Penn State Hoops Should Take Cues From Programs That Have Turned Things Around
Penn State men’s basketball is off one of its worst Big Ten starts in program history (0-9) and is expected to lose multiple contributors this offseason. In the 2000s, the Nittany Lions appeared in the Big Dance twice, with their last trip coming eight years ago in the form of a second round loss.
Things could be going better.
Penn State is not the first school with so much money invested in athletics to be so poor at basketball, however, and could learn a thing or two from the following three programs that have turned things around:
After making the tournament only once in the 2000s, South Carolina hired head coach Frank Martin in 2012. Recruiting improved immediately and the Gamecocks landed highly-touted shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell in 2013. Thornwell would go on to fuel the deepest NCAA tournament run in program history.
The Gamecocks won 25 games during their 2015-16 season, narrowly missing the tournament. In 2016-17, with 26 wins and a seven seed in the NCAA tournament, Martin led the Gamecocks on a magical run to the Final Four, defeating Duke and Florida among others before falling to Gonzaga 77-73 in the semi-final. After a down year following the departure of a few NBA-caliber players, Martin’s Gamecocks are off to a 5-1 start in SEC play this season and could be looking at another tournament berth.
The moral of the story here for Penn State? Keeping a coach on board with a positive trend is important. Martin took over a program in shambles and had win totals of 14, 14, 17, and 25 before the 26-win outburst and NCAA Tournament run. Pat Chambers’ trajectory has not been that, with a bunch of mid-teen win seasons leading up to last years’ NIT run, and now back to (barely) mediocrity.
Texas Christian University (TCU)
TCU hadn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament since 1997 and was coming off of a 12-win season when the Horned Frogs hired head coach Jamie Dixon in 2016. Dixon doubled the win total in his first year, winning 24 games and just barely missing the NCAA Tournament. Last season, in his second year as coach, TCU reached the Big Dance for the first time in 20 years. And this season, the Horned Frogs are off to a 13-4 start with a tournament bid looking likely.
Similar to South Carolina, TCU found the right coach, improved recruiting, and everything changed.
After having as many coaches as NCAA Tournament trips in 20 years (three), Arizona State gave Duke legend Bobby Hurley his first power five head coaching job in 2015. If the Sun Devils stay on their current pace, they will make the tournament two years in a row for the first time since 1980-81. Penn State hasn’t done this since 1954-55.
With a three-year stretch of landing in the top 25 of the 247 Sports team recruiting rankings, it appears the Sun Devils have found their coach of the future in Hurley.
These three power five schools with traditionally poor basketball programs have turned things around in recent years after finding the right coach and improving recruiting. Penn State, meanwhile, is in year eight of the Pat Chambers era without a single NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it.
The Nittany Lions should follow the model these three programs have laid out if there’s any hope to change the basketball culture in Happy Valley.
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About the Author
Ryan Field was a sea of white in the Nittany Lions’ week five return to Illinois on Saturday.
No location or opening timeline has been released yet.
The schedule is highlighted by a Monday night dual against Rutgers at the Bryce Jordan Center in February.