Pat Chambers’ argument is a simple one.
The schedule is tough, and half these kids have never done this before.
And it’s hard to argue with his logic, if for no other reason than it’s true. The ESPN BPI rankings have Penn State playing the second hardest schedule in the country as of Tuesday. The Big Ten is as good as it has ever been, and much better than it was in 2018.
Sitting at his most recent media session, Chambers came armed with these figures, and a similar plea.
“We’re playing some of the best defensive teams in the country and yet we’re still getting good shots,” Chambers said. “We want them to take those shots, they’re just not falling right now.”
It’s hard to argue with that either, Penn State is shooting a hair shy of 41% from the floor, and nearly 31% from three. Neither mark is one that will do the Nittany Lions much good in the Big Ten, as the 0-6 conference record so far confirms.
This, coupled with a 67% rate at the free throw line, has rendered the once competent offense of the late 2018 season into something of a sad what-if. This particular wound is heavily salted by the fact this same team has already beaten 13th-ranked Virginia Tech.
“I often reference that game, and somehow getting us back to that level of confidence and swagger and toughness. When you can add another scorer, we need someone else to emerge for us to start to make some shots,” Chambers said. “I think Myles (Dread) has done a fantastic job here, I think Lamar (Stevens) has been as consistent as he can be and Josh (Reaves) is showing flashes of what he can be and what he was late last year in the NIT run. And we need Mike (Watkins) to be whole again.
“That team that beats Virginia Tech was tough and physical and I’m trying to give them that confidence every day in practice.”
At 7-10 Penn State’s issues are largely how you perceive the optics of the situation. On the one hand the Nittany Lions have not given off the air of an incredibly confident team on the offensive end and the results have reflected that.
Equally true, it doesn’t appear to be a question of skill. This team has shown something approaching upper-third Big Ten potential, just a lower third ability to access it consistently.
The difficulty: finding a way to remove that inconsistency and turning all of it into something much more actualized.
That is in many ways the challenge when it comes to the evaluation of the job Chambers has done. Penn State has missed more open shots than one can count. It has lost more close games than often feels possible. Coaching is responsible for much of that equation, but so too is execution.
Should Penn State have beaten Indiana? Probably. Could it have beaten Maryland on the road? Yes. Could it have played better in a handful of other games? Yep. Does Penn State miss Tony Carr more than it admits? Absolutely. Is asking Josh Reaves to become a scorer, Mike Watkins to carry a heavy load after nearly a year removed from basketball, and Lamar Stevens to do everything all the time a tough ask? 1000 percent.
Should this particular season be going vastly different than it has? Maybe, but consider the above.
Chambers will tell you that there are over a dozen games left in the season, that lots can happen. He only half-jokingly reaches out in the air, saying that they are so close he can almost feel it.
He might be right, the trio of Reaves, Watkins and Stevens can be as good as any in the Big Ten, and Myles Dread seems inching closer to what Penn State needs him to be.
Chambers could be wrong, too, and the winter could only get longer and colder.
The question then would become if anyone could have done more.
And in that case, it depends who you ask. And what you think “more” looks like in the first place.
Because like him or not, Chambers isn’t wrong. It is tough.