Penn State coach Patrick Chambers is trying to limit distractions after his team received three votes in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll.
Chambers acknowledged the positives that come with some national attention. Fans, alumni, family and friends can enjoy it, and he said it’s a boost for recruiting.
But he said it’s a waste of time for the team to get caught up in polls.
“It doesn’t really matter Dec. 18,” Chambers said Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center. “What really matters, it matters in March and that’s what we have to keep our eye on.”
For the coaches and players, that means staying focused as they prepare to play Drexel (2-7) at the PPL Center in Allentown at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Nittany Lions (10-1) are off to their best start since the 1995-96 team opened the year 13-0.
Chambers said he’s stressed working to become a great team each day to avoid the “noise” generated by the recognition.
His players brushed off the AP votes.
“We try to just not focus on what they’re saying or what the AP vote is,” forward Brandon Taylor said. “We just try to treat every day like it’s our last and just try to keep on getting better, and not try to get too big-headed and just stay level.”
Taylor said the players aren’t worried about the poll and haven’t talked about it.
It’s understood that it’s not worth worrying about.
“I actually just found that out today,” guard Shep Garner said. “I didn’t really know anything about it, but I guess it’s good. But we just want to win.”
The votes were a result of Penn State’s 10-1 start.
Chambers said Penn State’s close wins — seven by single digits — have helped the team remain humble. He believes the Nittany Lions have yet to show their potential and that should keep them hungry.
But he also said he disagreed with the perception of Penn State’s nonconference slate as weak, pointing to its matchups with George Washington, Akron, Bucknell and in the Charleston Classic.
The Nittany Lions ranked 40th in RPI, according to the NCAA on Thursday. ESPN ranked Penn State 37th in RPI with a 183rd-ranked strength of schedule, while the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings (KenPom) rank Penn State 92nd in the nation.
Chambers said the wins say more about the growth of the program.
“We’re all on the same page,” Chambers said. “We have a better understanding of personnel, better understanding of personalities, a better understanding of who we can get on, who we can’t get on, I mean that stuff’s important. We have great leadership in the locker room. I think that’s one of the critical pieces.
“None of our KenPom or our analytics can add up to, nobody can add that up. That’s the mental aspect of the game, so they can say whatever they want.”
Heading to Allentown
Penn State’s game Saturday is considered a home game despite being more than 160 miles away.
“I’m just trying to engage with the fans and alumni base,” Chambers said. “I know we have a great alumni base in the Lehigh Valley, so it was a no-brainer to go down there. Students are gone here, they’re going home probably today, tomorrow and Saturday. Most of them already left, so I thought it was a good time to do it.”
The game is part of a two-game, off-campus series between Penn State and Drexel. The Nittany Lions and Dragons will play in a Philadelphia-area arena in 2015.
Since Chambers took over, the Nittany Lions have scheduled games throughout the state.
They’ve played at St. Joseph’s and at the Palestra in Philadelphia, against Pitt and Duquesne in Pittsburgh and at Bucknell.
“I’m trying to do a little bit of everything to reach out to alums and Penn Staters,” Chambers said.
Garner to face old teammate
Garner will play against high school teammate Rashann London for the first time Saturday.
Garner and London each scored 1,000 points during their careers and helped Roman Catholic to a District 12 Class AAAA title last season. They have remained in touch through the start of their college seasons, but their friendship will take a backseat as they prepare to face each other.
“Not this week,” Garner said with a laugh. “Not this week.”
Garner has started all 11 games and is second on Penn State in scoring with 10.5 points per game. London, who is averaging 7.4 points, has started all nine games for Drexel.
“I’m looking forward to the game but I just want to win,” Garner said. “I just want to get the win. That’s all it’s about for me.”