Expectations are high for Penn State men’s basketball in 2019-20. Several national pundits believe this team has the talent and depth to make the NCAA Tournament, and it is long past due for an appearance. Head coach Pat Chambers has yet to lead the Nittany Lions to the big dance in his eight seasons at the helm of Penn State, and the program has only made four NCAA Tournament appearances since 1965.
Andy Katz, of NCAA.com, has Penn State projected to make the field with room to spare as a No. 8 seed in his latest bracket released on Sept. 24, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Nittany Lions as a No. 10 seed in his Thursday projection.
This year’s roster has a chance to be the first to make the tournament in Chambers’ tenure, but the Penn State head coach doesn’t want to put those type of expectations on his team.
“The expectations are to get better every single day and be the best team we can be,” Chambers said at the team’s media day on Monday. “Everybody wants to talk about the NCAA Tournament, and everyone wants to talk about postseason play, and I think sometimes that can be overwhelming. ... If we flip those nine games (that Penn State lost by two points or less in 2018-19) ... well, the sky is the limit for this team.”
While Chambers doesn’t want to put NCAA Tournament expectations on his team, a run to the tournament is the goal for senior forward Lamar Stevens, the team’s leading scorer and the conference’s second-leading scorer in 2018-19 with 19.9 points per game.
For Stevens, who was recently named to the 2019-20 Preseason All-Big Ten Team, getting a chance to be a part of March Madness is something that’s long been on his mind.
“(Making the NCAA Tournament) is something I’ve dreamt about forever,” Stevens said. “I’m excited for the challenge to come and the adversity we’re going to face to get there, but I think this team will be ready for that step.”
Stevens decided in May to return to the Nittany Lions, withdrawing his name from NBA draft consideration six weeks after making himself eligible. Under a new rule, athletes are able to retain an agent and test the NBA waters, with the option to come back.
Knowing that this is Stevens’ last chance to make the NCAA Tournament has provided extra motivation for some of his teammates. Junior guard Jamari Wheeler said he wants to help make this season special for Stevens, as well as other seniors like center Mike Watkins and transfer guard Curtis Jones.
“(Lamar), Mike, CuJo, they’ve never been to the tournament before,” Wheeler said. “As a team we’re trying to set that goal and I know he came back for that. It’s unfinished business, as (Lamar) says.”
Sophomore guard Izaiah Brockington is ready to help make his teammates achieve those goals, but knows there’s some work to do first. The transfer from St. Bonaventure, who is eligible to play for Penn State after sitting out 2018-19 due to NCAA transfer rules, says setting goals like making the NCAA Tournament drives him.
“Talking about the NCAA Tournament motivates me to want to get somewhere,” he said. “It’s important for me to not look ahead and just stay in the moment, whatever practice or whatever game, and just focus on giving my all in that.”
Sophomore guard Myreon Jones wants to make it to the NCAA Tournament, just like everyone else, but he’s not ready to think that far into the future just yet. There’s a lot of basketball to be played between when the Nittany Lions kick off their season at home against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov. 5 and March.
“You’ve just got to win the next game,” Jones said. “That’s how I look at it. I try not to look too far ahead. I know everybody’s goal is to make the tournament and win a championship. But you’ve got to do the small stuff to get there first.”