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Penn State Basketball: No Longer A Matter Of Talent As Nittany Lions Face Maryland To Open Big Ten Play

by on November 29, 2018 4:20 PM

The Big Ten Conference -by any reasonable measure- has not been kind to Penn State basketball. It's a ringer of teams every night, no easy games, no easy trips. Couple that with a talent gap and you're in for a long few months of viewing.

But for the Nittany Lions, the disparity between them and the top of the conference has all but shrank to something much more a formality than an obstacle.

In the past two seasons Penn State has gone 15-21 in conference play with 10 of those losses decided by a basket or in overtime. Essentially 69-percent of Penn State's Big Ten games the past two years have been either wins, or losses decided by the smallest possible margins.

And that doesn't count games that are basically the same sort of thing. A four point loss at Indiana last January may as well be a one possession game, an eight point loss to Purdue also falls outside the parameters.

So sure, Michigan State might be more talented, Purdue might have the best all-around player in the nation and Indiana might have more shooters, but these games are almost always close, almost always there for the taking. Just seven of Penn State's losses in the past two seasons have been by double-digits, in Chambers' first two seasons at Penn State the Nittany Lions fell 19 times by double figures.

The catch of course is somewhat obvious, Penn State and coach Patrick Chambers face the equally difficult task of getting over the hump.

Being competitive is nice, winning is better.

This coming Saturday and Tuesday will mark the latest in a now eight-year journey to getting closer and closer to summiting that hump. The Nittany Lions nearly did last year going 9-9 in Big Ten play, their best finish under Chambers, but with four of those very same overtime/single-basket defeats.

The two games in question, one against Maryland then Indiana will provide Penn State with a look under the hood against the types of teams it will need to beat a month from now. The new Big Ten schedule introduced last season means the Nittany Lions will play these two games before facing off against five out of conference foes. 

So it's a chance to take the Nittany Lions' temperature.

"I think it's going to tell us exactly what we need to work on and what habits we need to develop," Chambers said on Thursday afternoon. "We've just got to go to Maryland with the same objective, let's just go in there and get better and then when Tuesday comes let's just get better and then we can sit down and figure out what we need to get better at."

Penn State is, in a very small sample size, 1-1 in the early Big Ten games beating Iowa last season 77-73 on the road before losing late to Wisconsin 64-63 back in State College. 

A similar start would set Penn State up fairly well before the bulk of conference play begins in January.

And a sweep, a step towards the other side of the hump.

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