Enough with all this football talk. These expectations about Penn State are making me nervous. Instead of just hoping to beat Indiana this year, I’m expecting Penn State to win by a sizable margin en route to another Big Ten Championship Game appearance. High hopes like that can only lead to two things: disappointment or smug Penn State fans. At least for those of you outside of the Nittany Lion bubble, one of those things is okay. For me, I’m stuck dealing with a major upset loss or more people praising Joe Moorhead as a savior even though he’s running a lot of the same stuff that his predecessor did.
If I say that predecessor’s name, certain people will come after me, so just remember that it’s the players on the field who make the difference.
With that out of the way, let me get back to my comfort zone of Penn State Basketball, where it’s okay to lose to a bad team, because we see it coming anyway. That mindset might be starting to change, though, thanks to Pat Chambers and his efforts on the recruiting trail. The head coach used his Philadelphia roots to bring in Mike Watkins, Tony Carr, and Lamar Stevens, who last year as freshmen gave Penn State its top two scorers, top three rebounders, and leading assists man.
When you add in the shooting contributions from Shep Garner and the Big Ten’s most underrated defender in Josh Reaves, Penn State is returning its entire starting lineup in 2017-18. Bringing back everyone from a team that went 15-18 (6-12 in conference) is not always considered a great idea, but given the youth and obvious talent that was on display this past February in back-to-back wins over Maryland and Illinois, it’s clear that these Lions have a chance to grow into something special.
That potential means we finally have a reason to turn up the heat on Chambers. He’s been given more than enough time to build this perennial doormat into a contender, but recently he’s finally broken through on the recruiting circuit and shown that his guys can compete on the floor. Now all that’s left is for Penn State to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. If Chambers can’t do that with three of the most talented recruits the program has ever seen, it might be time to go in a different direction.
Chambers knows this, or at least he’s gotten more serious about turning Penn State into a deeper team than it was last year. By allowing Payton Banks, Terrence Samuel, and Isaiah Washington to continue their basketball careers elsewhere, the coach opened up scholarships for more dynamic players. Incoming freshman Jamari Wheeler doesn’t have an offer sheet that will blow you away, but he gives the Lions an option at backup point guard that they didn’t have last year. Even if fellow freshmen Trent Buttrick and John Harrar don’t crack the frontcourt rotation right away, Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce is a defense-and-rebounding big man that Chambers can turn to when Watkins gets in foul trouble.
In 2016-17, Chambers put together a starting five that looked like it belonged on the floor with top Big Ten teams. This coming season, he’s looking to do the same with the bench by aggressively turning over roster spots. When November hits, there won’t be any reason why Penn State can’t begin its push towards the middle of the Big Ten pack, and Chambers knows there won’t be any excuses to be had if he doesn’t get there.