The Maize n Shoe Roundtable
Mike at Black Shoe Diaries, SBN's outstanding Penn State Blog, and I have been engaging in some friendly email banter on our respective basketball teams the last two days. The result of this was interesting enough that we felt we should share it with our readers. The cause of these shenanigans is the fact that Michigan and Penn State square off tomorrow night at 8pm in Crisler Arena. It's honestly safe to say that both teams are fighting for their Tournament lives.
Penn State comes in 1-2 on the conference season and 10-6 overall. Michigan sits at 14-4 (2-1) on the year. Both teams seem to have an aversion to holding on to the ball, and neither seems safe with a lead. Michigan sits ugly at #6 in my Big Ten Hoops Power Rankings and Penn State comes in at #9. It's gonna be a barn burner baby!
I may have laid out the Q&A challenge but Mike gets the credit for making it happen. Before I could formulate my own questions, Mike beat me to the punch firing off 5 excellent questions about the Maize & Blue. I, of course, responded in my normal fashion. You can see the results at Black Shoe Diaries (which BTW, if you're not reading, you are a silly, silly person).
Now it's my turn. Mike's in the holding tank and I'm asking the questions. You want my badge number? Here's my freakin' badge number.
On to the questioning!
1. Penn State is 10-6 (1-2) in conference so far this year. PSU's come close to the moderate upsets of schools like Georgia Tech and Indiana, but missed by slim margins. How would you rate the season thus far: Underachievement, overachievement, or about where you thought they would be?
Well as the cheer goes, We Are Penn State, so you know we're going to have ridiculously high expectations that probably don't make sense. Last year the team showed times of promise, like knocking off #6 Illinois on the road, but then we would go back to our losing ways. They could never put together a five or six game stretch of playing consistently good basketball. We returned 80% of our scoring from last season including All Big Ten forward Geary Claxton and 2006 freshman of the year Jamelle Cornley. With sharp shooting guard Danny Morrissey coming back from a knee injury that forced him to sit out last season there was an expectation the team was going to mature this year and improve on their 15-15 record from last season. Sadly that has not been the case. We played Georgia Tech and Indiana pretty well, but we lost to Stoney Brook and Southeastern Louisiana. We had hopes of qualifying for the NCAA tournament this year. After losing to Purdue and Indiana in our last two games, we find ourselves in a position where we may not make the NIT.
2. Which direction would you say the Penn State Basketball program as a whole is heading?
Are we looking at the 1 month, 1 year, or 5 year trend? Compared to where we were a few years ago we've come out of the darkness and into the light. Jerry Dunn ran Penn State basketball into the ground. The overall attitude surrounding the team was terrible. The coaches weren't having fun. The players didn't care. We couldn't recruit anyone and the players we did get transferred after a year or two.
When Ed DeChellis came in the first thing he did was change the attitude of the program. He's brought in a positive attitude that rubbed off on the kids. Even when they were losing they were still having fun. He had to do that in order to have any chance of attracting recruits. In recruiting, he's taken on a great strategy. He goes into the back yard of national powerhouses and looks for second tier kids that the bigger programs may feel they can fall back on. He asks them if they would rather go to powerhouse X as their second or third choice and ride the bench for a few years or would he rather come to Penn State, start as a freshman and compete in the Big Ten. So far it has worked pretty well. He got Claxton from Connecticut, which is usually dominated by UConn. He got Cornley from Columbus right out from under the Buckeyes. This year he went to Syracuse country to get Taylor Battle and he went into Kentucky to steal Jeff Brooks from the Wildcats.
While DeChellis has done a good job of recruiting so far given the reputation of Penn State basketball, at some point he has to start winning with these players. So far he hasn't done that. Keep it up and he may be known as the Ron Zook of Big Ten hoops, a great recruiter but not such a great x's and o's guy.
3. If you were AD, are there things about the program you would change?
Employ the Dick Cheney strategy. Stay the course. The Jordan Center is first class. Recruiting is doing well. The team is improving. No reason to change anything right now. They seem to agree as they just awarded DeChellis a contract extension right before the season started.
I guess I would like to see them move just a few games back over to Rec Hall. The Jordan Center came about during the time I went to Penn State, so I saw games in both venues. Rec Hall was a much more electric and intimidating to visiting teams. It was a fun place to watch a game. It's hard to get excited in a venue that is less than 1/3 full.
Plenty of good seats still available
4. Summarize Penn State's style of play for us.
If you can figure it out let me know. They aren't a team that can score a lot of points, the VMI game notwithstanding. So they try to slow down the game and work the ball inside to Claxton and Cornley. Teams that play a lot of zone or have decent big men give us problems. Nobody other than Claxton can break down their man off the dribble, so we are forced to rely on our outside shooters. Danny Morrissey has been on fire winning the B10 Player of the Week recently. After those three guys there is a serious drop off in talent. That's a very vague answer, but living in Philadelphia I don't get to see the team play very often.
(Ed. note: That's where Comcast Chicago comes in handy!)
5. What's driven you nuts about your team this year? What's that one thing that always seems to cost Penn State a game or is it a combination of things?
There's a saying in central Pennsylvania that goes, "Water seeks its own level." This pretty much sums up the Penn State basketball team. They play to the level of their competition. They often jump out to double digit leads, but like water seeking its own level they come back to their opponent. And it's always a combination of things. Sometimes it's turnovers. Other times they stop rebounding. Sometimes they get complacent and stand in place throwing up threes. Sometimes they just don't make their shots. Whatever it is, it's frustrating to keep blowing second half leads and going home with the L.
6. I know the Michigan football team isn't well received at Penn State, but this is basketball. Michigan and Penn State are members of the same "What The Hell Do You Make Of These Guys" middle class in Big Ten hoops. How are the Wolverines perceived as a basketball team at Penn State? Are they relevant? If not, excluding the [ Team Redacted] period, were they ever?
When you're Penn State, every Big Ten conference game is a big game for us. It's not quite like football where guys go home to beat the wife and kick the dog after Penn State loses, but it's always fun to play Michigan. I went to school during the days of the Fab Five and can remember watching them play in Rec Hall. It was a great venue because the fans literally stood right on the court. Chris Webber would be trying to inbound the ball and the fans would be standing not two feet away from him talking shit in his ear. Of course you know Webber and Rose, they gave it right back which made it even more fun. I don't care about the records or standings. Those are the memories I associate with the Michigan program so there's always a little something special when the Nittany Lions and Wolverines get together.