This was supposed to be the team that finally turned the corner for Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers.
His time in Happy Valley hasn’t been all that happy, between player transfers and plenty of stumbling blocks on the court, nothing has really gone right. But, with arguably his best roster of players the 2016-17 season was supposed to be a good one.
Much like the rest of Chambers’ tenure, not much has gone to plan this season. That was specifically highlighted in the Nittany Lions brutal 85-66 loss at home to George Mason.
No, not the George Mason of Jim Larranaga, but the one that has struggled to be relevant even in the re-built Atlantic 10 conference. That’s not to say the Patriots aren’t quality, as they are on a six-game win streak, with wins over Kent State and Northern Iowa in that win streak.
However, the loss said more about the Nittany Lions than the Patriots, as they were out worked and out hustled in the loss. Defense and hard-nosed basketball have been the hallmarks of Chambers’ Penn State tenure, but that wasn’t the case in this loss.
Instead, George Mason had a 44-16 advantage on points in the paint and 14-2 on the fast break. That’s about all one needs to know about this loss.
Chambers didn’t sound the panic alarm after the loss, noting that all that went wrong against George Mason is correctable.
“That’s why with them, I’m not freaking out because it’s correctable,” Chambers said, via the Centre Daily Times. “These are all fixable things that we can get better at, that we can control.”
That’s well and good, but with a player like Shep Garner in the mix things should be far better than they are in the 10th game of the sixth year of Chambers’ era.
But, it isn’t just the performance of the team in this game, rather it was that this game was indicative of a larger problem with this team. This is a Penn State team that is 12th in scoring offense (), 13th in scoring defense () and field goal shooting (.413), are dead last in scoring margin (+0.9) and rebounding margin (-4.1), and finally 11th in field goal percentage defense (.420).
I think you get the point — things are as bad as a 6-4 record in non-conference play for a Big Ten team would suggest.
That kind of performance has also led to perhaps the most dangerous sign that things are over…fans giving up on you. While Penn State has never really packed the Bryce Jordan Center for anything other than Thon or the occasional concert, what is happening this season is awful.
Penn State has played seven of 10 games at home and are averaging just 5,833 fans per game. That number is down nearly 1,000 from the final attendance figures of the entire 2015-2016 season.
Chambers is a good coach and a good man. He’s run a clean program and done things the right way. But, this is a win-first business and Chambers has had five seasons to build his program.
He also continues to show this program isn’t getting over the hump, despite increasing the level of play from his team. Being a .500 program six years in to your tenure? That’s not a good look.
Even in Happy Valley, there is a level of losing that won’t be tolerated and Chambers has been given every opportunity to get his program in order. It just hasn’t happened.
If things don’t improve and quickly, Chambers could be looking for other employment by the end of the season.
2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special
The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?
Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.
So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.
Big Ten Basketball Weekly Roundup: Jan. 9
Who said the Big Ten conference wouldn’t be entertaining in the 2016-17 season? Sure, the top of the league may not be nationally elite, but the first few weeks of the conference have been one heck of a ride.
With that in mind, we here at talking10 give you a new weekly basketball feature. It is our way to make sense of the chaos and take stock of the league from the past week. Along with our newly minted weekly power poll, look for us to have a heavy dose of basketball coverage every Monday morning for you throughout the rest of conference play.
So, let us not waste any more precious words and let us get right in to the fun of breaking down the week that was in Big Ten basketball.
Team of the Week: Purdue Boilermakers
When you are in a conference that is a complete log-jam, just simply winning out for the week can work. Such is the case this week as we pretty much had to go with the Boilermakers on this one.
Caleb Swanigan nailed a free throw to give his team a one-point win on the road to Ohio State, then followed it up with an incredible one-man effort in an 11-point win over No. 13 Wisconsin just yesterday. That win alone should’ve been enough, but coupled with what took place around the league in total, this was an easy call.
Add in an 11-point win over arguably the second-best team in the conference in Wisconsin? Well, the call gets real easy at that point. It wasn’t just the final margin of victory, it is how it happened that was so impressive.
Wisconsin just couldn’t get much going offensively thanks to the effort Purdue put in on the defensive side of the ball. Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter were a combined 6 of 16 from the field and a lot of that had to do with the defense played on the perimeter against them.
No one is going to run away with this league if early results hold firm, but should there be a run-away winner, look no further than the team that won a game on the road and took down the best team they’ll see all season at Mackey Arena.
Player of the Week: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Sensing a theme here? Well, when you happen upon a pair of double-doubles and sink a pressure free throw to win the game? You bet this was the easy and the right choice this week.
Swanigan put up 16 points and 11 rebounds in the win at Ohio State, while putting up an even more impressive 18 points and 13 boards against Wisconsin. He also happened to shoot 50.0 percent (11-of-22) from the field, 60.0 percent (3-of-5) from three-point range and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) from the free throw line for the week.
Weeks like this could also make it a very easy choice for Player of the Year, with Swanigan third in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game and topping the league in rebounding (12.9 per game).
Most Surprising Win: Penn State over Michigan State
The whole neutral court (well, at least in name in this case) thing should be old hat for the Spartans by now. It turned out to be exactly the same as before for the Spartans, as they were dropped at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia by a game Penn State program.
It was a raucous environment, one in which the Nittany Lions actually felt like they had a home-court advantage for a change. But, what made this result so surprising is that it came with Miles Bridges rounding back in to form.
Even his return to the lineup could do nothing to stop the bleeding that took place in Philly.
This is also the type of win that can change some minds and hearts in Philly recruiting circles. Pat Chambers has made significant inroads in the city, but this win is going to make everyone in the Philly basketball world stand up and notice Penn State basketball just a bit more.
PSU’s win was also a first, a first for Pat Chambers. He had previously never beaten Tom Izzo in a coaching matchup, and getting over that hurdle is a major one in a make-or-break season in Happy Valley.
Of course, doing something to build off the win is imperative, but that isn’t our worry here.
Most Disappointing Loss: Nebraska to Northwestern
If ever a game from this past week showcased the parity that could be on display in the Big Ten this season, the contest in Lincoln between Northwestern and Nebraska was exactly that.
So, why is it disappointing to see this loss? Well, if you’re Nebraska it is doubly disappointing. First off, you were one of the two undefeated team left in the conference coming in to Sunday and had a chance to cement yourselves in the conference title discussion early on.
That’s now gone.
Additionally, this was a home game. Winning at home is imperative in the Big Ten and not holding serve against a team that has been up and down so far in league play.
Home field advantage? That’s now gone too.
But, the most disappointing aspect of this loss is how it happened on the court — mainly a second half outburst from Northwestern that became a 14-0 run to whip out what was a double-digit Nebraska lead.
You simply can’t do that at home or anywhere and expect to be taken seriously. The road only gets tougher for the Huskers from here too. So, we’ll see if they can rebound from this defeat and continue to threaten at the top of the conference.
For a team many believed weren’t very good out of conference, they have been easily the biggest surprise in league play (sorry, not sorry Minnesota).
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