To say Penn State men’s basketball is a red-headed stepchild is probably a fair statement.
Some would call it an understatement.
Penn State’s football program will always be king in Central Pennsylvania. Its wrestling program is arguably the best in the land. Although volleyball has fallen off in recent years, it’s won enough to where it’s golden reputation is still intact.
Surrounded by perineal winners and champions, the men’s basketball program is often the butt of jokes.
Micah Shrewsberry is sick of it.
In his own words, Penn State’s first-year coach describes himself as a sensitive figure. He says it doesn’t take much for him to boil up inside. So when he sees people slighting the Lions— even after they’ve beaten respectable schools such as Indiana and Northwestern— it upsets him.
“I get (the feeling of being) disrespected over everything, so take this with a grain of salt,” Shrewsberry said. “I don’t like when people say that that loss sucks for Indiana, and that’s a bad loss. We’re not a bad team. We’re not.”
Even in defeat, Penn State’s performance Saturday afternoon against Purdue validates Shrewsberry’s point. Penn State took on the No. 3 team in the nation— and a motivated team, at that, having just lost at home to Wisconsin— and had the lead with less than three minutes to go before ultimately falling short, 74-67.
Of Penn State’s six losses, only its first one— a 25-point stinker at UMass— can reasonably be classified as a bad loss.
LSU is 13-1 and ranked 21st. Penn State took the Tigers to overtime. Miami is 12-3 and just outside the top 25. The Nittany Lions only lost to the Hurricanes by five. Of Penn State’s three other losses, Ohio State is in the top 15, Michigan State is in the top 10 and Purdue is in the top five.
Additionally, Penn State’s two conference wins are against over with realistic NCAA Tournament aspirations.
“It’s taking us a long time to get where we want to be,” Shrewsberry said. “If people want to come here and take us lightly, they can do that every day of the week that they want to. But I’m always going to fight for this group. They play as hard as possible. We just went toe-to-toe with the number three team in the country. On the glass, matched their intensity. Shot the same from three, the free-throw line, the field, everything else.”
The odds of Penn State making the NCAA tournament are long, and the Nittany Lions might not even make it to the dance next season.
But Shrewsberry’s first team isn’t a bad one, and it’s continuing to get better. The more strides it makes, the more minds will change.
“People who don’t watch basketball think this is a bad loss when people come here and get beat,” Shrewsberry said. “Watch the game. Understand the game. Think about the game, and then, make your decision about what’s a bad loss and what isn’t.”