Penn State gets new life in Big Ten tournament

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Coach Patrick Chambers sensed November inside Penn State's practice gym Tuesday. Players were yelling. The intensity was ratcheted up.

It was just like November, when everybody is fresh and optimistic.

"I think that's a good thing," Chambers said. "I think."

Optimism isn't too extreme an emotion for the Nittany Lions to have at this point. Though Penn State finished the regular season 15-16 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten Conference and will be facing Minnesota at 6:30 p.m. today as the No. 10 seed, the Nittany Lions played mostly competitive basketball the past month and a half.

"I think we're right where we're supposed to be going into the tournament," Chambers said.

Penn State has either won or lost by single digits eight of its past 12 games. That stretch includes two victories against Ohio State and one against Nebraska, who each likely will make the NCAA tournament.

In this time of relative success, Penn State has established itself as a careful, deliberate team. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in defensive field-goal percentage, and they commit fewer turnovers than all but four teams.

But the potential for disaster is always there.

Penn State still hasn't shed its penchant for inconsistent play. The Nittany Lions could have won recent home games against Illinois or Wisconsin had they performed better offensively.

In an 81-63 loss Sunday against Minnesota, Penn State turned over the ball five times in the first eight minutes and fell into an insurmountable hole.

Guard Tim Frazier said the team is looking at its opportunity in the Big Ten tournament as a fourth season, after its overseas exhibition games, the non-conference season and the conference season.

Frazier, Chambers and the others want this final segment of the season to last as long as possible, too. That means not only participate in the Big Ten tournament but more postseason play as well.

For Penn State to advance to the NIT, it would have to finish with a .500 or better overall record and would need to win at least two games in the Big Ten tournament.

The College Basketball Invitational is more realistic and something Chambers would welcome.

"Whether it's the NIT or CBI or, you never know, the NCAA tournament, I want to play in postseason," he said. "This team has earned the right to play in the postseason."

Penn State has lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in Chambers's first two years. In 2011, it reached the championship, losing to Ohio State.

Frazier was on that 2011 team. Asked what advice he would impart to the younger players about succeeding in the Big Ten tournament, he said, "Make sure you pack all the way to Sunday. Be prepared."

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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