As March Madness roles on, Penn State basketball fans watch on feeling a bit of a longing. Maybe longing isn't the right word. Frustration. When you fill out your bracket this year, there will be no Penn State team to root on. However, there will be seven other Big Ten schools in the tournament. Yet, sports fans are used to seeing the Nittany Lions near the top of the Big Ten leaderboard in almost every other sport. Let's quickly run through a few other Penn State Sports Team's…
- Women’s volleyball won the NCAA National Title this year, their 6th title in just 8 years.
- Men's wrestling had won 4 straight NCAA National titles before finishing 6th in the nation this year.
- Women’s field hockey has more Big Ten titles than any other school in the conference.
- Women's basketball. The Lady Lions have reached the NCAA Tournament more than any other school in conference history. Quite the accomplishment.
- Fencing teams have been either champions or runner up in 21 of 25 years.
I haven't even touched on some other well known sports and already, across the board, we see huge success for Penn State sports teams. Where do we not see any success? Men’s Basketball. Sadly, this year has been no different than most other years. Heck, this team wasn't even invited to the NIT. As a basketball fan and Penn State student, it’s frustrating. To see the other large state schools in the Big Ten make the NCAA tournament and win games, I wonder, why Penn State can’t garner that same success.
Let’s look at how Penn State fared in offense this year…
- 191st in Points per Game: 66.9
- 125th in Rebounds per Game: 35.3
- 328th in Assists per Game: 9.9
- 258th in Field Goal %: .420
Maybe the Defense was better?
- 156th in Points Allowed: 66.2
- 198th in Steals per Game: 6.1
These are poor numbers, but we can’t just glance at some rankings to explain the team’s failure. To compare, let’s look at Michigan, which finished a disappointing year by Michigan standards.
- 240th in Points Per Game: 64.7 (PSU 191) (-49)
- 329th in Rebounds per Game: 30.2 (PSU 125) (-204)
- 231st in Assists Per Game: 11.9 (PSU 328) (+97)
- 224th in Field Goal %: .426 (PSU 258) (+24)
- 102nd in Points Allowed: 64 (PSU 156) (+54)
- 275th in Steals per Game: 5.4 (PSU 198) (-77)
What do these numbers tell us? Not much. Michigan actually had worse numbers in a few categories. Yet they still had 4 more Big Ten wins than Penn State. I was curious, because if you followed the season, you would have noticed that Penn State started the season 12-1. That’s right, 12 wins and 1 loss. The team finished the season on a 6-15 run, culminating with a meager 18-16 record. Next, I checked the Strength of Schedule (SOS) and Basketball Power Index (BPI). The BPI is a measure that takes into account multiple variables and comes up with a power ranking for each team. It’s an accurate measure for analysts to gauge just how good a basketball team really is. 100 is the best score you can have. To give some context, teams like Wisconsin and Duke are in the mid to low 90s. As I looked around, relative to other Big Ten teams Penn State wasn’t far off in opponents BPI. Meaning, Penn State played teams with an average BPI almost on par with other successful Big Ten teams. Let’s have a look.
- Michigan State Average BPI: 66.7
- Iowa Opponents Average BPI: 65.2
- Penn State Opponents Average BPI: 62.4
Not that far off, but I realized this didn’t explain everything. Before Big Ten games start, teams play 13 non-conference games. Teams are able to schedule whatever games they want during this stretch, and many teams look to bolster experience and toughness by playing some solid opponents. I disaggregated the data and calculated the average opponents BPI for purely non-conference games. That’s when things became a littler clearer. Below is what I found.
Non-Conference Average Opponents BPI
- Wisconsin 61.63
- Michigan St. 54.96
- Michigan 54.89
- Rutgers 54.36
- Iowa: 54.20
- Maryland 53.72
- Purdue 52.93
- Indiana 51.08
- Illinois 50.89
- Northwestern 49.49
- Ohio State 49.41
- Nebraska 49.32
- Penn State: 47.53
By measure of opponents BPI, Penn State played the weakest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten… by far. The outlier is obviously Wisconsin, a true title contender, they looked to mesh with the best in the beginning of the season, a notable loss being to Duke. However the rest of the teams hover in the low 50s. Except for one… Penn State had far and away the weakest non-conference schedule. This season it showed, 12-1 against these low quality opponents. Once Big Ten play showed up, Penn State looked unready and unable to cope with this newfound talent, finishing up 5-16 in conference games. Smart coaches and smart fans understand, non-conference games is not a time to pad the coaches win sheet, it’s to get the team ready for conference games. Sure, let’s concede every team does schedule a few doozies to steamroll and boost confidence in the beginning of the season. But that is balanced out by tougher opponents as well. For instance, Iowa’s non-conference schedule included games against 6 teams that made the big dance (Texas, ND State, Hampton, UNC, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa). There’s a reason Iowa went dancing this year and Penn State didn't even come close.
Penn State finished 2nd to last in the Big Ten, behind only Rutgers. Even Nebraska, and it’s hard to imagine how they recruit basketball talent out in cornhusker land, finished ahead of Penn State in the Big Ten this year. This is unacceptable. At a school with so much success in other athletics, this is not a standard the school should be setting. Yet here they are commending the head coach. Just last week Head Coach Pat Chambers received a two year contract extension, giving him until the 2018-2019 season to get things turned around. Beyond that, the AD has consistently talked up Chambers to the media (Link). If this is the bar that Penn State is setting for basketball, then it’s hard to see how the school will be anything more than the abysmal program that is known as Penn State basketball. For now, enjoy the emptiness of the BJC and the disappointment year after year. I’ll leave you with this clip, for this video is Penn State Basketball in a nutshell. Please show me one other team that has their point guard inbound the basketball to break a press. Seriously, leave me a comment and let me know, I’d be curious to find out.