Don’t feel sorry for Patrick Chambers. He wouldn’t want you to. He doesn’t.
In fact, the only thing more likely to gall him more than your pity is the effort his team put forth in a 70-54 beatdown at home against a previously 0-2 Northwestern team.
After the game, the second-year Penn State coach did what a head coach should have done following such a performance. He took the heat.
“This one’s on me,” he said following the game. “I have to do a better job. I have to do a much better job of preparing my team and getting them ready to play.”
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To a certain extent, he’s correct. He is the leader of the program and therefore is responsible for the quality of the product that’s put forth every night.
He’s out stumping for his team weekly, doing radio shows and television interviews, all to generate basketball buzz at a historically football-centric university.
So, to produce an uninspired 33-18 deficit at halftime against the Wildcats — a team also without one of its top players in Drew Crawford — Chambers had to take responsibility.
But, the Nittany Lions didn’t lack for strategic preparation. Bill Carmody didn’t maneuver his chess pieces with any more alacrity than did Chambers. The problem was, in terms of confidence, Chambers’ pieces were playing checkers.
And he seems to sense it.
“Honestly I thought we did some good things,” Chambers said post game. “We got the ball inside. We had some good looks. We are missing point blank layups. But where does that start? Maybe there are distractions. Maybe it’s (their) minds. I have to get their minds right. Whatever I have to do I have to figure it out fast! Again, that’s my job.”
“We are practicing hard and with enthusiasm,” he said when asked if he saw the lackluster performance coming. “I can’t tell you what happens when we get in the game though. You put people in the stands; the cameras were on. I’m not sure. But it’s my job to find out.”
When pressed further about his players’ ownership stake in the loss, Chambers wouldn’t budge.
“What I would tell you is I need to get them ready mentally,” he said. “If they have other things in their head then I’m not doing my job.”
However, a coach in any sport can no more instill confidence after the ball is tossed than a professor can after a test is handed out. Each is tasked with preparing pupils with the information necessary to be successful; application is the student’s job.
Chambers’ schemes and adjustments during games appear reasoned. His staff’s scouting reports, informed. But coaches can only talk it and chalk it – they can’t walk it. That part a player must do on his/her own.
What’s more, the Nittany Lions (8-7, 0-3 Big Ten) actually have talent. That incredulous look on your face after reading that sentence not withstanding, there is talent on that team.
Sophomore D.J. Newbill and junior Jermaine Marshall are the second highest scoring duo in the Big Ten. Sophomore Ross Travis is one of the best rebounders in the conference. When freshman Brandon Taylor isn’t on the bench with foul trouble he is a capable offensive weapon.
Is there enough talent to beat No. 2 Michigan? Probably not. But there is certainly enough to compete with Northwestern (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten).
Granted, the loss of a senior leader and talent like Tim Frazier takes away a guy teammates know can get an important bucket. The Wildcats also had advantages in senior leadership with Jared Swopshire (17 points) and Reggie Hearn (14 points), while 6-foot-1-sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski (18 points) had a quickness advantage that forced Chambers into a smaller lineup.
But, the Wildcats aren’t more talented than a Bucknell team that Penn State upset in its first full game after Frazier went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
The same team traveled to Wisconsin (11-4, 2-0 Big Ten) and whittled a 14-point second-half lead down to 50-49 with under three minutes to play. They failed to close and lost 60-51, but they showed enough talent to compete.
It’s just too easy to point to a lack of talent. The lack of confidence right now is more crippling. You can keep a game close and maybe steal it at the end with a lack of talent. A lack of confidence, though, gets you blown out.
On Sunday against Purdue (7-8, 1-2 Big Ten), Penn State won’t need a fiery, impassioned speech from its coach to inspire confidence. Its players will need to take ownership of their team and start to believe they are good enough to at least compete, if not win.