Chambers’ seat will be hot next season
Welcome to the glorious national holiday known as Selection Sunday, which unfortunately and sadly once again means nothing to any of our local Division I college basketball teams.
As someone who loves the college game and watches hundreds of hours from around the country each season, here are my thoughts on Penn State and the upcoming NCAA Tournament:
n Patrick Chambers will be coaching for his job next season at PSU. Exactly what he has to accomplish to keep the job is up for debate.
Some say he has to reach the NCAA tourney to do so. I disagree. I think the Nittany Lions must at least be on the bubble entering the final weekend. If they are, they will have shown good progress from this season (15-18 overall, 6-12 Big Ten) and will have had a solid year, something like 9-9 in the Big Ten and 18-20 wins overall.
That kind of season, with Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins coming back as juniors the following year, I believe would buy Chambers one more season. Then, if he doesn’t get to the NCAA tourney that year, he’s done.
But, if PSU goes 7-10 or worse in the Big Ten next year, which would mean somewhere around 16-17 wins overall, Chambers has to go.
I don’t talk about firing people lightly. Too often in our crazy sports society we have no patience and want people ousted quickly. That doesn’t apply in this case.
Next season will be Chambers’ seventh at PSU. If he can’t at least be on the NCAA bubble by year seven, I challenge anyone to explain how that’s not enough time. It simply doesn’t matter that the program was in sad shape when he took over. Seven years is plenty enough to get to at least that level.
Chris Collins has gotten Northwestern to its first NCAA tourney ever, and he’s in year four. It can be done. And Collins clearly is an exceptional coach.
Chambers is a great guy and sparkplug recruiter, but his coaching skills leave a great deal to be desired.
So far he has shown obvious shortcomings in areas such as offensive strategy, Xs and Os, end-game situations, having the team ready to play every game regardless of the level of opponent, consistent usage of his rotation and ability to have the team show clear improvement from the beginning of the season to the end.
The way the Lions ended this season — granted, they were young, but that’s just not an excuse anymore in college basketball, where almost every team plays young guys — is a poor reflection on Chambers.
n For Chambers to improve the program and keep his job, he must come up with a better offensive philosophy. The Lions, especially in the final 8-10 minutes of games, often don’t even look like they’re running an offense. It’s just a lot of dominating the ball by Carr while everyone else stands around, then having to resort to a one-on-one move late in the shot clock.
That’s called “hero ball,” and it’s not a reliable way to consistently win close games. Yes, the Lions were in a lot of games this season and lost a bunch of tight ones. But if you look closer, that’s not just a product of bad luck, it’s often a product of bad offensive scheming and execution down the stretch.
I have no idea what Penn State’s offensive identity is. Watch Wisconsin. Watch Villanova. Watch Saint Mary’s. Watch Marquette. Watch Notre Dame. Watch Iowa State. Watch Michigan. Watch a slew of teams around the country, and you know exactly what they’re trying to do night in and night out, and they are very efficient at it.
Those teams mentioned above move the ball exceptionally well, have a lot of guys in motion, make the extra pass, go inside out and shoot the 3 well. They don’t just have a point guard dribble for 20 seconds with little else going on.
It’s been said repeatedly by me and others recently that Chambers needs to go hire his version of Joe Moorhead. We were having a lot of these same coaching discussions and questions a year ago about PSU football coach James Franklin, who silenced everyone by hiring an offensive mastermind in Moorhead. We all know how that turned out.
Chambers has to go find a guy who knows how to maximize offensive talent through ball movement, spacing, shot selection, flow, consistency — all areas where PSU needs to improve.
n Make no mistake about it, Penn State has a lot of good players. The roster is deeper than it’s been in a long time. This team could be very good the next few years.
But there are holes.
Juniors Shep Garner and Payton Banks were not reliable shooters this year. They absolutely must be better next season.
PSU also could land a sharpshooter in the graduate transfer market, someone who has played a lot of ball elsewhere and is looking to come in and get big minutes and the chance to shoot a bunch. That would be an attractive situation for a lot of guys to come in and play alongside Carr and Stevens.
n Lastly on Penn State, it’s way past time for the administration to make a huge commitment to men’s basketball. The program badly needs a new basketball-first arena with a tremendous atmosphere and seats right on top of the court.
The thought here is somewhere in the range of 10,000 to 12,000 seats, which is plenty because you don’t want to go so high that you have a good crowd but still 4,000 empty seats. (Pitt’s Petersen Events Center is 12,508, by the way).
The Bryce Jordan Center is awful for college basketball. Absolutely awful. Seats are too far away from the court, fans can’t get involved and a decent crowd of 8,000 or so means the place is nearly half empty.
Penn State will release its facilities master plan Monday, and all eyes will be on football and Beaver Stadium. That’s how it always has been and will be at PSU.
But it’s time for the school to at least start the planning process for a new arena or major, major changes to the Jordan Center to improve the atmosphere. If Penn State doesn’t address the problems with a viable plan Monday, then it will be a clear indication that the school doesn’t care about basketball.
n This is, without a doubt, the weakest NCAA Tournament bubble ever. All these teams you’re hearing about as the last four in, first four out and so on, they would never even have been in the discussion for a tourney bid in past years.
Teams like Clemson and Pitt were still on the bubble when they were 4-11 in the ACC. That’s a joke.
I’ve always thought you need to be at least .500 in your league to get into the tourney. That doesn’t really apply when it’s crystal clear the major conferences are vastly better than the mid-majors and are merely gouging themselves night in and night out, which has been the case this season with the ACC and Big 12 in particular.
But here’s the catch: Even though the last 10-12 teams getting into the field will be largely mediocre by most years’ tourney standards, there is so much parity in college basketball that any one of those teams could win a couple of games and slip into the Sweet 16 or further. Just like Syracuse did last year.
n There are a bunch of middle seeds that can do a lot of damage in this tourney. Here are some of my sleepers (likely 5 seeds or lower): SMU, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Saint Mary’s, Seton Hall, Nevada.
n Don’t pick Gonzaga for the Final Four. Zags are good, but way overrated.
n My national champ: North Carolina.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.