PSU men’s basketball looks to keep building

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Questions at the Big Ten Conference’s media day for men’s basketball ranged from favorite pizza type and favorite Chicago music artist, to favorite Big Ten basketball memory and best dunk. And of course, coaches and players alike were asked to choose between LeBron and Jordan.

Those were some of the easy questions.

Other topics were up for discussion — especially the league’s new 20-game format — as the Big Ten is the first conference to move to such a schedule. The Nittany Lions and their basketball brethren will play seven teams twice and home-only and away-only games with six others this upcoming season.

The most compelling question, and most repeated, for coach Patrick Chambers around the roundtable was, “What’s next for Penn State men’s basketball” after last season’s NIT championship and early departure of Tony Carr to the NBA draft.

“The goal is to put ourselves in position to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Chambers said during the live segment on the BTN set with Dave Revsine. “That’s the goal.”

Penn State will be looking to build on the success of last season with the leadership of senior guard Josh Reaves and junior forward Lamar Stevens, who represented the Nittany Lions at the conference’s annual media day.

“Coming from where we were, it was a big thing to play in the postseason,” said senior guard Josh Reaves. “It means so much that we were able to do that for the people we had on our team on our team who did so much — like Julian (Moore) and Shep (Garner) — and the people who came before us who put us in that position.”

“(Last year) just taught us how to win,” said junior forward Lamar Stevens, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2018 NIT. “We played some great teams in great environments and we grew up over that time, having that NIT run.”

With 26 wins in 2017-18, the second-most in program history, the NIT championship and a long trail of broken records, Penn State has made steady progress toward its goals. For the first time in program history, the Nittany Lions recorded five straight seasons with at least 15 wins.

“We’re ready to compete at the highest level and we’re trying to do everything we can to get there,” Reaves said.

Penn State had three consecutive seasons with six or more Big Ten wins for the second time in program history and last season’s total of nine league victories was the most since 2009, and third-most in the 26-year Big Ten era.

The 2018 Big Ten Tournament saw the Nittany Lions advance to the semifinals and while posting a 7-1 in the month of March. Penn State begins the 2018-19 college basketball season with the second-longest winning streak in the nation at five, behind only Villanova’s 11.

“Now we have these great returning players in Josh, Lamar and Mike Watkins who have logged a lot of minutes — we are going to rely on these guys, lean on these guys to take us that next step,” Chambers said. “We have experience from the NIT run and we have a good mixture with our youth, and you put that together, and we have a really good formula for success.”

The Nittany Lions return to Chicago three times in 2018-19, first with their second Gavitt Games matchup vs. DePaul on Thursday, Nov. 15 and come back for a Monday, Feb. 4 game at Northwestern. The 2019 Big Ten Tournament welcomes all 14 teams to the United Center, Wednesday-Sunday, March 13-17.

Neither Reaves nor Stevens have played in the United Center in their careers as Nittany Lions with the Big Ten Tournament rotating from Indianapolis to Washington D.C., and last year, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The Nittany Lions will open the 2018-19 season on Friday, Nov. 9 vs. North Florida and the pregame festivities will include the unveiling of the 2018 National Invitation Tournament championship banner. The Nov. 9 game is the first of the two U.S. regional games in the Cancun Challenge with Penn State playing host to Jacksonville State on Monday, Nov. 12 in the Bryce Jordan Center.

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