Thursday night ended in an all-too-familiar fashion for Penn State basketball. A close game that the team could not pull out. It has been too common of an occurrence this season and arguably the biggest reason why the Nittany Lions will be sitting at home for the rest of March.
Penn State head coach Pat Chambers has been under heavy criticism for much of the season. The hot stretch in February calmed the fire for a bit, but the collapse against Minnesota once again raised questions as to whether Chambers is the right guy to lead the basketball program.
Before anyone had any chance to start any speculation surrounding Chambers’ job, he said that athletic director Sandy Barbour assured him that he will be returning for the 2019-20 season, his ninth in Happy Valley.
Was it the right move? Well, there are plenty of ways to answer that question.
At the end of January, it seemed nothing could go right for this Penn State team. Yet to win a game in conference play, it seemed then that Chambers job was slipping away from him. But a 7-3 mark to finish the season, with wins over ranked Michigan and Maryland seemed to save his job, again.
In his eight seasons at Penn State, it has seemed on numerous occasions that Chambers’ time was running out, to only be saved by a late-season run. Last season’s NIT championship seemed to grant him some time, but how forgiving can we be of Chambers after falling way below expectations this season?
Yes, Tony Carr left, but Lamar Stevens and Josh Reaves were still there. Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton developed nicely and Chambers deserves some credit for that. Plus, what about Mike Watkins? He never seemed to really ever get it going. How much of that is on Watkins and how much is on Chambers?
These are all valid questions, but the fact of the matter is that there was not as much turnover as many like to make it seem like. A team with a first-team Big Ten player and Big Ten defensive player of the year should not have finished 14-18.
Yes, there were plenty of close losses and if Penn State pulls half of those out then the season is completely different. Talent keeps you in those games, but good coaching is what puts you over the top in that aspect.
There is really no evidence that Penn State has the right coach for that task.
It’s not like any of this is new either. Now eight years in and Chambers still has yet to make an NCAA Tournament. Some can argue that they were snubbed last season, but what does it matter, Penn State probably would have gone one-and-done as an 11-seed anyway.
Chambers has continued to get chance after chance and, quite frankly, it may say more about the overall state of the program than anything about him. The school has accepted the mediocrity of its basketball program and it is perfectly okay with that.
But that’s the problem, they shouldn’t be okay with that.
Until the school accepts that fact, we are going to be swimming in circles year after year asking the same questions. Just look at some other sports and see the success they have had.
Football was hit with some of the hardest sanctions in North American sports history. Five years after regaining bowl eligibility, it has turned itself into a national powerhouse once again.
Hockey wasn’t even a division one program at the beginning of this decade and they’ve made more NCAA tournaments in its history than Chambers has in his tenure at Penn State.
The list goes on and on and the same issues will continue to resurface if the school accepts them. It’s time to stop accepting mediocrity and do what it takes to at least move the basketball program towards relevancy.
No one is asking to be a blue blood, to be like Duke or Kentucky, at least not yet. But can we at least ask for a chance at the NCAA tournament every year? Is that really too much to ask for? It doesn’t even take firing Chambers, it just takes accepting that the program needs to be better. If that requires letting go of Chambers, then that may be what has to happen.
Women’s basketball parted ways with a very good coach in Coquese Washington after a down season. Shouldn’t Penn State’s men’s team have similar expectations to its female counterparts? The Penn State community deserves better.
For a program that has been historically bad, being mediocre is fine. But, for a school like Penn State, being mediocre for as long as it has should no longer be acceptable. The time to make the jump to relevancy is now.
Will that happen? It remains to be seen.
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