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Six-game stretch may define early hype for PSU hoops

by on November 27, 2019 10:48 AM

UNIVERSITY PARK — If Penn State men’s basketball’s first five games generated the buzz, the next six will help determine which direction that buzz might be headed.

Following an impressive, but not drama-free opening stage to Penn State’s 2019 season en route to a 5-0 record, the Nittany Lions will face six-straight Power Five opponents between now and Dec.14. It’s a stretch that began Wednesday in Brooklyn as Penn State faced Ole Miss (game played after Centre County Gazette’s press time), from there a Black Friday meeting with either Oklahoma State or Syracuse to cap off the NIT Season Tip-Off in the Big Apple.

After that Wake Forrest will visit the Bryce Jordan Center for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before the Nittany Lions make the trip to Columbus to face the No. 10 ranked Buckeyes and then return home to play the No. 5 ranked Maryland Terrapins.

The stretch rounds out with Alabama on Dec. 14 before briefly dipping back into the friendlier confines of out of conference play.

“We’re going to know exactly who we are by middle of December,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “..It’s definitely going to tell us where we are. This is where our depth has to come in and this is where veteran leadership has to rise to the occasion.”

Monday marked both the start of a difficult slate and the recognition of quality play leading up to that point as Penn State received votes in both the AP and Coach’s polls. The Nittany Lions’ victory over Georgetown in particular appears to have have paid dividends as the Hoyas later upset ranked Texas and gave No. 1 overall Duke a respectable battle the following night.

But like every coach in America, Chambers is not overly concerned with recognitions earned in November as much as those in March.

“I think it’s great for for this program, I think it’s great for the players I think it’s great for the staff,” Chambers said of the votes. “It’s nice to be recognized it’s nice that people out there see what what we’re doing and how well we’re playing. But it really is for the family and the fans. We just got to continue to work hard and practice and go out and compete for 40 minutes.”

The tempered optimism about this particular group of Nittany Lions isn’t undeserved though. Penn State’s late double-digit comeback against 2018 NCAA Tournament bound Yale capped off an opening five game stretch that has flexed both the Nittany Lions’ defensive prowess as well as offensive competence. And in the eyes of sophomore guard Myles Dread, proved that this team is learning how to win.

“Last year I don’t think we come out on top of that one at all,” Dread added. “We make the run (last year) but then I just don’t think we can get over the hump. So, we have a little bit more confidence going into some of these games.

“Last year was gut wrenching because, you know, you look back on the game and you watch film and you see those plays that changed the game by one or two possessions. You could have made that extra effort or you could have dove on the floor or you got deflection here or there, that you look back on and say like those are game changing play those were winning plays. So now we’re just doing our best to get to make winning plays as much as possible.”

Penn State has a lot of work left to do to prove early season hype isn’t just the optimisms of November, but the Nittany Lions look the part of a team ready to make a run, and so far they’ve backed it up with wins.

The good news is that the next few weeks will do much when it comes to defining the course of the season. There will be ups and downs and almost certainly the Nittany Lions’ first loss of the year, but there will also be opportunity to legitimize

“We have eight weeks in the summer, we have preseason. It’s just like, just on that treadmill non-stop. I think because of the retreat in the summer, the work we put in, what we did this preseason and the veteran leadership that we have. It might look like that we’re a little bit ahead. But we still got a lot of work to do to get consistent. I always say this we got to be able to play 40 minutes of Penn State basketball, and we’re just not there yet. 25, 30, (minutes) we’re gaining some momentum right there. There’s another 10 minutes to play and in the Big 10 we’re going to need that.”



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