Although I've gotten the reputation around here for being a hater, it's hard for me to write this article. I like Pat Chambers. I like his attitude. I want nothing more to see him succeed at taking Penn State to the next level, and I've seen some glimpses that he can. But so far, there have been more misses than hits in his first two years, and if things don't improve in a hurry, it may be time to try and start again, even if it's bound to be a futile act.
I imagine Chambers knows that the 2013-2014 season is a crucial one for him. Nobody can fault him all that much for the failures of his first two seasons, in which Penn State won six combined conference games and went 18 games below .500 overall; injury and depth issues plagued this year's squad, while the previous one lost four starters from a surprise tourney team. But while Pat Chambers has preached attitude, he's also caused some of these problems.
Take the depth issue: After Tim Frazier went down, Penn State was left with just three guards (one of whom was Nick Colella), and no true point guards. Sure would've been nice, then, to have Juwan Staten, Tre Bowman, Matt Glover, and Trey Lewis, then. Yes, I know those transfers weren't all Chambers' fault. There's always going to be turnover when a new coach comes in and installs a new system. Staten had a great relationship with Ed DeChellis, Bowman had off-the-court issues, and, by all accounts, Glover just wanted to go back home in California. Trey Lewis apparently butted heads with his new coach, and wasn't a fan of the style. That's okay. These things happen. It's better to only have players who will buy in to your system, especially when it's so demanding.
But given that roster freedom, Chambers acted irrationally. This year's group of freshman, although, of course, they could turn into important players for Penn State, seemed to have been recruited out of a sense of necessity, rather than want or even need. I mean, Akosa Maduegbunam was behind Kevin Montnimy on the depth chart. Donovan Jack didn't play much either, but it doesn't look like he'll ever have the body to be a big man in the Big Ten. Neither of those guys, freshman year-performance notwithstanding, are of the caliber of players that Penn State should be bringing in. Combined, they had one offer from another power-conference school, and Washington State isn't exactly an example to follow. Brandon Taylor's looked like a player with a bright future, but given the scholarship constraints, you just can't afford to go one for three in a class.
That's hamstrung this team considerably, to the point where a seemingly impulsive scholarship offer to Jack or Maduegbunam might be what keeps Penn State out of the tournament next year. With the upcoming scholarship crunch, Sasa Borovnjak is almost certainly going to forfeit his final year of eligibility leaving just Jon Graham as Penn State's lone big man--which, as I wrote a couple weeks ago, might be the one thing that keeps Penn State out of the tournament next year. Chambers was part of the Villanova coaching staff that implemented a four-guard offense, but that simply won't work in the Big Ten. You need size. And although the rational part of me understands that Chambers' carefrontations are a necessary evil, and probably as good for the student-athletes as they are for the team (I can't imagine wanting to sit on the bench for four years), I'm more than a little uncomfortable with a coach who so badly mismanages a roster that he has to run players off the team.
Lastly, looking ahead to Chambers' future recruiting classes and claiming that they represent a change from the DeChellis era is revisionist history. First off, Pat, like Ed, has not yet been able to reel in the big fish, the kid who can singlehandedly change the direction of the program. We had Brandon Austin for a moment, but then came the decommitment. We were excited about the possibility of Sheldon Jeter, but he became the lowest rated member of Vanderbilt's recruiting class. And while Payton Banks, Graham Woodward, Geno Thorpe, and Isaiah Washington are exciting young players with lots of promise, they're still just three-star guys. Julian Moore can prove me wrong, but his offer sheet portends that he might be another Akosa or Donovan Jack. And most importantly, none of them are of a different caliber than most of the recruits Ed DeChellis brought in, at least according to the recruiting services. We know that Pat Chambers will get more out of his players, but is that enough?
If we give Pat Chambers the same eight years as Ed DeChellis, I imagine he'd do what DeChellis did, in marginally but significantly improving the Nittany Lions. He'd take this program up exactly one more notch on the ladder. In those eight years, maybe he'll make the tournament two times, not once. He'd probably make the NIT in most of the other years, not just twice. But given how incredibly stacked the Big Ten is, and promises to be for the foreseeable future, I just don't know that Penn State can ever crack the upper echelon. There just aren't that many wins to be had.
That's not Pat Chambers fault, of course. Whether the Nittany Lions ever do become a program that's in the top three in the state of Pennsylvania, it'll take more investments, from the university, boosters, and fans. Pat's already giving everything he's got.