Penn State Basketball Ready For In-State NIT Clash With Temple
With six players on the Penn State basketball roster hailing from the “Philly Pipeline” as it’s been dubbed by some Nittany Lions fans, Wednesday night’s NIT meeting with Temple adds an interesting element to the first round game.
“It was definitely funny to us,” senior Shep Garner said. “Coming from the Philly area, playing against some of our good friends. It’s different, but it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be a tough game.”
While Pat Chambers’s team reeled off a 21-13 season with a trip to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, the team was unable to make the 68-team NCAA Tournament field. Chambers thought the metrics, specifically the KenPom (No. 29) and BPI (No. 27) rankings favored his program, while noting the absences of Josh Reaves mid-season and Mike Watkins at the end of the season made a difference.
The head coach also mentioned that the Michigan, NC State, and Rider games were specific results he felt would’ve gone a long way if they went in the Nittany Lions’ favor. Even though the Nittany Lions would rather be dancing, Chambers is excited for the opportunity his team has to continue improving.
“We wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament, so that was disappointing,” Chambers said. “But playing to keep getting these guys better is definitely something we’re excited about, and it’s not being taken for granted at all.”
The Owls and Nittany Lions have played 92 times in the series, with Temple holding a 60-32 advantage over Penn State. This will be the first game between the two programs since the Owls knocked Penn State out of the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament with a 66-64 win.
“I don’t think I’ll have to get these guys up to play Temple,” Chambers said. “Obviously, the relationships are there. The players were excited about playing either way. The fact that it’s Temple definitely makes it a big game.”
“I know they are going to come out and play hard and so are we,” Garner said. “It’s going to be an awesome environment.”
“I went to high school with Shizz Alston (Temple guard) for two years — he’s one of my best friends,” sophomore Lamar Stevens said. “I’m excited to play against him.”
Coach Chambers was quick to point out the abnormal depth in quality of this season’s NIT field, and the fact that the uncertainty around the team’s destination leaves him optimistic entering the tournament.
“We’re going to get up tomorrow morning we’re going to get better and we’re going to go compete in one of the better NIT brackets I’ve seen in a long time — there are some real quality teams,” Chambers said. “We’ve had good practices the last couple of days. Now that we know what we’re doing, who we’re playing, and where we’re playing, I think the practices can only get better.”
The Nittany Lions ended up further from the bubble than expected, and Chambers was specifically surprised that Nebraska is a No. 5 seed in this tournament. The Cornhuskers travel to Mississippi State in the first round, despite finishing fourth in the Big Ten during the regular season.
“Thirteen wins, I didn’t think the Big Ten was all that easy,” Chambers said. “They didn’t value it (the Big Ten), thirteen wins and they (Nebraska) get a double-bye and they don’t get in. Man… I’m not happy as you can tell.”
Chambers also updated the status on Mike Watkins, saying while he isn’t quite ready to play, he could appear later on in the NIT depending on his health.
“It’s not easy for Mike, he wants to be out there helping his team on the court,” Chambers said. “Who knows, maybe we make a run and he can come back, we don’t know that. Right now we have to focus on him getting healthy, and taking care of his academics.”
The NIT may not have the prestige or glamour that an NCAA Tournament bid possesses, but the coach seemed satisfied to find his program back in a postseason tournament since the Nittany Lions reached the CBI quarterfinals in 2014. The last time Penn State made the NIT in 2009, it went on to win the tournament behind Talor Battle.
“I think the fact that we put ourselves to 21 wins and we put ourselves in the position to play in such a great tournament, it should be easy to get them ready,” Chambers said.
Penn State tips off against Temple at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Bryce Jordan Center and on ESPNU.