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Future of PSU basketball on the line in coming weeks

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jim Ferry

The next few weeks will go a long way in shaping the Penn State basketball program for the next few years.

Four. More. Wins.

If that happens, everything will change.

I have been asked by numerous people over the past few months, “Who will be Penn State’s next basketball coach?”

Talking with sources and even some potential candidates directly, I can tell you there is a strong candidate pool out there. It all depends on which direction Penn State wants to go — either hiring someone who’s already been a head coach, or an up-and-coming assistant coach with a great resume.

But as things currently stand, Jim Ferry deserves a tremendous amount of consideration, far more than anyone ever really could have imagined when he took over as interim head coach in late October.

Just look at this below. Because from my view, this is all that matters right now.

As you can see in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology, Penn State is No. 69, which is a pretty nice position to be in. The Nittany Lions are the first team out in the field of 68 after one week in February, and they have a golden opportunity in front of them to build on their resume enough to get into the field.

It’s going to be difficult, as anyone who knows anything about PSU basketball surely understands.

But, if it happens …

Then Jim Ferry is the head coach going forward.

He has to be.

If indeed Ferry gets this team to the NCAA Tournament, there is simply no way AD Sandy Barbour and Penn State can push him out the door in favor of someone else.

Penn State has earned an NCAA Tournament berth a grand total of 10 times — ever (including last year, when the tourney was canceled before a deserving PSU team was officially selected). The Lions have earned an NCAA berth just three times in the past 25 years and only seven times in the past 56 years.

This program has far too little tradition to turn its back on a coach who would have just led the team to an improbable tourney appearance, which is what Ferry is trying to do.

Barbour said this about Ferry a couple weeks ago:

“He’s got a hands-on audition in order to make his case. Other candidates are auditioning elsewhere.”

If reaching the NCAA Tournament isn’t enough for Ferry to win his audition and get the job, then shame on Penn State.

OK, so what does PSU, which is 4-7 in the Big Ten and 7-8 overall, have to do to get an NCAA bid? I went over that extensively, with a game-by-game breakdown right here. Essentially, it comes down to finishing 8-10 in the Big Ten during the regular season.

That’s the four more wins I talked about earlier. If the Lions go 4-3 in their final seven league games, that’s an 8-10 record. (Now, as I keep saying, they’d probably need one win in the Big Ten Tournament, too, so keep that in mind.)

If Penn State makes the tournament and Ferry gets the full-time job, then there would be a level of stability in the program going forward. One would think the team’s best underclassmen — Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington, Seth Lundy, Myles Dread, Sam Sessoms — all would return next year, giving the Lions another chance to go dancing.

Sure, one or more of them could transfer. That is a possibility with every player in college football and basketball nowadays with new transfer rules. And there still could be animosity from a player or two with how things went down with Patrick Chambers’ resignation that it’s feasible they could look to leave, even if PSU goes to the tournament this year.

Here’s the flip side, and it’s extremely important: If Penn State does not reach the tournament this season, and certainly if the school moves on from Ferry and hires someone else, I believe there’s a very strong chance a number of those key players would transfer.

That could be disastrous for Penn State basketball. If several of those top players left, the cupboard might be so bare for a couple of years that the Lions would struggle in a major way, much as they did when Chambers took over and inherited a poor roster in 2011.

If a new coach is brought in, he would inherit a situation where the program has zero recruiting commits and possibly face losing some or most of his best players to transfer.

If Ferry is retained — and again, you can’t read these kids’ minds — you would think all those players would decide to stay and make another run at an NCAA bid next season.

The big issue to consider is this: If Ferry does not get this team to the tournament, how confident would the Penn State administration be that the next coach could keep the ship afloat by retaining the current standouts?

Even if they did find a tremendous candidate — such as Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry, who has Celtics coach Brad Stevens doing all he can to lobby for him — the new coach coming in could face a difficult task of convincing everyone to stay.

If Ferry is still the coach, they probably would stay and the team would be good next year.

And for Ferry to be named the coach, it just may take Penn State getting into the NCAA Tournament, not just being close but barely outside the bubble.

That’s why these next few weeks are so, so vital. It would be great to see PSU get into the tournament and then Ferry be named the full-time head coach, providing a level of stability going forward.

Ferry is a good man and a good coach. He’s proving that this year by keeping the team so competitive while playing the toughest schedule in the country.

But Penn State very well may feel compelled to go out and hire someone else, to start over.

If the school could pull a rabbit out of its hat and lure someone like John Beilein, well, that would be a five-run home run type of hire. He presumably wouldn’t need some crazy salary after his lengthy and successful career, but just may want one more shot to leave his mark at a Big Ten program.

Georgia’s Tom Crean, the former Indiana coach, also could be interested in the PSU job, according to a source. He’s on the hot seat with the Bulldogs and may want to get back to the Big Ten. He makes $3.2 million a year, and PSU certainly wouldn’t pay anything close to that, especially for a coach who has struggled lately as Crean has.

Penn State just can’t afford a big-name hire with big salary demands, so it would have to go the route of a lesser-known head coach or assistant. Hey, maybe one of those would work out in the long run.

But if Ferry leads this team to the NCAA Tournament, there really shouldn’t even be a decision.

If Ferry can’t get to the tournament, all bets are probably off. Then we could see a whole lot of dominoes fall with whatever decision the PSU adminstration makes.

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