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New Year, Same Result for Penn State After Another Crushing Upset

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The Lions are in its eighth year under Pat Chambers and the results continue to look frustratingly the same

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Chutes and Ladders. That’s what Penn State basketball has become — one long and frustrating game of Chutes and Ladders.

Seriously, read the product description below, with some slight alterations, and tell me that doesn’t sum up the past 23 years of Penn State basketball?

Product Description. Climb up and slide down in the exciting game of ups and downs, [Penn State basketball]! You and [Pat Chambers] can see the square marked [NCAA Tournament], but it’s not so easy to get there. If you land on a good deed, you can shimmy up a ladder, but land on the wrong spot and you’ll shoot down a chute!

After Wednesday’s loss to Bradley, I’m officially sick of Chutes.

Kiddie games aside (a seesaw is also a great analogy for this program), Sandy Barbour, Pat Chambers, and the Penn State athletic department have been selling a ‘one step back, two steps forward’ build for its basketball program for years now, but does anyone still believe that to be the case?

Strip away the lip service and Penn State basketball is where it’s always been — in the shadows of Beaver Stadium and at the bottom of the Big Ten.

Two steps forward, two steps back. Stuck in basketball purgatory. A long ways away from the NCAA Tournament.

So who’s to blame for all of this? Well that’s complicated. Although, part of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the head coach.

“I’m proud of my guys competing to the end. They put us in a position to be successful,” Pat Chambers said following the close defeat. “To come back from that deficit and we dug a little deeper because we looked a little sluggish in the first half. We are going to learn from this game”

Ahhh, wait! That’s from last year’s 64-63 home loss to Wisconsin. Let me try again.

“This is where I am an optimist. I hope this is an incredible lesson for these guys, because they’re in a lot of pain, and that’s a good thing,” said Chambers. “They need to feel the pain before we head into the Big Ten. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got 17 games, and we can make it up.”

Crap! That’s from last year’s 71-70 home loss to Rider. One more try.

“I am really proud of the kids and the way they fought back,” said Chambers. “I felt like Penn State really hurt Penn State tonight. We missed lay-ups and a bunch of little things. They showed some guts, they responded in huddles and they didn’t quit battling. I think that we can play a lot better and we will. This is a long season, a process, so we cannot dwell on this we will just have to keep moving forward.”

Nope. That’s from two year’s ago after blowing a home game against Indiana. I really need to keep my notes in better order.

My point here is that we’ve heard practically the same thing for the past eight years with little to no change in the results.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Chambers actually said following Wednesday’s loss to Bradley.

”I was proud of the way we fought and competed and came back and cut it to a one or two possession game,” said Chambers. “We had some good looks. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way and it doesn’t go in, but yet, we were still in the game, we were still right there, we were still within striking distance. I can’t say that we didn’t play hard or compete, I thought we did. They made one more play than us.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

I touched on this last week, but in the seven-plus seasons under Chambers, Penn State has gone 62-63 in games decided by nine points or less and 19-29 in one-possession or overtime games.

So, you know, not great.

To his credit, however, Pat Chambers has undoubtedly been the best recruiter in Penn State basketball history. That’s not hyperbole, either. He’s elevated the level of player the Nittany Lions are able to attract to unprecedented levels and has turned Penn State into a major thorn in the side of Philadelphia’s Big 5 (Villanova, Temple, St. Joe’s, LaSalle, and UPenn). That alone earned Chambers an extension at the end of last season and is cause for celebration amongst the much-maligned Penn State basketball fanbase.

But as the level of talent has risen, Penn State’s results on the court have more or less stayed the same.

Part of the reason for that might be the Lions’ stubbornness to stick with what isn’t working.

Albeit a small sample size, Penn State kept chucking up threes against Bradley on Wednesday night. And they kept not falling.

For the game, the Lions went 4-for-27 from beyond the arc. With 2:55 remaining in the game, and trailing by four, Penn State’s remaining offensive possessions went as follows:

Myles Dread missed Three Point Jumper.

Josh Reaves missed Three Point Jumper.

Rasir Bolton missed Three Point Jumper.

Myles Dread Offensive Rebound.

Rasir Bolton missed Three Point Jumper.

Josh Reaves Turnover.

Josh Reaves missed Three Point Jumper.

Josh Reaves Offensive Rebound.

Josh Reaves missed Three Point Jumper.

Lamar Stevens Offensive Rebound.

Lamar Stevens missed Layup.

Lamar Stevens Offensive Rebound.

Lamar Stevens made Free Throw.

Lamar Stevens missed Free Throw.

Myles Dread Offensive Rebound.

Myles Dread missed Three Point Jumper.

For the tl/dr audience, that’s one made bucket (a Lamar Stevens free throw) and seven missed three-pointers in a game Penn State was trailing by four and well in the bonus.

I’ve long been a Pat Chambers defender when it comes to the X’s and O’s, as he’s not nearly as bad of a coach as some would have you believe, but even I look at that play-by-play and think what in the actual hell?

Moving forward one of two things is going to happen. Either Penn State is finally going to turn the corner and win more close games than it losses.

Or it won’t and the season will crumble.

If the former comes to pass, Penn State will be able to mitigate it’s two early season stumbles to DePaul and Bradley. But if the latter rings true, Pat Chambers, Sandy Barbour, and the athletic department are going to have A LOT of big questions to answer — like who should be running this program? Or can we ever consistently contend in the Big Ten? And is it just an impossible task to transform this program?

If the season continues to take a turn for the worse, those are all things I’ll consider. But right now the scabs from DePaul and Bradley are too fresh and the Stockholm syndrome acquired from years of following this program is too real.

The overall point here, however, is it’s not just a coaching problem limiting Penn State — it’s a much bigger question on the overall potential of Nittany Lions basketball. What if this is just as good as it ever can get?

Every November, Penn State turns into Charlie Brown. It talks itself into thinking this is finally the year it’ll kick that NCAA Tournament football right through the goal post.

We got this. It’s finally going to happen. Nothing can stop us.

The Lions then come sprinting into the season only to have Lucy —er, eh, Bradley, pull the football away at the last second and cause the Lions to fall flat on its face. Over and over again.

Something needs to change for Pat Chambers. Something needs to change for Penn State basketball. And if it doesn’t, then someone needs to question if it ever will.