Penn State: A Football School With A Basketball Problem

Seven freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors, and one senior. There’s no doubt that the Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball team is young. The majority of the players we’ve seen take the court this season will be here for at least the next two years. Like it or not, there won’t be very many changes to the roster during the coming offseason.

In his senior year, Tim Frazier will still be the centerpiece of this squad. Considering that he’s currently leading the team in points, assists, rebounds, and steals, that’s certainly not a bad thing. He will, barring any unforeseen circumstances, continue his success on the court. He will mentor the first commitments of Pat Chambers’ Penn State career, Brandon Taylor and Akosa Maduegbunam, as well as any other new faces that sign on in the next few months. He will be a face for an organization that needs to start proving to recruits that it’s for real.

The sentiment that Penn State would be one day be a two-sport superpower stems from the 1996 opening of the Bryce Jordan Center, a multi-purpose arena down the street from Beaver Stadium that the basketball team could call home. Gone were the days that Penn State played in a cramped gym. After leaving the A-10 for the Big Ten, they were ready to walk the walk. Penn State was on their way to being just like Ohio State. Not only would Penn State dominate in the BCS, but the Big Dance as well; March Madness, the greatest stage in the world of American sports.

Fast-forward 16 years, and if you turn around all you’ll see is a trail of sweat and disappointment behind you. Most of you are certainly well-aware of just how dark a time the Ed DeChellis era was, a true black eye on what was supposed to be a rising program. But if you don’t, the extent of the damage can be explained by his conference record, a whopping 41–95 over the course of eight seasons. He only once managed to lead the team to a winning conference record, and twice to an overall record over .500. Although he led the team to an NIT championship and an NCAA appearance in his final years, they never seemed to be building on those successes, all too content to fall back down to the ranks of the mediocre.

In just one season as the head coach, Pat Chambers has already made tangible progress in turning the program around and putting them on the path to being a successful program. He’s gotten a commitment from a player in Brandon Austin who is arguably the most prized ever recruit in Penn State basketball history. He’s turned a pretty poor product into a mediocre team that’s actually been somewhat competitive throughout the season. But not everything’s as picture perfect as it seems to be in Happy Valley.

The team has dealt with consistency issues all year long, performing significantly worse on the road than they do in the Bryce Jordan Center. With the lack of fan attendance at home games, it’s not as though they can claim much of a home-court advantage. For whatever reason, it seems that this team’s weaknesses are exposed most when they make their way outside the lines of State College. Stability from one game to the next is a necessity, and right now, this team simply hasn’t been able to find any.

In addition to those issues, the squad has struggled to both shoot effectively and defend the perimeter effectively this season. With the Lions’ averaging a lamentable .388 field goal percentage, some of the players spending the most time on the floor are shooting the worst on the team. Senior Cammeron Woodyard is the team’s best three-point scorer, but he struggles from the field, shooting .352. Matt Glover plays over 23 minutes a game, but is shooting a disgraceful .255.

And while they have little problem playing defense in the BJC, that isn’t exactly the case in away games. Let’s put it this way, if you were to read through the statistics, you might actually believe that they’re trying their very hardest to let the opponent score. Really, it’s that bad. And unfortunately, the blame lies mostly on the man in charge, Pat Chambers–not for instilling a lack of effort in his players, but for failing to counter the opposition’s schemes, leading to far too many open looks.

I agree that Chambers has all the tools necessary to be a great coach. He is a better recruiter than DeChellis, a better “X’s and O’s” guy, and is better at getting the most out of his players. But he isn’t perfect, and he’s still learning. Chambers had just two years of head coaching experience under his belt before coming to Happy Valley, and competing in the Big Ten Conference is a big step up from the America East Conference.

As a fan of some of the worst franchises in professional sports, the Jets, Mets and, Nets (also known as the Trifecta from Hell), I’m extremely jaded when it comes to predicting the future for any program I root for. Setting aside my pessimism, I can see the reasons to be excited about this team’s future. For this first time in a long time, a few good personnel decisions and some solid coaching could make the Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball team a perennial NCAA tournament attendee.

But until then, I won’t be holding my breath.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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