Twenty-four days ago Penn State walked through a loss to Northwestern as though in a zombie-like state. It was clear that Pat Chambers, even without Josh Reaves, had a superior team, but that team did not assert itself, losing 70-61. With the disappointing loss the Lions were 3-5 in Big Ten play and set to travel to then-undefeated Ohio State.
To say that the outlook for Chambers and his team was bleak would be polite. The outlook was upgraded to bleak when Josh Reaves was declared eligible to play in the game. What followed was an upset that garnered national attention. The Penn State basketball team had life in it, but could it maintain the momentum? A 4-1 record since the last meeting between the teams has followed, losing only at Michigan State, after playing its best basketball of the season through the first half.
Leading up to the last meeting with Ohio State there was a great deal of dissatisfaction among Penn State fans. It appeared that another season was going to come and go without realizing the potential that the team appeared to have; losing a handful of games it could have won. The blame rested mostly on the shoulders of Pat Chambers to those fans looking for a place to set it down. Now with a 5-1 record since the Northwestern debacle and his team playing itself into NCAA tournament consideration, the credit must also go to the coach, right? Maybe not.
Like any good leader Chambers took the heat for the losing. Now that the team is winning, the kudos are going to the players. Tony Carr’s game has recently matured and he is passing the ball more often, picking his scoring spots much more diligently than earlier in the season. Josh Reaves’ contribution is no longer understated. Julian Moore has become a player that can contribute productively. The team has moved further from the stagnant, isolation-based plays late in the game when the stakes rise. All of these improvements should be attributed to someone.
While it is common for the credit or blame to rest on one man’s shoulders, it typically should be spread around to several coaches and players. Unlike football coaching, the assistant coaches for basketball teams do not get the attention that they deserve for molding the team’s offense, defense and overall play.
Whether the run the team has recently achieved should exonerate Pat Chambers for his past short-comings or not is a question that would split Penn State basketball fans. The week of the loss to Northwestern we polled readers as to their support for Pat Chambers. 68% of the respondents favored keeping the coach regardless of how the season played out or were willing to wait to see what unfolded. Now that we have witnessed a somewhat miraculous turnaround, it is likely that support for Pat Chambers has never been higher.
For now any talk of the future past this season can wait. Fans on any side of the coaching debate can join together to watch a potential NCAA tournament run unfold. We are united in our support of the team and our desire to watch it play well into the post-season.
There is one point that fans of all viewpoints can agree with; Penn State must defeat Ohio State. It is never fun to lose to the Buckeyes. Another win versus the top team in the conference would go a long way for the Lions’ aspirations. It would also be a feather in the cap of Penn State fans that could be worn until next year, used as-needed to tickle Ohio State supporters should they get too comfortable.
ABP-Always Be Pressing
The Penn State basketball team has a gifted group of athletes, especially at the guard position. Josh Reaves leads the Big Ten in steals and gets the attention for his defense that is deserved. Freshman Jamari Wheeler, once considered a reach to contribute at this level, has now shown that he will be a four-year impact player. Wheeler is second only to Reaves in B1G steals per game and is one of only three Lions to appear in all 26 games this season. Sophomore Nazeer Bostick’s play is steadily improving and his defense is on par with Reaves and Wheeler. They are a trio of formidable defenders, especially while the team is pressing.
Pat Chambers came to Penn State with a philosophy and the intention to use the press frequently. He didn’t have the depth to do so until recent years but the addition of full and three-quarter court pressure has positively altered the outcome of games. Versus Rider the team did not press one time and seemed to get away from it in the games that followed.
The team came out with pressure in the second half against Illinois and the Fighting Illini could not handle the stress. The defense led to offense for the Lions and the team pulled away for a comfortable road victory.
It’s likely that Pat Chambers sees what we see, and backed away from pressing at times for strategic reasons, but it would be nice to see it more often coming down the stretch. If it were up to me, we would press more than we should. I would take a page from Glengarry Glen Ross, and instead always be pressing.
Watching the Lions fly to the ball during the press is like watching bees swarm to the hive. The players’ feet shuffle so fast that they are a blur like the wings of a bee, carrying the players’ stinger-like hands into position for a steal.
Opposing teams attempt to maintain their composure while breaking the press. They know that if they get stung just once the rest of the Lions will detect the attack pheromone that is released. That’s when the uncontrollable, primal force of Penn State’s press becomes impossible to avoid.
It would be nice to see Pat Chambers open the floodgates, or bee keeper’s hive as it were. Let those horses run. Give us some honey, Pat!