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Following ‘Successful’ Non-Con, Penn State Battles No. 4 Wisconsin in B1G Opener

Pat Chambers hadn’t started Wisconsin preparations until Monday morning, only two days before the Nittany Lions were to travel to Madison to square off against the No. 4 Badgers.

It’s a mark of a veteran team, he said. Instead of worrying about adjusting his lineup to its opponents, Chambers is more focused on fine-tuning his players to continue to play the brand of Penn State basketball he so often preaches: defense and rebounding. “I probably spend more time on us,” he said. “It’s all about what I can do for this team.”

Following a successful non-conference schedule which saw the Nittany Lions jump out to a 12-1 start and receive five votes in the AP Top 25 poll, Chambers said that he needs to fight his natural inclination to over-coach. This is an experienced team filled with leadership, and he wants to let them play. “If you can keep it simple they’re going to have clearer heads and they’ll make better plays,” he said.

The fourth-year coach gave his team several days off for Christmas, and expected the usual languid practice upon their return. It wasn’t, and Chambers praised the energy those practices carried. “When you have a veteran team and great leadership, you know they’re ready to come back. They know the Big Ten season is upon us,” he said.

The Big Ten season is surely a different beast than Penn State’s non-conference journey that only saw them play two true road games and didn’t face a single ranked team. The two road games were at Marshall and Bucknell, attended by crowds of 5,158 and 4,257 respectively. Wisconsin fielded 17,279 for its most recent home game against Buffalo. Still, Chambers said he thinks those travel experiences have readied his Lions for the road challenge.

Wednesday’s matchup at the Kohl Center is sure to be a barometer of the Nittany Lions’ early success. A Final Four team last season, the Badgers returned experienced upperclassmen Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker, and Traevon Jackson.

Kaminsky was named Big Ten player of the Week on Monday for the second time this season. The senior seven-footer and AP preseason All-American is a matchup nightmare, shooting over 42 percent from three.

Chambers didn’t elude to how Penn State will try to limit the big man’s production, but suggested that it will be a group effort. “There’s not one guy that’s going to stop Frank. It’s going to take all five guys,” he said. “He’s a talented player. Kid can really play basketball.”

The brunt of that responsibility will fall on centers Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson. While Jack still struggles with early foul trouble, Dickerson’s post defense has evolved immensely in the past four games, a stretch in which he has 10 blocks. His six blocks against George Washington, the Nittany Lions’ most impressive win to date, carried Penn State on the defensive end.

Earlier this week, Kaminsky and D.J. Newbill had a brief Twitter interaction that hinted at some hostility between the two. Chambers said he wasn’t even aware of the incident, but upon explanation simply said “cool.”

Chambers added that Newbill and Wisconsin’s Dekker were roommates at a camp this season that Kaminsky also attended, and the Big Ten peers became friendly. “It’s all good, all clean,” he said.

The game tips off at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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