Even in jubilant times, Tim Frazier remains stone-faced - USA TODAY Sports
Penn State's victory over Michigan on Wednesday wasn't a program-changer. It was merely a reminder of why loyal fans continue rooting for this band of misfits season after season.
It's not much fun wading through a sea of embarrassing losses, of people asking you why you don't root for a "real" college basketball team, and of standings graphics on television that only show the top eight spots in the conference. It's not very difficult, but it's not much fun, either.
It's cool that the Big Ten is universally considered, at least for this season, the best basketball conference in the country. It's not cool that the conference would be even more prestigious if the team that I root for played someplace else.
Penn State basketball hasn't been awful forever. Just two seasons ago, the program was a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament. But then Talor Battle left, and Jeff Brooks left, and Battle's half-brother, Taran Buie, who was supposed to keep Penn State basketball relevant for the next few years transferred and was never heard from again.
Head coach Ed DeChellis left too, but everyone kind of likes current coach Pat Chambers better despite the lack of proof that he's capable of rebuilding the program.
Does Wednesday night's thrilling, come-from-behind 84-78 victory over No. 4 Michigan give us that proof? Of course not. It does show progress though. Progress from a brick-laying, rudderless scrapheap of "talent" to an actual basketball team that's aware of its strengths and weaknesses and can be dangerous on the right night if the right player gets hot.
According to KenPom, Penn State is the 151st most efficient team in the country, but for the past four games, it's been playing like a top-100 team that has a lot of room to grow. Jermaine Marshall can score from anywhere on the court, as evidenced by his 6-for-10 three-point shooting on Wednesday and his incredible, left-handed scoop shot that gave PSU a one-possession lead with 1:08 to go.
D.J. Newbill can turn the corner on almost anyone and is improving every week with his shooting and passing abilities. Ross Travis doesn't quite have an offensive game yet, but he's a terrific rebounder who is capable of guarding both point guards and power forwards.
So is Penn State ready to take the Big Ten by storm next season when Tim Frazier returns to the lineup? I'm not sure yet, but at the very least, the first 14 games of the conference slate should be a heck of a lot more fun to watch.
In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy this down season that includes watching epic Big Ten match-ups without the stress of actually having a horse in the race. And maybe I'll dream of Penn State scoring another upset in the first round of the conference tournament.
Maybe someday Penn State will be the team that gets court-rushed when it loses on the road instead of when it wins at home. Until then, I'll be content watching this team grow and rooting for those special nights that remind me why I'm a college hoops fan in the first place. Those are the perks of being a Penn State basketball fan.