There have been a lot of good and bad things said about the Penn State basketball program in the past year. There are those who believe the program is heading in the right direction, pointing to the the 2009 NIT as a reason to hold onto hope despite an 11-20 2010. There are those that believe Penn State is doomed to an eternity of mediocrity as it is presently constructed from the coaches to the players.
Both camps have been trading barbs for months now, but there's one thing all sides can agree on.
When the horn sounded at the end of Penn State's 76-55 loss to Minnesota Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, so began the Nittany Lions' put up or shut up 2011 basketball season.
Was the 2009 team a little lucky? Yes. Was the 2010 team unlucky? Yes. But now it's time for the players and coaches to make sure that the 2011 season is exactly what they want it to be: an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Penn State came out of the gates in its typical sluggish fashion. The Lions fell down by double digits early, but managed to rebound, and cut the deficit to nine by halftime. At that point, it felt like the average Penn State basketball evening was on our hands. The Lions would hang around, hang around, and then have their hearts torn out at the end of the game.
But the Golden Gophers came out of the locker room and blew the doors off Penn State in the second half, shooting 69% from the field, and burying the Lions before they ever had a chance to continue the rally.
The 2010 basketball season is over. All the heartbreaking losses now go from the resume onto the weight room bulletin board. All the bad things that have been said about the team are all past tense. It's a new day. Of course, this is all pretty cliche stuff to say, but it applies here. Penn State basketball is better than the 2010 basketball season, and no one knows that better than the players and coaches in the locker room. It's now their job to forget the late losses and Thursday's beat down and move onto 2011 as soon as the plane lands in State College.
If we're talking positives, the Lions out rebounded a bigger Gopher team Thursday but...Minnesota shot 58% so it's not as if there were a whole lot coming out of the air to grab. Four Lions finished in double figures, continuing the trend of balanced scoring that's been seen over the last couple of weeks, and Penn State shot a solid 15-18 (83%) from the line.
The effort this team has shown over the last couple of weeks wasn't there Thursday. The energy was zapped. It looked like a team ready to head into the off season. While you can't really blame them for hanging their heads at this point, it's still disappointing that the players went out this way after fighting much better teams than Minnesota hard all season.
DeChellis played his freshman as much as he has all season early on in what was Penn State's biggest game in months. Penn State probably wasn't going to win the Big Ten Tournament, but the substitution patterns suggested that was never the goal any way. I can understand giving young players time, but not when there's a prize on the line, no matter how distant it appears to be.
Penn State's 14 turnovers didn't help either. While there have been a lot of places Penn State has grown since starting 0-12, this is one of the things that has gotten worse. The Lions became more and more careless with the ball as the season progressed, and that's a problem that definitely needs to be rectified by the time next fall rolls around.
Give credit to Minnesota, but 58% shooting and 69% in the second half shouldn't happen. In a season chalk full of them, Thursday was Penn State's roughest defensive performance of the year. Sometimes you run into a hot shooting team, but that's a little excessive.
Penn State's 4/16 performance from beyond the arc was tough to swallow as well. This is an element of the Lions' game that has really progressed since the early part of the year, and going out on such a sour note is disappointing to say the least. Over the summer, every guard including Talor Battle needs to work on this to open up Penn State's weak front court for some easy shots by offering a threat from three-point territory.
The Blue-White game. The one in November, not April. Stay tuned, it's usually part of a big football weekend. Also, look for some end-of-the-year stuff in the coming days.