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Penn State Basketball: Everyone A Bit To Blame As Losing Streak Hits Three Games

by on January 16, 2020 12:41 AM

On the whole Penn State basketball's 75-69 loss to Minnesota in Minneapolis on Wednesday night was not the death blow to the Nittany Lions' postseason chances. In a Big Ten where the home team has won 36 out of its 42 attempts so far this season in conference play, Penn State's loss was a safe bet by the numbers, no matter how each team stacked up on paper.

Penn State will play more games and almost certainly will win more of them. Despite the current state of affairs the Nittany Lions are still on track for an NCAA Tournament bid and will look to the likes of Ohio State, a team that lost 12 of its last 18 games in 2019 as proof that even long stretches of negative results can still yield a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

There is the matter of method though.

Every game has its own narrative. It would be impossible, especially at the collegiate level to demand that every game and every win unfold in some predictable pattern. In a Big Ten that is currently in a state of cannibalism, winning is winning and you take them however you can get them.

For Penn State, the problem has been less the losses and more how they have unfolded. For the third straight game the Nittany Lions have hit crippling offensive dead points, going 11:07 in the second half on Wednesday night scoring not a single basket from the field save a handful of free throws that kept the game within three points. All the same it was a Minnesota 16-5 run that gave momentum and confidence to a home team backed by fans and all the furnishings of home court advantage.

Against Wisconsin it was a span of 10:43 in which Penn State made just four baskets, and a handful of free throws. A 17-12 run did little to catch up to a Wisconsin team that perpetually keeps opponents at an arm's length.

Against Rutgers the Scarlet Knights went on a 18-8 run over the final 6:19 with Penn State scoring one meaningful basket over that span.

I will be the first to say that there is no obvious answer here. Penn State's guards are talented but nearly all of them are playing in their second season at the DI level. Myles Dread has hit a slump of crippling proportions while Myreon Jones and Curtis Jones are streaky and occasionally exploited on defense. Izaiah Brockington is talented and experienced but his outside shooting does little to help those numbers. Jamari Wheeler makes the whole operation run but has no scoring value of any consistent weight.

The result leave Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens to carry the load. Watkins inconsistent for a myriad of reasons on and off the court, Stevens well-intended but never the kind of volume scorer to get 30 points with any kind of high-grade efficiency. Stevens has also been on the receiving end of seemingly countless fouls, questionable in nature, that have rendered him an observer for minutes on end.

Of course the irony here is that when they all click, Penn State is a Sweet 16 team that can throw with the best of them. Their weakness is an ability to access that potential on even a semi-regular basis.

It should be said at the outset of any discussion surrounding coaching that coaches can only do so much. Myles Dread missing a wide open shot is miscue that only he can shoulder. Bad refereeing is out of everyone's hands and foul management is a way of life.

All the same, if a coach is not there to create opportunities over extended periods of scoreless basketball, what is a coach there for?

In the first half Pat Chambers' move to start John Harrar and Seth Lundy proved a strong and productive lineup change. Lundy had the best game of his career and Harrar was effective in the role he took over during Penn State's NIT Championship run. The Nittany Lions were effective on the offensive end without settling for threes, and looked methodical in their attack.

Against Iowa, Chambers' management of his bench with several players in foul trouble was as good as it has ever been and Penn State's win had as much to do with that as anything else.

But Penn State has not lost three Big Ten games in a row because it was outmatched from the outset. It hasn't lost because it was never close in the first place. Blowouts happen, and the Nittany Lions' defeat to Ohio State is just a fact of life in sports, but losing games in which an offense goes cold for a significant percentage of the half against a team of similar quality is an untenable equation. In the second half against Minnesota the Nittany Lions looked content to settle for the shots they have not been making and could get at nearly any point in the possession. The first half poise turned into old habit prayers. The results, and the misses followed suit.

It's a player's game. And the Nittany Lions will have to find it in themselves to make the shots they've missed and find it in themselves to make the decisions they know they ought to. And to Chambers' credit his timeout usage early and often wasn't without cause, or without hopes of righting a wobbling ship. Simply put, it wasn't for a lack of trying.

In the grand scheme of things Chambers' basketball acumen is probably under-appreciated given the nature of his charge: to win in the Big Ten, and for most of his career with teams less talented then their opponents.

All the same, if the Nittany Lions want to make good on their resume, those crippling second half droughts will have to die out themselves, and for all the missed shots and mental errors out of his control, the finger ultimately points to the person on the sideline. Especially if this team wants to get the invite it has the ability to earn.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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