Patrick Chambers breaks games down into four-minute increments for his players. Brevity rules the day in most huddles.
Coaches need their young men to spend their attention on the immediate, not the larger, more daunting specter of playing an excellent 40 minutes.
Against No. 6 Michigan on Thursday in first-round action of the Big Ten tournament, those first few ticks could shape the rest as Penn State faces what’s likely to be a supremely motivated Wolverines squad.
“What I would tell you is that for both teams, they have a lot of freshmen and we’re playing some guys who haven’t played in the Big Ten tournament before “ Chambers said Tuesday.
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“I think those nervous jitters. Being in Chicago,” he continued.
The game will be played in the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks’ arena, the United Center, and will tip at 2:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
“So I think for both teams, who’s going to go out there and calm the storm a little bit and make a couple shots early, or get some stops, or make those hustle plays you need to push your team to that first TV timeout at the 16-minute mark where everybody will be gasping for air. It’s going to be big for the first four or five minutes (that) we get off to a good start.”
A 9-0 deficit at the first media timeout in Minnesota took on more water and swelled to 16-0 until D.J. Newbill finally scored after more than 11 minutes played.
The Nittany Lions (10-20, 2-16 Big Ten) continued to founder en route to a 73-44 humbling.
At Northwestern, Chambers’ team had the quicker start, jetting out to a 15-3 lead at the first official break. They relinquished it later, but used a similar start in the second half for a 66-59 win, its first road win under the second-year coach.
“Yeah, I think that first four minutes before that TV timeout is huge,” Newbill said. “I think it sets the tone for the next four. Coach always says just play four at a time.”
“The thing we’ll try to do is just get stops and execute our offense.”
The Wolverines (25-6, 12-6 Big Ten) will likely be a cantankerous bunch, eager to make Newbill’s plan difficult as they come in smarting off a late-game collapse against then-No. 2 Indiana.
John Beilein’s bunch led the Hoosiers 70-66 with 52 seconds remaining and lost 72-71 after going 1-of-4 from the free-throw line to finish.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke each missed the front end of a 1-and-1 just 10 seconds apart. The loss snatched a potential share of the regular-season title from Michigan and gave Indiana its first outright crown since 1993.
It also forced the Wolverines to play in the first round against a team they don’t particularly match well with. A team that already earned national attention off their backs with an 84-79 upset in University Park.
If the Lions caught the Wolverines off guard previously, it won’t happen again.
“Just watching Penn State, it’s just a whole different team than it was early in the season,” Beilein said Tuesday at his press conference in Ann Arbor. “I think six of the last seven games they have shown they can beat anyone.”
The Lions are 2-5 in that span and without a 29-point strong-arming by the Golden Gophers, they lost by just 4.5 points on average in the four losses (9.4 with Minnesota).
“They had a bad game in Minnesota, but other than that they have played us twice very tough,” Beilein continued. “They all but beat Wisconsin the other night. So this is a team with seven guys that have a great chemistry right now and they really can beat us or anyone in the tournament right now the way they’re playing.”
After losing Tim Frazier to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in November, Newbill (16.4) and Jermaine Marshall (16.2) have led the Lions in scoring.
They also finished fourth and fifth respectively in conference scoring. On the interior, Ross Travis (7.2) finished sixth in rebounding, while Sasa Borovnjak averaged 11 points on 61 percent shooting through the last seven.
“ So it’s become a really good team from all the readjustments they had to make since losing Tim Frazier. So we better play really well. And it’s that time of year. If you don’t play well in a game, your season will be over or your tournament will be over. And that’s how simple it is.”
Simplicity, coaches love it.
To oversimplify would be to think the game will come down to just Marshall and Newbill versus Burke and Hardaway Jr.
The Penn State pair was the second highest-scoring duo in conference play behind only Michigan’s twosome.
On Monday, Newbill and Marshall earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, while Burke won conference player of the year and Hardaway Jr. split first and second team honors from coaches and media respectively.
However, each team’s ancillary pieces will be equally important.
Glenn Robinson III had 21 points and 10 boards in the Wolverines’ home win, while Travis had 10 and 11. In the Lions’ home win, Travis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Robinson III had just eight and six.
The important, but not decisive, first few minutes will likely be determined by the team that quells nerves best.
Michigan relies on freshmen Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Spike Albrecht coupled with the sophomore Burke and juniors Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan.
Newbill, a redshirt sophomore, has never played in the Big Ten tournament. Travis, a sophomore, played sparingly last year, while redshirt junior Marshall and senior Borovnjak have some experience.
Chambers sounds like he’s trying to preemptively loosen his team by saying, “it’s a new season,” and “we’re playing with house money.”
Simplicity, coaches love it.
“You know what I’m a big believer of, staying in the moment and focusing on today and not worrying about yesterday because it’s gone,” Chambers said when asked about the previous upset playing a factor.
“(We are) focusing on creating good habits today and getting our mindset prepared and ready to play a very, very good Michigan team on Thursday. So, today do your job. Today live in the moment. Forget the schedule. Forget the record. Forget all that. Forget that you beat them. It’s over. Work today, work tomorrow, see what you can do on Thursday.”
The winner will face the tournament’s No. 4 seed Wisconsin on Friday.