The first two years of the Patrick Chambers era haven't gone as smoothly as possible. The 2011-12 season was always going to be a transition year after losing Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones in one graduating class, no matter who the coach was. Chambers' debut season saw an inexperienced roster battle to a 10-21 record, earning some nice victories against Purdue and Illinois along the way.
The emergence of Tim Frazier as one of the top point guards in the Big Ten in 2012 led to higher expectations this past season, but a ruptured Achilles soon curtailed any and all hopes of a postseason appearance. Frazier's injury left the team with only nine scholarship players, none of which were a true point guard. D.J. Newbill performed admirably in spot duty at the one, but between guys playing out of position and an absolutely loaded Big Ten, wins were hard to come by. The Nittany Lions played their hearts out every night, which has so far been the modus operandi in the Chambers era, but a 10-win season at the bottom of the conference table was all they could muster.
Despite the built-in excuses of inheriting an unfamiliar team and the injury bug (which I think are valid), Chambers has been questioned by some as to whether he is the right man to take Penn State's program to the next level and out of meh-ness. It is my opinion that, despite the setbacks in the early going, the 42-year old Philadelphia native can and will turn this program around and lead Penn State to national relevance. Here's why:
If you are a person who holds the starzzz system to be gospel, you may be saying, "gee, recruiting isn't all that different from what it was under Ed DeChellis." To that extent, I agree. No player Chambers has signed in his time at PSU has garnered more than three stars from any recruiting service (Scout, Rivals, 24/7, ESPN), but isn't that to be expected when your team is at the bottom of the conference two years running? Not to mention his first real recruiting class only arrived in his second season due to the odd timing of DeChellis' departure.
These excuses don't prove the point, however, so try this on for size: the teams Chambers is beating out for recruits is much more of an indicator that he will be able to land big name targets when the team starts winning (e.g, next season, hopefully). To wit: Geno Thorpe had offers from national name Kansas State (22-10 in 2011, the year Thorpe committed), Big Ten rival Wisconsin (26-10 in 2011) and Thorpe's hometown team, Pitt. The timing of his commitment is telling, also--Thorpe pledged his future to Chambers the morning "It" broke, November 8th, 2011, and hasn't wavered once on his word. Graham Woodward, who committed shortly before 2012's signing day is considered Chambers' second-highest rated member of the 2013 class. Penn State beat out Gonzaga (#1 seed in the NCAA tournament) and Butler for the Minnesotan point guard's services.
Even though Brandon Austin's decommitment was a sting in the tail, it's clear that Chambers hasn't shied away from going after the biggest names, specifically the biggest names in the Philadelphia area. He's secured two players from the greater Philly area already in Brandon Taylor and class of 2013 signee Julian Moore, and Penn State has been mentioned with highly-rated Philly recruits like 2014's Shep Garner (who reportedly has Penn State among his top 3, though that may change), Ben Bentil and Jared Nickens, as well as some preliminary names in the 2015 class. PSU is in the mix for some of these guys now; imagine what a good season on the floor will do for Chambers' chances. On that note,
As stated above, you simply don't lose an all-Big Ten point guard and expect to win with the ragtag roster Chambers had to work with in 2012-13. Claims that PSU somehow "underachieved" in winning two conference games and staying competitive in most others are, in my opinion, ridiculous. The Big Ten was/is the best conference in the country as we're seeing in the NCAA tournament.
You know Tim Frazier is coming back, but what may be just as important is who isn't coming back for the rest of the Big Ten. Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Brandon Paul, Derrick Nix, Trevor Mbakwe, D.J. Byrd and Jared Berggren will all be graduating, and, if they're smart and take advantage of this supposedly weak NBA Draft class, Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr, Cody Zeller, Deshaun Thomas and potentially others could very well leave early, which will obviously give Penn State a better chance at competing for a spot in the big dance. If this year is any indication, an 8-10 conference record with two or three non-conference losses should be good enough. I think it's a possibility considering who the Nittany Lions bring back (Frazier, Newbill, Jermaine Marshall) and who they bring in (John Johnson and the aforementioned recruits). And with that,
It Only Takes One Season To Build Program-Changing Momentum
The following is an example of a team that was very similar to Penn State in its lack of success until they hired the right coach. There are countless examples of this situation occurring over the years, where a program is swung around on the back of one season. The recruiting portions are not meant to show causation between recruiting and winning, but rather the opposite; that recruiting success comes with winning. My point is to show that any program can make the leap into what I would call national relevance after a long lull. I'll post the identity of Team X in the comments with a spoiler heading. See if you can guess who this team is:
Team X is a team in a BCS conference. Team X has gone eight years without making an NCAA tournament appearance, and had just fired Coach A, who went 36-58 in three years at the helm. Coach B was brought in as a former head coach at a low-major program, and he inherited a roster with two preseason Wooden Award watch-list candidates and a team that finished 15-16 in 2009-10. Coach B's first recruiting class (2010) consisted of an unranked guard and a three-star combo-forward. Team X went to the NIT in the Coach B's first year. Coach B's second recruiting class (2011) consisted of four 3-star recruits. Team X made the NCAA tournament and won a first-round game in Coach B's second season (2011-12). Coach B's third recruiting class (2012) consisted of two 4-star recruits and four 3-star recruits. Team X once again made it to the NCAA tournament, this time losing in the first round this season.
For Team X, it took one trip to the NIT for recruiting to pick up. After Penn State won the NIT in 2009, Ed DeChellis was unable to keep the recruiting momentum going, much less the on-floor product (Penn State went 11-20 with Battle, Brooks, Jackson and Jones). Pat Chambers has somehow managed to get recruiting momentum despite two poor seasons. If 2013-14 results in a trip to the NCAA tournament, I have little doubt that Chambers will be able to capitalize and keep Penn State in a position to get back there almost every year.
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