Coach Chambers has yet to throw out any expectations including wins/losses since he has been head coach here, and it's likely that won't happen anytime soon. He knows how far this team has to go before they can start setting reasonable goals for themselves, so he has emphasized a 'get better everyday' attitude so they can 'be the best team they can be'.
But for us fans, wins and losses usually seem to be the only thing that matters. Going into the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic this weekend, all rational PSU fans conceded defeat to the #2 Kentucky Wildcats before the ball was tipped. We were just hoping we could make something out of our November exempt tournament on Day 2 against the USF/ODU loser.
As I sat in Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday watching our Nittany Lions get beaten to a pulp, I began to wonder how bad this beating was going to carry over to the next game. How long was this loss going to hang on these guys' confidence and derail their season? The game was a typical blowout of a young team that snowballed out of control. PSU continued to get good shots on offense, but they just couldn't hit the broad sign of a barn. It got worse and worse as the first half went on, with Frazier air-balling from the foul-line and Cam Woodyard air-balling everywhere. My worry grew even bigger with Jon Graham's denial by the rim on a point-blank dunk attempt just before halftime.
But PSU came out in the second half of that Kentucky game and didn't quit. They played pretty even for the latter 20 minute period, despite being outmatched in every facet of the game. They still lost by 38, but they had a game to play on Sunday against South Florida (68-66 OT losers to Old Dominion). Chambers' got his guys ready by holding an open discussion as a family about Saturday's massacre and then running a walkthrough in one of the Mohegan's parking garages. Whatever it was, it worked as PSU gutted out a 53-49 victory over the Bulls.
If we learned anything from this weekend, it's that this team can't shoot at the percentage necessary for the volume of jump shots they take. They're shooting just 31% from 3 on the year despite taking 41.1% of their shots from deep. Maybe it was the arena's rims, maybe it was PSU's 4th and 5th games in 9 days but they shot just 25.5% from 3 for the weekend (36.6% eFG%).
Despite PSU's offensive woes, we also learned that this team continues to build great habits on the defensive end of the floor. The difference in the USF game was turnovers (aside from Augustus Gilchrist's injury), as the Nittany Lions forced the Bulls to turn it over on 32% of their possessions. Penn State's 1-2-2 press really turned the tide in PSU's favor, sparking a 16-7 run over the last 5 minutes that turned a 5 point deficit into a 4 point victory. For once it was nice to be the team applying the pressure instead of folding under it.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, this team needs to prove themselves as shooters, or it could be ugly all year when PSU has the ball. I would imagine the lineups will continue to change as Jermaine Marshall seemed to make his case as a starter after his performance against USF (19 min, 14 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk). A few players need to put this weekend behind them and regroup (Woodyard, Borovnjak, Lewis), while others had great moments to build on (Graham, Travis, Glover). Individually, I'm expecting plenty of inconsistency on offense from nearly everyone on the roster, but Frazier is going to need someone to step up every night. He can't account for over 50% of the scoring if they are going to win games. However, this team has bought in to its commitment on the defensive end. They scratch, fight, and claw for the full forty minutes. It might not be pretty, but just like the footballers, they are fun to watch and easy to root for.
Next up for the Lions is a trap game tomorrow night against a pesky Youngstown State team (7 PM, BTN.com) before they travel to Philadelphia to take on the St. Joe's Hawks on Saturday. Unfortunately, the SJU game is scheduled for the same time as kickoff against Bucky.