We go to the eastern half of the Big Ten this week to talk Nittany Lions Basketball.
Welcome back folks to another fun filled interview with another SB Nation blog. This week we have Chad Markulics of Black Shoe Diaries. Chad was kind enough to give us some insight on this years Nittany Lion team and the season they have had so far.
Let’s start with the big win. What did Penn State do to upset Indiana?
Pat Chambers has made a concerted effort to slow the tempo this season and their ability to do that against an Indiana team that makes its living in transition really played into Penn State’s favor. Yogi Ferrell didn’t look comfortable all night and Thomas Bryant got into foul trouble early, and I have to credit PSU’s defense and poise with the ball (just seven turnovers) for a lot of that. Between that strategic success and Brandon Taylor’s huge night, it was somewhat of a perfect storm that led to the upset.
Last year Penn State had a great non conference record before hitting a rut during the conference slate. They then ended the season with a nice run getting into the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals and gave Coach Chambers his first winning season with the Nittany Lions. What were the expectations coming into this year?
D.J. Newbill was the heart and soul of last year’s team, but even he would probably consider his final season a disappointment. The mini-run in Chicago was a sweet ending, but an 0-6 B1G start - including a loss at Rutgers - doomed them to another postseason at home. Based on the entirety of that season, nobody had any expectations that this year’s edition would challenge for the NIT, much less the NCAAs. They did bring in a great recruiting class by Penn State standards, but one of the two four star recruits is redshirting due to eligibility concerns and the other, Josh Reaves, came down with mononucleosis in January. But all things considered, these Nittany Lions have met most of those expectations. The last two wins against Northwestern and Indiana have assuaged any fears that this season would be a total catastrophe.
Pat Chambers is in his 5th year coaching the Nittany Lions with mixed success. How is his current relationship with the fans and what does he need to do to improve?
State College isn’t much of a basketball town, and Chambers is probably fortunate that’s not the case in some respects - at most programs, four straight finishes without a meaningful postseason appearance would be a death sentence. But he’s still here, and AD Sandy Barbour’s decision to extend his contract for recruiting purposes has paid off. Barring something funky happening, Penn State will bring in a top-3 class in the B1G next year, led by a trio of players from one of Philadelphia’s most storied high school programs, Roman Catholic.
Most reasonable fans see what Pat is building and are willing to let him see at least two more seasons through with the talent he’s bringing in. His off-court persona is pretty pristine - he and his players are very active in the local community and I’ve never met anyone who has a bad thing to say about Chambers as a man. If the wins start coming over the next two years, the larger fan base will have no problem embracing him.
On the court, his teams have a tendency to foul a lot due to their physical defense and tendency to pack the paint. Some of that is a lack of B1G talent, I think, but it has been a trend for Chambers throughout his tenure.
Give us a rundown of what the team does well and what they need to improve upon?
They don’t turn the ball over very much for a team that lacks a true point guard - Shep Garner is a natural two-guard, but he’s playing nearly 38 minutes a game at the point - but that’s about it as far as consistent strengths. Shooting has been their Achilles’ heel. Penn State is the 12th-worst team in the country in three-point percentage, which makes them conducive to blowout losses (see: at Iowa and at Ohio State).
Shep Garner, Brandon Taylor, and Payton Banks are the top guys on the team. Who else should the Husker fans keep an eye on during Saturday’s game?
Reaves has made his way back from illness, and should be near full strength for Saturday. He’s oozing with potential as an active, athletic wing player, and his perimeter defense has been missed in his absence. If Shavon Sheilds is back healthy (and I hope he is), the freshman will have something to say about how well he plays in his return.
Okay, prediction time. What will happen Saturday night and what will be the final score?
Penn State has been too inconsistent on the road to confidently predict a win, and with Shields’ status still up in the air I’ll offer two picks: If he plays, I think it’s a close game, with Nebraska leaning on their star senior late for big buckets, 66-62. If he’s out, I can see Nebraska coming out with their hair on fire and rising to the occasion to run PSU out of the gym, 79-65. That’s just how college basketball works, right?
Yep, that is how College Basketball Works. Plus, we now know that Shields will not be playing so here's to the Huskers playing with their hair on fire! Thanks again to Chad for giving us some of his time. For more Penn State basketball info, follow him on Twitter along with Black Shoe Diaries.