When the 2018-19 season comes to an end, Penn State basketball will look back and wonder what could have been. Following a disappointing first three months of the season, the Nittany Lions have turned it on as of late, winning five of their seven games in February.
Penn State’s most recent triumph came in a dominant 78-61 win over No. 17 Maryland on last Wednesday night, a game in which the Nittany Lions controlled from start to finish. It was their second ranked win in February and their third of the season.
If it wasn’t for an 0-8 record in the month of January, then Penn State might have themselves in the thick of things for the NCAA Tournament and in a much more favorable position in the Big Ten. But as we all know, that is not the case.
Instead, Penn State finds themselves trying to scrape off some positives from what an overall disappointing season this has been. If they win out and scrap out a few more wins in the Big Ten tournament, then maybe Penn State could find a way into one of the lower tier postseason tournaments.
But would that even be considered a success? Following an NIT championship last season, expectations were high for Penn State, so making the NIT again, or a lower tournament shouldn’t be something that is glorified. The goal was the NCAA tournament and unless the Nittany Lions win five games in five days, which is as unlikely as anything, they won’t be making it there.
The best thing, or the worst thing depending on how you look at it, is that this recent string of success likely buys Pat Chambers another season. While this season has been a disappointment, Chambers deserves some credit for the development of the younger guys such as Myles Dread, Jamari Wheeler, and Rasir Bolton as their improvements have served as a catalyst for Penn State’s success.
Who knows how the rest of the season will play out? Penn State could fizzle out and those same questions will arise again, or they could continue its strong play and give fans a strong sense of optimism heading into the 2019-20 season.
But with that optimism, also comes the chance of those high expectations crashing down yet again. There is also this feeling that next season could be different. If Lamar Stevens stays, then the only key departure will be Josh Reaves, and guys like Dread, Bolton, Wheeler, and Mike Watkins will be back for another year with more experience under their belt.
So, while this season may be chalked up as a disappointment, the way Penn State is ending their season, their slew of top-25 wins, and the expectation that those close loses should flip to Penn State’s side next year, there has to be some sense of optimism around Happy Valley.
The slogan thrown around Penn State this year was “Trust the Climb,” and after falling all the way down in January, Penn State had no other option other than to climb upwards, and the expectation should be that the climb continues into next season.
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