Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Long Cold Winter of Discontent…

Yesterday, we went to the Bryce Jordan Center for the Penn State men’s basketball final home game against Purdue. The feel of spring was in the air…a pleasant mid-40’s temperature, a bright sunny day. On the way to the BJC, snowmen on people’s front lawns were starting to melt. The snow on our roof is gone, as are the icicles. Finally. But not before we had some nasty damage from an ice dam that will have to be repaired once the warm weather comes. It’s been that sort of winter…long and cold and frustrating. Especially when it comes to Penn State basketball.

The Lady Lions have at least had a winning season, albeit disappointing in the Big Ten after a great non-conference start. They have a shot at post-season NIT play. For the men, the Big Ten Tournament is all that’s left. It would take a major miracle for them to get into the post-season. They have to win the Big Ten Tournament. Not very likely! Although I suppose I should never say “never”.

As we walked up to the Bryce Jordan Center gate, there was a Penn State fan with six tickets to yesterday’s basketball game. He wasn’t trying to sell them. He was simply looking for a family of six who might be able to use them. He found a family of seven clad in Purdue clothing – this family of seven was delighted when he approached them, gave them his six tickets, and told them they were free. The family then bought one additional ticket, and the ticket agent was able to get them that ticket in the same section.

There was something truly heartwarming about watching this exchange take place. To give the six tickets to a Purdue family was an especially gracious gesture. It was the epitome of good sportsmanship, a “feel good” moment about Penn State fans and their attitude towards opposing team fans.

There were a lot of Purdue fans at the Bryce Jordan Center yesterday, a loud and boisterous group. The stakes were huge for Purdue. If they won this game they would clinch a share of the Big Ten championship. Penn State, if they won, would play the role of spoiler. No other stakes – other than the pride of winning their final home game – were available to our team.

It was a hard fought game and Penn State played – well – the way they’ve played all season in Big Ten basketball. Always in the game, keeping it close to the end. They had a chance to win, but ultimately it was a losing effort. A few mistakes here and there made the difference in the score. Penn State is a better team than their record. They can play with anyone in the Big Ten. The breaks haven’t gone their way. But they’re a competitive threat in every game, and they've been quite entertaining to watch.

Somehow throughout this winter of discontent they didn’t quit, and they kept improving, becoming a more balanced offense and defense over the season. There are no seniors on the team, so they will all return. Also, next year Talor Battle’s younger brother, Taran Buie, will join the Nittany Lions. He’s a nationally ranked shooting guard, and the expectations for him will be very high for immediate contributions to the team.

There a lot of posts in Facebook and other blogs that are very negative towards the men’s basketball team and calling for Coach Ed DeChellis to resign. I understand the frustration. But I keep reminding myself of the 2004 football season. A team that doesn’t quit but faces losses knows how to deal with adversity. For football, it turned around in 2005 in a remarkable season that was one second from being undefeated.

Can we expect the same from the men’s basketball team next year?
Some of the signs are there. Will they find more ways to win next season? I think so. I doubt it will be as miraculous as the 2005 football season was, but I think they’ve got the experience and some new talent– and a good shot at winning enough games to get into the NCAA for the first time in a long time.

That’s about all we can hope for - a better season next year and continued improvement. Unless, of course, they somehow pull off a major upset at the Big Ten Tournament this week and win the championship. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for a miracle. I just want to see them continue to be competitive and play well.

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