Reality might already be settling in for the Penn State Nittany Lions. The reality that this season might not be going anywhere. That scaling the mountain that is the Big Ten and beating top-25 teams just might not happen.
Wait, you mean that was already expected?
While it’s true that Penn State entered the season with low expectations, it managed to create some hope during the early portion of the season that this season wasn’t going to be a complete waste. After all, nobody expected the Lions to make the tournament this season. Simply seeing young players develop was all it was going to take for 2015-’16 to be viewed as a success.
And early on that’s what happened. Shep Garner showed more flashes of being a top-scorer, Josh Reaves proved he could be the hyper-active glue guy the Lions need, even Payton Banks showed major improvement and looked like a potential building block. The Lions went 9-4 in non-conference play – not an amazing mark, but not bad – and nearly upset a top-ten Maryland team. It was enough make it look like things were starting to come together for the future.
And then the past two weeks happened. The Nittany Lions went 1-3, beating a bad Minnesota team and getting blown out by Michigan, Michigan State (with a just back from injury Denzel Valentine) and Purdue. Yeah, it’s not like anyone expected the Lions to win those games, but losing by an average of 22 points isn’t exactly encouraging.
As previously mentioned, the Lions entered the season expected to be bottom-feeders in the Big Ten. Loses like the ones just mentioned shouldn’t shock people, especially when you remember the team hasn’t exactly been a force to be reckoned with in recent memory (or anyone’s memory).
But if you really followed the program the past few years, you saw that the Lions always managed to play with the best teams in the conference most of the time, even if they didn’t win often. They could be inconsistent, shockingly bad down the stretch and just down right frustrating at times, but at least they were somewhat competitive. That’s why it’s disappointing to see this season trending back toward the way things were in 2012-’13, when they were somewhat of a punching bag for other Big Ten teams.
That’s why the rest of this season still matters for Penn State. It’s important to see how the Nittany Lions respond to these challenges and how Patrick Chambers keeps them engaged. Losing is hard to deal with, and it’d be a shame to see guys like Garner and Reaves get discouraged. Penn State is going to need them to be leaders next season (if not now), and that won’t happen if they simply become accustomed to failing. Penn State’s ability to challenge teams last year helped keep its players engaged, even if it still was no doubt discouraging for them to lose so frequently. But if they’re getting blown out all the time, what’s going to keep them going?
Hopefully Chambers and his staff can keep the players focused enough that they can stay in some games and maybe pull off an upset or two. That would prove a lot about Chambers as a coach. This season is from being a waste for Penn State, but they’ve got to make sure it doesn’t become one.