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Hoops Preview: Chambers Makes Changes Before Iowa

Stuck amidst a four-game losing streak, including a season-worst 60-39 setback at Northwestern, Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers knew he needed to switch things up during the Nittany Lions’ bye week. He called up a special friend: football coach James Franklin.

Franklin spoke to the team earlier this week, an experience Chambers said fired up his squad. The fourth-year coach applied some different coaching strategies as well, including switching around practice teams and giving his team two days off.

It’s all in an effort to win a basketball game, a feat Penn State hasn’t done since Feb. 7, and only three times in Big Ten play. The Lions host Iowa Saturday night at the Jordan Center, their second to last home game of the year.

The Enemy (Is Everywhere)

Iowa (18-10, 9-6) is riding a three-game winning streak and sits tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings. The Hawkeyes have several impressive wins on their record, including two over Ohio State and victories over North Carolina and Maryland, all top-25 teams.

They’re led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Aaron White, a big body who averages over 15 points and seven rebounds a game. It will be another stout challenge for Penn State’s rapidly plummeting forwards. White put up D.J. Newbill-like numbers in Iowa’s last win over Illinois, including 29 points and 14 straight at one point.

Jarod Uthoff is Iowa’s second-leading scorer, a potent threat from behind the arc. He’s shootng 40 percent from behind the arc. Iowa won the lone showdown last year, a February meeting in the Jordan Center, 82-70. Newbill scored 22 points in that game.

How to Make Them Disappear Completely

By this point in the season, Newbill has emerged as the only reliable and consistent scoring threat. Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner demonstrated scoring ability earlier in the season, but have been quiet as of late. Geno Thorpe and Devin Foster have become more reliable options in this second half of Big Ten play.

Amongst the impressive performances coupled with heartbreaking losses, Chambers was sure that Newbill’s confidence or attitude wouldn’t waver.

“He’s a fighter, he’s a battler, from where he’s come from to where he is today,” Chambers said of the nation’s fifth-leading scorer. “He’s been great the last two days, he’s been tops in our Attitude Club the past two days in practice. There’s a kid who will finish with his head held high.”

Penn State’s chucked up a ton of threes in the past several games, and against Northwestern went a dismal 8-for-27 from behind the arc. Undersized down low, it’s been forced to live and die by the long ball.

“When we’re losing you have to shoot threes,” Chambers said. “You have to get back in the game.”

Taylor, Newbill, Garner, and Thorpe will have to hit those threes against Iowa. Scoring has been a tough task as of late for Penn State, and in three of its last four losses it has been held under 60 points. In two, it didn’t eclipse the lowly 50-point mark.

Saturday also marks the annual Coaches vs. Cancer game, an event that holds significance for many faces of the Penn State basketball family, including Newbill, who lost his mother to cancer.

“This game means a whole lot to us,” Chambers said.

KenPom Game Prep

Prediction

Penn State’s confidence has been decimated the past three weeks, and things won’t change Saturday evening. Despite the week off, Franklin’s pep talk, and other adjustments, Iowa is a very solid basketball team. It’s taken down top-25 teams, hung with others, and has proven it can win on the road in the Big Ten, something Penn State hasn’t done since last year.

The Hawkeyes will walk over the Nittany Lions, 70-55. That’ll leave only a senior night showdown with Ohio State for Newbill to earn one final home victory.

Photo: Mark Selders/GoPSUSports

About the Author

Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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