The Penn State Nittany Lions season officially ended Monday, when coach Patrick Chambers announced the program would not seek post-season opportunities. The Lions finished at 16-16 after Thursday's Big Ten Tournament loss to Ohio State, the second straight season the team has at least finished at .500.
While Penn State just missed out on finishing with a winning record, you could make a serious argument that this was Patrick Chambers' best season as head coach. The Lions were clearly rebuilding, yet still managed to remain competitive. Now that it's over, here's a quick recap of the 2015-'16 season for Penn State.
Honestly, this part of the Nittany Lions season left a little to be desired. A year after they went 12-1 in non-conference play, the Lions went just 9-4 and dropped some winnable contests. Now, it was unlikely that Penn State was going to only lose once before conference play for a second straight season, but losing to Duquesne and Radford never looks good. Still, its really not surprising Penn State started slow when you remember it was getting a number of young players acclimated to Division I basketball. You can't knock the Lions too much.
It could have gone a lot worse. That might sound like the ultimate backhanded compliment, but its really not intended to be. The Lions went 4-14 in the Big Ten and dropped heartbreaker after heartbreaker last season, and that was with D.J, Newbill in the lineup. So going 7-11 this season and beating some ranked teams was actually a really big improvement for this squad. With the exception of a 70-54 loss to Nebraska on Feb. 13, the Lions didn't lose to any games they should have won. And they deserve major credit for responding to a four-game losing streak by beating Indiana on Feb. 6. Yes, there were some blowouts (92-65 against Michigan State, 66-46 vs. Ohio State, 73-49 vs. Iowa) and some potential upsets that slipped away (70-64 vs. Maryland), but the Lions offered way more positives in conference play than they did a year ago. You have to give them credit for that.
There are two choices for this one. You could go with their aforementioned 68-63 upset of eventual conference champion Indiana on Feb. 6, or the 79-75 shocker over then No. 4 Iowa on Feb. 17. While recent events make the Indiana win look more impressive, I'm still going to go with the Iowa win. The Hawkeyes were one of the nation's top teams at the time, and beating them was definitely a defining moment for Penn State's senior class. The win was especially sweet because senior forward Donovon Jack, who had his role drastically reduced during the season, gave arguably the best performance of his career by going 8-of-9 from the field and scoring 19 points in 22 minutes. It was also a great moment for Penn State's home crowd.
You have to give this award to Brandon Taylor. While the senior forward underachieved for much of the previous two seasons, he made up for it by averaging 16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and making the All-Big Ten team as an honorable mention. More importantly, he became the leader that a very young team needed. His season will not be forgotten by Penn State fans.
Overall, Penn State exceeded expectations in 2015-'16. With a number of highly-touted recruits arriving on campus next season, Chambers and the Lions have started to create a winning atmosphere that will hopefully continue to grow. Players like Shep Garner, Josh Reaves and Payton Banks got much-needed experience this season as well. If Penn State takes the next step and makes the NCAA Tournament within the next two seasons, 2015-'16 will be remembered as the season that helped lay the team's foundation for success.