Last year, I predicted that the Penn State Nittany Lions would make the NCAA tournament (and I was right). I won't be making that prediction this year. The Nittany Lions are currently unranked with an 8-5 record, but don't let their victories fool you. PSU has played five above .500 teams; they've lost to four of them. Their wins have come against 0-11 Hartford, 1-10 Mount St. Mary's, 3-8 Bradford, and 4-6, Cornell, to name a few. In the Big Ten, Penn State ranks dead last in field goal percentage (39%), points per game (64.0), and assists per game (11.9). Their poor performance this season hasn't been entirely under their control, however. They've had a lot of distractions.
The first of these distractions came May 23, 2011, when Head Coach Ed DeChellis announced he would be leaving his alma mater and taking the head coaching job at Navy. DeChellis started at PSU in 2003. During his eight seasons there, DeChellis won the NIT championship (2009), was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2009, and gained an NCAA tournament bid last season for the first time in ten years. Despite this, the school denied DeChellis' plea to provide one of DeChellis' assistants (the lowest paid in the Big Ten) a salary increase as well as his request for a contract extension. Feeling unwanted and unsure of his standing at the school, DeChellis took a $200,000 pay cut and left for Navy. He was replaced by Pat Chambers, who is in his 3rd year of coaching after a successful season at Boston University, during which time his Terriers won their conference tournament, thereby earning a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Along with DeChellis, PSU's leading scorer and their all-around-do-everything man, Taylor Battle, graduated. Battle averaged 20.2 points during his typical 38.1 minutes per game, but statistics don't describe the role that Taylor Battle played for Penn State. Battle was PSU's Jared Sullinger/Draymond Green/Jordan Taylor, except he didn't have anyone else on his team to help him out. With his departure, PSU returned one starter, Tim Frazier, who, prior to this season, averaged 6.3 ppg; he's increased that to 17.2 points so far his junior season. The point of this is that, with the loss of head coach Ed DeChellis and the team's heart and soul, Taylor Battle, Penn State lost their identity after they were eliminated from the first round of the 2011 tournament.
Which brings me to another distraction for Penn State this season. PSU has always been a football school first, and, to be honest, a women's volleyball school second. Basketball ranked somewhere further down the line for the sports administration department. Even after the best season in ten years, Ed DeChellis couldn't find respect for himself and his program, which is why he left. As the team continues to falter this season, they lose more and more interest from the students and the administration, leading to a further downward cycle.
And really, the school could use some morale boosting from their basketball team right now. The final distraction for Penn State is probably the most obvious: the sex abuse scandal. I find it hard to believe that anyone doesn't know what this is about so I won't go into detail explaining it. I will say, though, that the loss of head football coach Joe Paterno after 46 years, the bad publicity, and the general horror of the events have put a lot of pressure and added stress on this basketball team.
To sum up, the Penn State Nittany Lions, with the exception of Tim Frazier, are not having a good season and it probably won't get any better this year. Pat Chambers, though, brought the Boston Terriers to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 9 years, only the 7th in school history, in his second season both at Boston University and as a coach. Tim Frazier is a junior and still has another year to go. Much like Indiana, chances are Penn State will be competitive again very soon.
I try to avoid using big names for the titles (with the exception of Ryan Braun, which shows how much I know about baseball), but Peyton Manning is #18 for the Indianapolis Colts. For anyone who doesn't know, the Colts are having a horrendous season. After finishing as ACF South division champions and playing in their 9th straight playoffs, the Colts are currently 2-13 and are expected to have the first pick in the upcoming draft. A big discussion topic right now amongst ESPN analysts is whether the Colts will keep 34 year old Peyton Manning (11x Pro Bowl team member, 5x First-Team All Pro Team, Super Bowl 2005 MVP, Colts all time career leader in career wins/passing touchdowns/pass attempts/pass completions/passing yards) as quarterback or select Standford's Andrew Luck with the first pick.
The Sports Nerd