What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Bill from Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Penn State.
1) Less than two weeks ago, Penn State gave Iowa its biggest scare during the Hawkeyes' current 6-game winning streak. How much confidence does that give you in Penn State's odds in the game today? What does PSU need to do differently to get a win this time?
BILL: I think it certainly gives Penn State some confidence. While the Nittany Lions don't really have the W-L to back up this statement, this is a good team that more often than not is in games until the very end. The usual issue is the squad runs out of gas at the end and other teams win because they are way more talented. Or because Big Ten refs.
But this is a team that usually isn't lacking in confidence. It goes into games knowing it can hang with just about anyone, and that it will make opponents work for everything on defense. Plus there's a certain peace that comes from going into games with D.J. Newbill on your side. It's like going into a fight with Brock Lesnar on your side most nights: even if you don't win, he's gonna get his.
I think all Penn State needs to do differently is not get down during little slumps. This is the team's bugaboo most of the time. Look at what happened at Nebraska: up by 16, the Huskers got some momentum, Penn State nearly collapsed. Hell, the Nittany Lions were playing great and had a nice lead on the Hawkeyes when the two teams met earlier this year before Iowa got hot and punched PSU in the mouth. Just stay confident and feed D.J.
2) DJ Newbill is averaging almost 30 ppg over the last two games, both Penn State wins. How far can his one-man State College rock band act carry the Nittany Lions? Is this a reaction to him getting snubbed by the coaches and media for first-team all-Big Ten?
BILL: It's March, which means that conventional wisdom goes out the window, which means that a single player can carry a team to a conference title. Now, I don't expect Penn State to win the Big Ten, but I would be lying if I said I didn't think that the Nittany Lions could take down Iowa and Purdue and make an awesome run. This is almost all because of Newbill. He is spectacular. He is easily one of the best players in school history, but I think he knows he will be one of those rare great players who never make it to the big dance, which is somewhat motivating him.
The other thing that is motivating him is certainly the first-team All-Big Ten snub. At least I think he was snubbed, but I'm biased. He even said after the game against Nebraska that he was disappointed that he wasn't picked, which is understandable, as the guy who leads the conference in scoring is almost always a first-team selection. But he's a dude who has been overlooked his entire life, going back to when he was in high school (if you haven't read what Buzz Williams did to him at Marquette, read up, it'll at least make you go "oh, well, that sucks"). He's going to fight like hell no matter what, and if Penn State wins a game or two more in the conference tourney because of it, I won't be surprised.
3) Is Shep Garner the not-so-secret weapon for Penn State? He was pretty dialed in during PSU's near-miss against Iowa a few weeks ago and it looks like he was a pretty effective Robin to Newbill's Batman in PSU's win over Nebraska yesterday. How much do Penn State's hopes of a win here rest on Garner?
BILL: This is tricky, because Penn State's Robin is as consistent as Big Ten officiating. Sometimes Garner's ability to stretch the floor with his jump shot makes him the Christian to Newbill's Edge. Sometimes that guy is Brandon Taylor, who wakes up some mornings and decides to be a matchup nightmare who can score all over the floor and block shots at a surprising rate for a guy who is 6'7". Other times it's Geno Thorpe, who is a menace on defense and a nuisance on offense when he can hit jumpers and get to the hole/draw fouls. Every once in a blue moon, a Penn State big man like Ross Travis (who is 6'6" but plays like a big) or Jordan Dickerson decides to step up.
But I'd say a fair amount of Penn State's success lies on Garner. When he is knocking down threes -- sometimes from 4-6 feet behind the three-point line -- he punishes defenses, especially because he is great at creating space and getting his own shot up. He's also a solid (but not great) distributor and pretty composed for a freshman. The issue is when he has a bad game he's a bit of a disaster, but hey, it's Penn State basketball, attempt to go big or go home.
4) Is Pat Chamber on any kind of hot seat? What are the feelings about him in Year 4?
BILL: This question is a bit complex, because if you look at his record, he should be gone after this year. But this is Penn State we're talking about. There is barely any basketball history, and the main goal of the coach needs to be, for the time being, to recruit and turn the program from a laughing stock into something respectable.
So far, Pat Chambers has done two things well: be a spokesperson and make a team that isn't very good seem appealing, and recruit. He has gotten a few not terrible recruiting classes in so far, and while last year's was bad, it brought in Garner, who is the best recruit he's ever gotten at Penn State. Now, Penn State is bringing in a top-40 recruiting class nationally in 2015 with two legitimate four-star studs, and there are several big-time targets in the 2016 class who are interested in PSU.
I also think there have been some marginal improvements on-the-court, but that's up for debate, and the record doesn't show it. As Penn State, uh, legend Jan Jagla once told me on Twitter, wins are ultimately all that matter in the minds of most people. The seat probably isn't hot, mostly because AD Sandy Barbour gave him a vote of confidence last month, but some fans are in "shit or get off the pot" mode with Pat.
5) What are Penn State's postseason possibilities? Are they looking at a potential NIT berth? CBI-bound?
BILL: NCAA auto-bid by winning the Big Ten Tourney and beating Kentucky in the national title game. Duh.
In all seriousness, Penn State is probably on or close to being on the NIT bubble, and a win over Iowa would go a long way in helping with that. Sure, Penn State isn't great, but it's a big-name program, it has a big time talent in Newbill and it comes from a power conference, so anything's possible. If PSU can beat Iowa and get to 18 wins, maybe the NIT selection committee (assuming it is a selection committee and not some drunk guys going "HAY KNOW WHO I WANNA SEE PLAY BASKETBALL?") will ignore the 4-14 conference mark.
No matter what, the CBI would probably call, because Penn State is the biggest school that would compete in the tournament. But there really isn't much upside to being in that. Penn State went last year and lost to Siena -- which sucked in a way that cannot be described by the English language -- and assuming that doesn't happen again, how much pride can you honestly have in unfurling a CBI Champions banner? It makes you seem like a member of the Alliance of Magicians. Still, beggars can't be choosers, and with a young team like Penn State, extra practices/games can only help going forward. I'm interested to see what happens, assuming the magical run to the Big Ten Tourney title doesn't happen.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
BILL: My heart says Penn State revenge game. My head says Penn State is going to get its shit kicked. I think Newbill is going to do everything he can to show Big Ten voters that they made a mistake putting Aaron White on the first team over him (which is not me saying White shouldn't have made it, it's me saying Aaron White is the first-team All-Big Ten guy in this game and D.J. will want to son him).
If Penn State can keep Iowa from getting Iowa to the line at the rate it got there when the two teams played a few weeks back, this game could be interesting. Still, I think Iowa's length will be the difference, because I'm not sure how a tired-ish Penn State team will be able to deal with it. Nor do I know how Penn State will be able to deal without the frontcourt player who is blinded by Adam Woodbu...
*is beaten by a bunch of Iowa fans*
Iowa 73, Penn State 65.
Thanks for being a good sport, Bill, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped today. You can check out the Black Shoe Diaries crew at Black Shoe Diaries. You can also follow BSD on Twitter at @BSDtweet and Bill on Twitter at @bflip33. The Iowa-Penn State game is in Chicago, IL on Thursday, March 12, and is scheduled to start at approximately 1:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.