I preface this by letting you know up front that I’m a die-hard Penn State football junkie who just so happens to have fallen hard for our underdog basketball squad this year. I also admit that I’m a sucker for hard working coaches that find themselves on the ‘hot seat’ midway through the season which leads us to where we are today. A week ago, that seat was all but set aflame for head Penn State basketball coach, Pat Chambers, as the Nittany Lions limped home from a frustrating loss at Northwestern; its second such loss in a row. Things looked bleak and the will to ‘climb with us’ (Chambers’ hashtag rallying cry since last summer) had been completely deflated by a fan base expecting much more than mediocrity when the season began.
Funny how a successful trip to Columbus, home of the Evil Empire, can change the whole complexion. Not just that of a struggling basketball team but also that of a part-time writer like myself stuck in the midst of the off-season. As you well know by now, Penn State walked away from The Nuthouse (go ahead, laugh) with a huge buzzer-beater victory over the Buckeyes last week and followed that up with a romp over Rutgers in front of 13k at the BJC this past weekend. Just like that, a season in shambles turned into a season of hope once again, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to tag along on the bandwagon for the ride.
All of which leads us to where WE ARE today. Starring down the barrel of the Big Ten’s most premier program on the hardwood, Tom Izzo, and Michigan State, on Wednesday night in East Lansing. There’s no time to pound our chest and gloat over the past week’s accomplishments. This one’s all business and is as tough as it gets. Sparty comes in sporting a top-5 ranking and looks to be well on their way to another run at the Final Four. If there was ever a time to circle those wagons and support the Nittany Lions, the time is now.
Penn State is 15-8 overall, 5-5 in the conference, and one win away from matching last year’s total. A victory in East Lansing, as improbable as it may seem on paper, would give the Nittany Lions a second ‘quality’ win on their resume and go a long way towards realizing our dreams of reaching March Madness for the first time since Taylor Battle ruled the roost in Happy Valley. The task at hand is a daunting one, to say the least, but one that’s not insurmountable by any stretch. As recently as last year, Izzo and Michigan State took one on the chin at the famed Palestra in Philly and if anyone believes they can do it again, it’s Pat Chambers, hot seat and all.
Win, lose, or draw in East Lansing, it won’t make or break the season, but the follow-up at home in a rematch with Iowa on Saturday will. The annual Team Ream game at the BJC is as must a win as there’s ever been for Pat Chambers and crew and it is high time we rally the troops. We’ve been down this road before. We’ve overloaded on expectation and worked to run a good guy out of town before he turned it all around.
James Franklin himself, spotted courtside more than once this winter, was a stone’s throw away from his own hot seat before a win over Ohio State turned the tables. The talent is there, and I see the fire in Chambers’ eyes. He’s blazed a trail onto the playgrounds of Philly like Franklin snatched back the hotbed of Pittsburgh. I could talk about the energy Josh Reaves brings to the table, the toughness of Mike Watkins in the paint, or the pure beauty of a Tony Carr jump-shot when he’s on, but right now this is about a coach chasing his dreams of taking Penn State to the next level. And it’s our duty as Penn Staters to play the role of dream chaser right along with him until the final whistle blows!