taylor IV. Taylor has started 32 games this year and scored a career-high 28 points in Texas A&M’s win against Alabama earlier this month. He’s recorded double-digit scoring outputs in 28 of his 34 games this year.

Fellow guard Tyrece Radford has started all 34 contests. The second-team All-SEC player averages 13.2 points per game and erupted for a season-high 34 points earlier this year against DePaul. A trio of Aggies (F Henry Coleman III, G Dexter Dennis and F Julius Marble) average 9.2 apiece per contest. Dennis and Coleman also lead Texas A&M in rebounding, as each averages 5.7 per game.

For Penn State, Wynter and Denver transfer Michael Henn have tournament experience. Aggies transfers Marble (Michigan State), Radford (Virginia Tech) Dennis (Wichita State) and Khalen Robinson (Arkansas) have also played in the national tournament with their previous programs.

Before arriving at Texas A&M in early 2019, Williams went 10-8 in the NCAA Tournament with Marquette and Virginia Tech.

The winner of Thursday’s opener will face either No. 2 Texas or No. 15 Colgate in Saturday’s Round of 32.

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