Here’s the thing with Penn State; they’re more than likely a year away. Maybe even two. But here’s the other thing with Penn State; they’re more than likely going to be so much fun to watch play this year. And next year. And probably the year after that. And probably even the year after that.
Pat Chambers and his coaching staff have finally turned their creaky foundation in Philadelphia into a stable structure that has sincere pull for the surrounding area’s recruits. After attacking Villanova’s and Syracuse’s golden goose, they obtained a couple golden eggs of their own in the Roman Catholic trio of Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick as well as Oak Hill Academy forward Joe Hampton.
These four highly touted incoming freshman are going to be the linchpin to the future of the Penn State program that always should have been in the upper echelon of the Big Ten if only because of their location. Because of this, the Nittany Lion program and their fans have escalated the season long expectations. But there are still some questions that need to be answered this season to ensure Penn State has finally changed their stars.
1.) Can Pat Chambers keep the momentum on the recruiting trail going in Philly and the DMV?
Signing the four recruits I mentioned above was extremely important for Pat Chambers on many levels. It bought the coaching staff more time with the program (despite their to date record) and it changed the narrative that Penn State couldn’t contend with the Villanova’s of the world in terms of recruiting in Philly and the DMV.
Penn State is also taking bigger measures to make sure they remain in the minds of those in the city of brotherly love by skipping out on an actual home game to play in Philadelphia instead.
Chambers can’t stop now.
After putting together the strongest recruiting classes Penn State has seen the past two season, he’s unfortunately out of scholarships to offer to the bevy of 2017 talent that’s out there right now.
But it looks like this hasn’t slowed Chambers much. He’s already off to a strong start for 2018 — where he will have four for sure scholarships — having already received the verbal commitment from 4-star shooting guard Myles Dread.
Can Chambers secure some of his AAU teammates? Can he land the likes of Bryce Golden or Marcus Little?
As long as he keeps fishing in the pond with the biggest fish, it definitely looks more promising than it did a couple of seasons ago.
2.) Can Penn State win more than seven Big Ten Conference Games for the first time since 2010-11?
Not only did Penn State cap off last season with seven conference wins (the most since 2010-11), they also obtained their first EVER bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Miracles do exist.
Now, it’s imperative that the Nittany Lions build on last season’s successes; even if that simply means they become more competitive in games they’re supposed to lose (Last season, three of the Nittany Lions eleven losses in the Big Ten came by ten points or fewer. Five of which were by twenty points or more. That’s not good, folks.).
For those that haven’t already taken a gander at the Big Ten Schedule, it’s extremely workable — for once. It’s an ongoing joke among Penn State loyalists that the Big Ten schedulers love ringing in every new year by punishing the Lions with the crème de la crème of the conference.
Last season they started off with games at Maryland, at Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, at Purdue).
This year, they start with Northwestern, at Rutgers, at Michigan, Michigan State (at the Palestra in Philadelphia which I for one have high expectations for), and Minnesota. All of those are very winnable games (and yes, I’m including that game in Philly against the Fighting Izzo’s).
3.) Can Shep Garner become “THE GUY”?
Shep Garner is sometimes infuriating. Shep Garner is sometimes a wonder. So it goes for a talented freshman that ultimately leads the team in percentage of minutes played.
Last year, he was often forced into being the go-to guy in his first season at the helm of Pat Chambers offense and much will be the same in 2016-17, just without Brandon Taylor as his two-on-two partner.
Garner has the offensive skills necessary to become one of the better point guards in the Big Ten, but he is going to have to do away with some of the mental mistakes that understandably plagued him during his freshman campaign (dude loved himself some DEEP three point attempts).
Ultimately, he’s going to have to become his Roman Catholic buddies spirit guide through the season. But will he be up for the challenge?