Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Playing for Future in Final Stretch
As Penn State walked off the court following a 65-51 loss to No. 14 Ohio State, an all-too-familiar scene unfolded as players and coaches alike spoke about a loss and how they feel so close to turning the corner.
“Those guys in the locker room love each other. There are a lot of tears,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “I do not know if I see one dry eye in that locker room. They care about this program. They care about playing hard and playing Penn State basketball. They understand what it is going to take.
“Regardless of 0-8, we are getting better. You may not see it, but I see it. We are playing against the best teams in the country, top to bottom. We are getting better and hopefully we will see those results real soon in a positive way.”
For Chambers, there is only so much he can say. An eight-game losing streak tends to stretch the boundaries of creativity, especially in the world of coach speak. Penn State’s problems haven’t changed much. Consistent shooting, defense and rebounding are the three primary areas of focus all season. The Nittany Lions have improved in all of those areas, but the demons of inconsistency have been the only constant factor in Big Ten play.
A look over the Nittany Lions' roster becomes a double edged sword. It’s both a problem for the short term and what fans hope is a solution for the long-term stability of the program.
On one hand, seven of Penn State’s 10 eligible and healthy players are underclassmen. Following the loss of Tim Frazier, it left only Jermaine Marshall as the sole upperclassmen with significant scoring and playing experience.
It isn’t an excuse that Chambers has used, but the fact of the matter is the Nittany Lions have found themselves outmatched in a Big Ten conference that is likely the strongest in the nation. To Chambers' and the Nittany Lions’ credit, they’ve ridden on the backs of effort and hard work to stay in almost all eight games despite the losses.
It’s that slow but steady improvement, and hard work and effort, that is why fans hope that brighter days are not far ahead.
In 2013-14, the return of Frazier, eight players on the current active roster, the addition of Pittsburgh transfer guard John Johnson and four incoming freshmen leave the Nittany Lions with room for growth and steady improvement. It’s something Big Ten coaches expect out of Penn State. Three of the biggest names in the Big Ten have offered up unprompted comment on the Nittany Lions’ future.
“They're so physical. They're great at going in and kind of seeking contact and bouncing you off and scoring the ball,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “They're really strong guys. That backcourt with Frazier next year is going to be really good.”
“You know, he’s building a program. I’m looking at this player in a suit [Frazier] there today and thinking that this player would make a big difference on this team. Those of you up here don’t forget that,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Those two wing guys [Newbill, Marshall] and then a player of Frazier’s caliber playing the point, I think they’re going to be an impressive group next year. I think they’re going to get a lot better.”
“When you’re building a program, and that’s what [Chambers] is doing,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, “and he’s doing it the right way and when you look out here and there is only one senior and you get Tim back, they’re headed in the right direction.”
With 10 games remaining (11 if you count the first round of the Big Ten tournament), Penn State’s chances of picking up that first conference win are quickly decreasing. Two games against No. 2 Michigan and a trip to No. 12 Minnesota still stand in the way.
Even so, the importance of even just one win cannot be understated. Winning in the final stages of the season gives the Nittany Lions positive momentum to use in the offseason.
“Right now, I can say that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the country school-wise,” Newbill said. “I mean things on the court aren't going too well for us right now, but off the court, we are still a family. We still come together and work hard. Our goal is to still keep getting better every day. I am happy I made this decision to come here, and I am happy to be here.”