Coming into the 2006-2007 season, the Penn State men’s basketball team was picked by many to be the sleeper team of the Big Ten. In fact, many experts expected Penn State to contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. After all, the Lions were returning G/F Geary Claxton, a pre-season selection for the All Big Ten squad, as well as 2006 Freshman of the Year Jamelle Cornley. Penn State was also getting guard Danny Morrissey back from an injury that sidelined him all of last season. Morrissey, one of the best three-point shooters in the Big Ten, was expected to be a well-needed boost this team was looking for on offense.
However, this basketball team has not lived up to the expectations of those in Happy Valley. Before conference play began, Penn State was less than impressive. In their third game of the season Penn State lost at home to Stony Brook, not necessarily a Division I basketball powerhouse. A few weeks after this defeat Penn State held off Hartford, defeating them by one. Ten days after this, the Lions were downed again at home, this time at the hands of Southeastern Louisiana.
In Big Ten play, the Lions have been the biggest letdown in the conference thus far. As of January 23, Penn State has won just one conference basketball game all season, a blowout against lowly Northwestern. Since that victory, the Nitts have lost to Purdue and Indiana in close games, and both Michigan and Michigan State in blowout defeats. Penn State will face both Wisconsin and Ohio State twice in the state of February. Needless to say the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Lions.
So what exactly is ailing this basketball team? In Penn State’s student newspaper The Daily Collegian, Cornley has suggested the team’s woes are brought on by the team being too relaxed on the court. Cornley told the paper “Some of us, I can include myself, sometimes we think we are really playing hard, but there is always another level that we need to take ourselves to.” He went on to say “People are coming for our heads and we need to do the same thing. We are just too chill right now and we need to take things to another level.”
Something that has plagued this team throughout the season is their inability to make free throws. At 67.5 percent, Penn State has the third worst percentage from the charity stripe in the Big Ten. Anybody with doubts about how important a statistic such as this is need only examine Penn State’s games against Purdue and Indiana. In the four-point loss against the Boilermakers, the Lions went 2 of 7 from the line. Even two more extra points would have been nice to have in the waning stages of that game. When Penn State lost to Indiana by ten, the Lions shot 20 of 30 from the stripe. Once again, these are extra points that a team would die for near the end of a game. If the Lions would have been able to better convert from the line, perhaps the outcome of one of these games would have been different.
However, to blame the misfortunes of this team on merely these two factors would be an inaccurate assessment of the season thus far. Many in Nittany nation, myself included, have been less than impressed with head coach Ed DeChellis. Now as somebody who has met and talked with the coach, I have no doubt that DeChellis is a great guy. However, I just am not sure that he is a right fit for this basketball program.
The Big Ten is full of some of the most charismatic coaches in all of Division I basketball. Tom Izzo, Bruce Weber, and Thad Matta all coach in the conference. While DeChellis found success at East Tennessee State University, coaching the Nittany Lions is a completely different ballgame. While Penn State has improved steadily over the last few years under Dechellis, one must wonder how the basketball program would be doing if Tim Floyd or Bob Huggins would have been brought in to coach.
If his charisma cannot be questioned, the in-game decisions of DeChellis can definitely be put under the microscope. Too often have fans watched as Penn State stayed in a zone defense that is being literally picked apart without any change in the game plan. The frustrating thing is that every game is a replay of the previous one. Each game, the opponent will drop the ball inside, knowing that the Penn State zone will collapse. Then, without fail, the ball is kicked outside to a usually wide open three-point shooter.
What drives PSU basketball fans crazy is that it seems that the coaching staff makes little to no changes during the game. If this team is going to play zone at all, it should switch to box and one or a match-up zone. Otherwise, playing man defense, especially on the perimeter, would be beneficial. After awhile, giving up two-pointers inside is better than giving up threes all the time.
Even though Penn State gave DeChellis a contract extension in the off-season, if the rest of this season continues in this way, perhaps a re-evaluation of the basketball program is in order. Much like Ohio State, Florida, and Wisconsin, there is no reason that The Pennsylvania State University cannot compete in both basketball and football. The question is not whether or not they can achieve that particular goal. The question is whether or not they can do so with DeChellis at the helm. Only time will tell.