In Penn State coach Patrick Chambers’ first four seasons, the Nittany Lions completed their nonconference schedule with a home game against a mid-major opponent.
Penn State won all four games before going into Big Ten play.
This year, the Nittany Lions (8-3) are gearing up for conference play at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, where they’ll face Colorado (10-1) at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday at Orleans Arena. No. 18 Southern Methodist and Kent State are set to play in the first matchup at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The tournament continues Wednesday night.
“I wanted to change it up and I wanted to play tougher competition before the Big Ten season got here,” Chambers said at his press conference last week. “So I flipped it a little bit. Usually, we play a Thanksgiving tournament. This time around, I felt like let’s play tougher teams.”
The Buffaloes have won 10 straight after losing the season opener 68-62 to Iowa State, which is currently ranked 11th in the nation. Colorado, which is receiving votes in the AP Top 25 Poll, is averaging 85.7 points per game, good for 14th in the nation through Sunday’s games.
Josh Scott, a 6-foot-10 forward, leads Colorado in scoring with 19.0 points per game and rebounds with 9.5 per game. George King is averaging 15.4 points and shooting 51 percent from 3-point range, and Josh Fortune is averaging 11.5 points.
Scott has reached the 20-point mark in the team’s last five games, starting with a 24-point, 15-rebound performance in a win over Fort Lewis.
Chambers said he wants to see more consistency from his team and specifically mentioned Payton Banks, Julian Moore and Shep Garner.
“I think Payton’s done a really good job,” Chambers said last week. “Under the circumstances, he’s done a terrific job. I’d like to see more from Julian.”
Banks is coming off scoring a career-high 20 points in Penn State’s win over Drexel on Saturday night. Banks, who is averaging 11.8 points, has scored at least nine points in every game.
Moore has scored in double figures twice this season, but he’s averaging just 5.4 points.
The team’s inconsistency was on display against Drexel as the Nittany Lions trailed for much of the night.
“I feel like we’re playing in spurts, four or five-minute increments of spurts and then we have those four or five-minute droughts,” Chambers said. “... Our defense needs to dictate our offense and that’s not happening. So I just want more consistent play.”
Chambers hopes this tournament will prepare his team heading into the conference opener at Maryland on Dec. 30. Maryland (10-1) is currently ranked fourth in the country.
No. 18 SMU vs. Kent St.
If Penn State beats Colorado, it could set up a matchup with Southern Methodist on Wednesday night.
It would pit Nittany Lions center Jordan Dickerson against his old school and coach.
Dickerson spent his freshman year at SMU playing under coach Larry Brown. Dickerson averaged 3.5 minutes in 26 games that year before transferring to Penn State.
“He might have a little extra desire to play as well as he can instead of just do what you’ve been doing,” Chambers said of Dickerson last week. “Keep playing the way you’re playing. What’d he have seven blocks the last game? I mean he’s playing really, really good basketball and he is anchoring our defense.”
The Mustangs have started the season 9-0 — winning all nine games without Brown, who served a nine-game suspension as part of NCAA sanctions on the program. Brown “failed to report possible rules violations” and “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program,” according to the NCAA’s public infractions decision report.
Brown will return from suspension for SMU’s game against Kent State on Tuesday night.
SMU has six players averaging double figures in scoring, led by Nic Moore (14.3).
Kent State (7-2) has won four straight games since losing 85-76 to Pittsburgh on Nov. 28. The Golden Flashes are coming off wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Canisius.
Penn State (8-3) vs. Colorado (10-1)
Time: 10:30 p.m.
Arena: Orleans Arena
Radio: WQWK 1450