Patrick Chambers learned his lesson two years ago.
His Penn State team piled up wins during nonconference play, starting the season with a 12-1 record, but the Nittany Lions weren’t ready for the Big Ten. Their nonconference strength of schedule was ranked 298th by CBSSports.com and 307th by ESPN that year, and Penn State opened its conference slate on a six-game losing streak.
The coach would have liked his team to start better than 6-5 this season, but the young Nittany Lions have learned their share of lessons against a difficult nonconference schedule currently ranked 38th by ESPN and 44th by CBSSports.
“Hopefully that will prepare us for the Big Ten,” Chambers said at his press conference Wednesday. “They’ve played against Duke, they’ve played against Cincinnati, they’ve played against (George Washington), they’ve played against (George) Mason, now they’ve played against Pitt.
“So we should be ready for December 27.”
The Nittany Lions open Big Ten play that day against Northwestern. But first, they’ll face St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and host Morgan State in their nonconference finale Dec. 21.
Penn State’s play has been inconsistent so far.
In two straight losses, the Nittany Lions were doomed by poor efforts in one half.
Against George Mason, they were outscored by 20 points in the second half. Against Pittsburgh, they trailed by 20 at the break.
“We can’t keep doing that to ourselves,” Chambers said. “I mean it’s been a common theme with this group. Again, they’re young, they don’t realize that they have to play hard every single possession that you’re on the floor and those ones that you take off are ultimately affecting the outcome of games.”
Chambers wants to see his team end that trend in its final two nonconference games.
The Nittany Lions have been tested, and they’ve shown flashes of their potential.
But they haven’t put together a complete performance this season.
“There’s a much, much better team within this team right now,” Chambers said. “We just got to rip it out, and it’s going to come out because we have not hit on all cylinders yet.”