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NSN Q&A: Jon Crispin Talks Penn State Basketball-Texas A&M, ‘01 Squad, More

Penn State Basketball: Jon Crispin
Jon Crispin’s Penn State jersey featured in a Coke commercial.

Penn State basketball hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since it upset second-seeded North Carolina in 2001, when the Crispin brothers, Jon and Joe, were on the team.

This year’s squad is getting ready to take on Texas A&M in the first-round Thursday night.

Nittany Sports Now spoke with Jon Crispin, now an
college basketball analyst for ESPN, this week to get his thoughts on the current Penn State team, and talk about the ‘01 squad as well.

Nittany Sports Now: You’re a national guy, but how much do you follow Penn State given your history there?

Jon Crispin: I’m a fan, sort of, former player, sort of, but somewhere in there, I’m really just rooting for the program itself. Part of that is rooting for the community to have a program that they can feel good about. From that lens, I couldn’t be more proud of what you see on the floor today.


NSN: What are you expecting to see from Buzz Williams and what he’s going to do to try and combat Jalen Pickett?

Jon Crispin: “They really confuse you. You never know what’s coming. It’s unpredictability. They run and jump at random times. They trap at random times. They play “scramble defense,” which is hard to keep up with. You’re constantly kind of trying to attack but while managing pressure. It’s really disruptive. And I think that’s going to take Penn State out of a lot of what they do really well. But I also think there’s some matchups that Buzz can put on Penn State that could be really unique. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Henry Coleman at times on Jalen Pickett. Because if you keep Pickett out of the paint, Penn State’s different. They really beat you up when Pickett can get down low, and they can space you with bigs and mess around the perimeter and just pick you apart like he’s Mark Jackson. I think that Buzz has some answers for that.

NSN: You guys in ’01 had a nice run in the tournament, making it to the semifinals and playing Saturday. As someone who’s actually experienced something like that, how much do you buy into teams being so emotionally drained that by what happens before the tournament, that when they get to the tournament, they just run out of gas?

JC: It depends what type of team you have. It depends what type of energy you carry. I would say, for us in 2001; we were tired. By the time we played Iowa in the semifinals, we were tired. We were totally beat. Partially because we knew coming in that we had to beat Michigan State to go to the NCAA Tournament. And if we did, we felt confident that we would be in.

I give those Penn State guys all the credit in the world for continuing to fight, to play through all of it. To win the games that they won in the Big Ten Tournament, to come back the way they did against Purdue. It’s remarkable. So I don’t think you’re going to see any emotional letup because they overachieved… they achieved beyond anyone’s expectations, probably including their own. So, I think there’s great freedom in that. I think there’s great confidence in that.

NSN: When people think about that era of Penn State basketball, one of the first things they say is the Crispin Brothers. So how does it make you feel when the team is good this time of year, and it rekindles memories of 2001?

JC: My brother and I talk a lot about this. We say, ‘if they’re still thinking about us, it’s because they haven’t succeeded enough.’ And I think there’s some truth to that, and I think that’s where our hopes lie. It isn’t that we want to be forgotten, we just want to be a part of a lot of success, and I think that’s the difference.

NSN: Where do you see Penn State going?

JC: I think Penn State can either make it to the Sweet 16, or they could lose in the first round. The first-round matchup is going to say a lot.

NSN: What do you think the key is for Penn State to make it out of Thursday?
JC: Not turning the basketball over. But patient early. Don’t press early. Just be patient. Find the rhythm of the game. There’s a rhythm somewhere in there with what Buzz Williams does.

NSN: To put you on the spot, 2001 Penn State vs. 2023 Penn State. How entertaining do you think the game would be, who would win and what would Coach (Jerry) Dunn draw up to contain Jalen Pickett?
JC: Oh, that’s interesting. We had Titus Ivory. I think Titus Ivory was ideal for Jalen Pickett. Titus was 6-4, 6-5 experienced guy who was a senior on the 2001 team. Just a physical defender and I was pretty physical myself… but Titus had the length and I feel like Titus would be that guy.

We actually put together a 3-2 zone late that season, and the 3-2 zone allowed us to beat Michigan State. And I feel like that 3-2 zone is what allowed us to beat Michigan State. And I feel like the 3-2 zone, the way we played it, this Penn State team would struggle with that. We were able to cover the 3… so if there were guys that couldn’t shoot, we knew how to pack it in on that side.
But it’s kind of become an apples-and-oranges debate because of the style of the game. If Joe and I played today, I don’t know what we would do because we were shooters at a time when you really weren’t allowed to shoot the way we did.

But I still think we had the answer. We would have found a way to win.

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