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Smeltzer: Penn State Basketball is Electric

Penn State Basketball Coach Micah Shrewsberry
ANN ARBOR, MI - JANUARY 04: Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry reacts to an official’s call during the first half of a Big Ten conference regular season college basketball game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines on January 4, 2023 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State basketball is electric.

The team might not make it to the NCAA Tournament, although it helped itself with a commanding 85-66 win over Indiana Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.

There are 14 Big Ten games left, so a lot can happen.

But right now Penn State is 12-5 overall and 3-3 in the conference. Being .500 in the Big Ten usually gives a team at least a chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament. Whether Penn State is in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT, the UEFA Champions League or nowhere come mid-March, this group is fun to watch. That’s something that hasn’t been true for a few years.

After COVID-19 robbed the 2019-20 squad of an NCAA Tournament appearance, the program spiraled for a bit. More than five months after COVID ruined March Madness, Pat Chambers, who had been Penn State’s coach since 2011, resigned amid controversy a little more than a month before the season started. Interim coach Jim Ferry did what he could. But an 11-14 finish wasn’t enough for him to get the full-time job.

Enter, Micah Shrewsberry.

Shrewsberry fought off departures from key players such as Izaiah Brockington and led Penn State to a 14-17 record that could have been a lot worse. Penn State played well against some quality competition and even upset Michigan State at home in February. Overall, it was a successful first season for Shrewsberry, all things considered.

But the team was boring.

Penn State leading the Big Ten in scoring defense was negated by it being last in the conference in scoring offense. This isn’t a criticism of Shrewsberry. The coach would probably have taken it as a compliment if somebody called his team “boring” last season. After all, “gritty, not pretty” became a catchphrase of the coach in Year 1. Penn State wasn’t talented enough yet to run with teams. The best way for it to compete in the Big Ten was to hold the ball, play defense and either win or make the opponent sweat to beat Penn State.

Nonetheless, that type of basketball doesn’t appeal to the masses, especially when the team using it finishes with a losing record.

This year’s team appeals to the masses.

Naturally, the most important way for Penn State basketball to get people talking is to win. The team has done that thus far this year. But it also helps to be exciting. Fun. High-scoring. Electric.

Penn State is exciting, fun, high-scoring and electric.

All of that was on display Wednesday night.

Penn State didn’t just beat Indiana by 19. It also played a pretty brand of basketball. Its 18 made 3-pointers tied a school record. Penn State also made 18 3s in its opening night win over Winthrop.

This is already the best 3-point shooting team in Penn State history, and the squad ranks second in the country in 3-pointers made per game.

With sharp-shooters such as Andrew Funk and Myles Dread,Shrewsberry is showing what he can do as an offensive coach. As the great college basketball insider Jon Rothstein puts it, Shrewsberry has “more plays than Broadway.”

Basketball fans, especially casual ones, like to see the ball go through the net, and when Penn State is on, it does that well.

With football season over, there’s no excuse for Penn State sports fans to not follow this team.

Penn State basketball hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in more than a decade, and most years, it hasn’t even had a realistic chance. It’s not often Penn State puts out a squad with this kind of potential. It’s not often Penn State has a player like Jalen Pickett, who is one of the best in the country and the team’s heartbeat. Even though he hasn’t finished two seasons at Penn State yet, I don’t think it’s too early to say that it’s not often this program gets a coach like Shrewsberry.

Shrewsberry is to be appreciated, especially since he might be so good that a program of more prominent basketball pedigree picks him up before long.

There are 14 games left in Penn State’s season and six at the Bryce Jordan Center. I’d recommend those who live close enough to the BJC to try to go to as many games as possible or try follow in some form at least. Penn State men’s basketball has let people down before, and isn’t a lock to go dancing this season. But whereas last year’s team stayed competitive by playing in games that many would find boring, this years team is fun, and, as we saw Wednesday night, has the potential to kick ass in the Big Ten.

Tournament or no tournament, Penn State basketball is electric, and people should take notice if they haven’t already.

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