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Giger: One word that defines Penn State basketball? Apathy

Photo from Penn State Twitter: Jamari Wheeler

You know that old saying, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I’ve long felt like that really kind of describes Penn State basketball.

If the Nittany Lions lose and no one really cares, is there ANY reason to believe the school will do what it takes to, you know, actually build a strong basketball program?

I love college basketball. LOVE IT! I’ll talk about it all day, to anybody who wants to. Having hosted a local radio show for 11 years, I can guarantee you I spend more time talking and have more in-depth conversations about Penn State basketball than any other program you will find anywhere.

Alas, I know listeners don’t always care too much. Readers of this site, either. We get OK numbers for basketball stories, but obviously nowhere near as much as football, or wrestling for that matter.

Sure, if the Lions have a good basketball team and have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament, then yeah, there’s more interest.

But for the most part, there is one word that has always defined how most  fans feel about Penn State hoops.

Apathy.

A buddy of mine texted me about hoops during Friday night’s game — Purdue’s 73-52 thumping at the Bryce Jordan Center — and said, “Hope I am not a bother.”

That’s funny. Because at so many other power conference programs, if the team I covered was getting embarrassed at home the way PSU did Friday, my phone would be lighting up with texts.

Not at Penn State.

Because nobody cares.

This, after decades of mediocrity, is just how it is. Even people who want to be fans and try to devote time to it, wind up getting beaten down by one collapse after another, game after game, season after season.

The Lions scored 52 points at home, with an interim head coach in Jim Ferry who is supposed to be a good offensive mind. The game was darn near unwatchable because Penn State’s offense was so bad.

PSU shot 35 percent overall and 21 percent from 3. The Lions jacked up 29 shots from beyond the arc, making only six, and even though they once again lived in Brick City, there wasn’t much else the offense really tried to do.

This is my problem with Ferry and this team: There’s no Plan B.

If Plan A — which is making a bunch of jumpers — works, then yes, Penn State can play with just about anybody.

But man, if those jumpers aren’t working, this team seems to have absolutely nothing else to fall back on.

Look, you have to make shots to win basketball games. A lot of teams live and die by jumpers and 3-pointers.

Ferry keeps saying after each loss, “We got good shots, we just didn’t make them” but at some point, we need to come to the realization that maybe these shooters just aren’t very good.

I asked Ferry after the game about a lack of a Plan B and relying so heavily on jumpers. He gave a good, honest answer by describing that that’s just how this team is built.

“Your team is built the way it is, especially this team” he said. “We’re a little undersized, we have to play with quickness, we have to spread you out and play off of drive and kick. … If I’m correct, I think we just scored 86 points the other day, right? We’ve been scoring. It’s just a game like today, give them credit defensively. Again, I thought a lot of it tonight, it looked like we were running in quicksand,” which he noted was because of fatigue.

He concluded by saying, “Your team is built the way it’s built.”

Ferry is correct in saying PSU just scored 86 points in a win at Nebraska. And it scored 82 in a loss to Ohio State before that.

Again, yes, when jump shots are falling, this team can score a lot and play with anybody.

But in the four games prior to the Ohio State contest, the Lions scored 56, 55, 58 and 61 points, losing three of those four. Now comes 52 points at home.

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OK, OK, we can dive into stats and schemes and all that stuff, but I feel like, What’s the point? Most of you — even if you’ve gotten this far into the story — just don’t care.

As we’ve written about repeatedly of late, the feeling among people who follow Penn State basketball is that, game in and game out, the expectation is that the team will not hold onto leads, will not close strong, will not win.

And so, it just leads to even more apathy.

Hell, I wish it led to frustration. People getting mad. Fans demanding some kind of major change.

At least that would show a tremendously passionate fan base.

But see, that’s what just doesn’t exist with Penn State basketball. There are some passionate fans, but not enough to FORCE the school to stop messing around the way it always has by rising with such a collectively loud voice proclaiming “Enough is enough!”

Penn State pays about $1 million for its men’s basketball coach. When the school brings in a new coach after this season, that’s expected to be the going rate.

Which is laughable. You’re a major program in the toughest conference in the country, and you mean to tell me you can’t find more money to spend to bring in the best coach you can get?

Well, as I wrote recently, the school has to spend so much money on football because that is the cash cow that pays for everything, so really — and sadly — it probably can’t afford much more for a basketball coach because there just won’t be a great return on that investment.

In short, the school doesn’t have to care all that much, because it knows the fans don’t care that much and that it can’t afford to care more financially because spending more money won’t do anything else but cut profits the program brings in.

I just took a deep breath while writing this, because it’s all so damn tiring.

No matter how much a few of us in the media who actually do care write about all this stuff, you just get the feeling things will never, ever change with basketball at Penn State.

It’s just easier to be apathetic about all of it, which is why most people just fall back on that default position.

Notables:

**There is no scenario now where Penn State makes the NCAA Tournament unless it wins the Big Ten Tournament. You could have made somewhat of a case that, by winning the last three regular-season games and then going 2-1 in the Big Ten Tournament, the Lions maybe, just maybe could have stayed in the hunt for an at-large bid. But PSU is now 5-12 in the league and 8-13 overall, so there is no possible chance it can get an at-large bid.

**PSU had one player in double figures Friday — Myreon Jones with 11.

**This PSU team has battled and battled and battled all season, coming back from one crushing loss after another to remain competitive the next time out. But this game was different. The Lions played poorly and seemed disinterested for the first time, really, so you just have to wonder if all of the tough losses this season and now being out of contention for an NCAA bid has finally caught up to this team.

** “We struggled with everything,” Ferry said. “I thought we looked a little fatigued right at the start of the game. We made a run back at them. Those two times we had the runs that we came back, I just thought we were gassed.”

** “We haven’t played like this all year,” Ferry added. “Just disappointed. Disappointed for the guys.”

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Scott Yard

    February 26, 2021 at 11:18 pm

    Can’t argue with anything you wrote. I DO care and usually enjoy watching this team compete. We have no size which makes the game very difficult when your opponents have a 7-4 big or three dudes 6-10 and beefy. Will be interesting to see what Sandy chooses for a coach. Chambers was a solid hire and super recruiter. If we find another Chambers (maybe Crispen) the interest will return….if we can recruit. Here’s hoping.

  2. David Rachau

    February 27, 2021 at 12:36 am

    Amen, Cory, amen. I started to write about how I go back 50 years watching PSU hoops and how/why what you say is correct. Then, I lost interest.

  3. Ken Rhodes

    February 27, 2021 at 5:52 am

    Cory – nice summary. Our family are definitely NOT historic BBall fans at any level, but we’ve been following with some interest over the last couple of seasons for the basic reason that all student-athletes representing the University should have a sense that fans and alumni do follow their adventures; up and/or down. Frankly, I opined that if the University’s cash cow had collapsed for a while after the NCAA nearly made State College a Ghost Town before COVID made State College a Ghost Town; I pledged to be the alone in Beaver Stadium watching whomever the program could get out of the dorms to play. Well – did I mean it or not ….. ?? BBall in Central PA vs the surrounding urban centers never seemed to get the engine started – – until it appeared Philly-pedigree players started showing up.

    We’re actually surprised that Plan ‘B’ doesn’t feel like a bunch of street ballers getting really physical driving inside, potentially getting the crap kicking outta them, but racking up opposition fouls like no one’s business and putting an entire competition’s lineup on the bench 5 mins into the 2nd half. Put street tough Philly-credentials out there and bruise ’em a bit. But then you’d have to MAKE the foul shots. That part of the game looked like it had some life mid-season – – last evening, intramural Teams coulda scored more from the line. Jawdropping.

    Anyway – take a bit of heart. There are fans out here, and just go back the night in the Palestra. That was fun, fun, fun to witness – – and that Team was having fun; and I always feel that’s a key – – who’s having fun playing the game ??
    Results should follow. Stay strong; WE ARE ….. !!!

  4. Terry Farringer

    February 27, 2021 at 7:44 am

    Cory, I have been a season ticket holder since the Harter coaching staff tried to make a winner in Happy Valley. For whatever reason I have kept returning year after to hope that something truly might be different. But like your article clearly states the program lacks for Athletic Department support. That lack of real interest definitely trickles down to the fan base. Apathy is definitely the right word. Penn State Basketball is merely something to do to get your body out of the house during the long cold winters here in the region. Obviously that shouldn’t be the most important reason for coming to the games. Unfortunately it is. I hope that the University makes the financial commitment that is necessary to compete with the other teams in the league who have a program worth following. I hope to return to the Jordan Center when it is safe enough to in fact return. Although I must admit that after all these years of faithfully following this program my decision to return will be mainly based on who the athletic director ultimately selects to lead the program. We all will know soon enough. I hope the person selected will receive a salary compensation worthy of the membership in the Big Ten coaching ranks. That would be a step in the right direction and maybe just maybe the fans who buy season tickets would be excited to return for the 2021-2022 season.

  5. Michael J. Adams

    February 27, 2021 at 11:26 am

    In my case, apathy is indeed the best word. I started following them as an undergrad in 1978, trekking from East Halls to Rec Hall to see guys like Edelman, Brickowski, and Lang. Dick Harter was the coach. They played HARD. Okay, they played football in shorts.

    I came back for grad school several years later when Parkhill had taken over. I probably went to even more games, but the product wasn’t as good. I actually started enjoying women’s hoops more (Suzie McConnell era).

    Since then, it’s been all downhill in terms of coaches AND environment. You get what you pay for on the former. And on the latter, leaving Rec Hall for the BJC has only hurt them. I went to one game there when I happened to be in town, and it’s just an empty cavern that unless it’s near-capacity, does nothing to help the excitement factor.

    So now, I’m interested enough to read columns like this, but not interested enough to ever even tune them in on TV. I watch (or try to watch as was the case early last year) every football game. I’ll tune in the occasional hockey game. But never basketball.

    Why? Because if they don’t care, why should I?

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