We know what Penn State went through a couple of years ago with their football program. It’s been through a lot, and they are now back in a bowl game this year. While the basketball program never had to go through a criminal and then NCAA investigation, it has had its own demons. Life inside the program is not easy.
Penn State is a classic example of a “football school.” Football is sport 1, 1-A, 1-B and more there, especially for the fan base. The basketball team plays a distant second fiddle, if that. I won’t go much into detail – a respected colleague who attended the school did a great job of that right here.
It is against that backdrop that we talk about the Nittany Lions now, after a 64-51 victory over George Washington improved them to 10-1 on the season. Simply put, they are having quite a non-conference run. They haven’t exactly knocked off the best of the best, but other than a double overtime loss to Charlotte, their resume isn’t bad right now. Beating George Washington thanks in part to 16 offensive rebounds is big, as it gives them a quality win.
With only games against struggling Drexel and Dartmouth left in the non-conference slate, Penn State could enter Big Ten play with a 12-1 mark and some confidence. And as the supporting cast for D.J. Newbill keeps developing, this team looks more and more like a sleeper in the Big Ten. They will also need that confidence early, because the conference slate is road-heavy early on with the first two and four of the first six Big Ten games being played outside Happy Valley.
Penn State could lose game after game in Big Ten play. The non-conference slate is easier than the Big Ten for this team, so the competition rises in a couple of weeks. The Nittany Lions are, however, building towards giving themselves a chance, and that’s all they can ask for right now.
The MSG Holiday Festival was held on Sunday with a doubleheader. Rutgers started the day by knocking off Manhattan 63-55, then St. John‘s handled Fordham 74-53 in the second game behind 24 points from Rysheed Jordan.
There are career days, and there’s the day Amida Brimah had for Connecticut on Sunday. The sophomore big man scored 40 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Huskies to a 106-85 win over Coppin State to snap a three-game losing streak. He made all 13 of his field goal attempts and went 14-16 from the free throw line to double his previous career high in scoring.
Butler was the only ranked team to lose on the day, as they went to Knoxville and lost 77-65 to Tennessee. The Volunteers outscored the Bulldogs 42-21 in the second half to rally from nine down at halftime.
Among ranked teams, one of them got a big scare, but rallied to survive. That would be Washington, who trailed Eastern Washington for much of the second half before rallying for an 81-77 win.
Louisville got a good battle from UNCW, now led by former assistant coach Kevin Keatts, but held off the Seahawks 68-57 behind 19 points and 17 rebounds from Montrezl Harrell, who was also critical of the team’s effort after the game.
In a big rivalry game, West Virginia held off Marshall 69-66 in Charleston after playing from behind for much of the night. The Mountaineers are quietly 9-1.
Syracuse averted a rare home non-conference loss, beating Louisiana Tech 71-69. NC State, however, couldn’t say the same, as Wofford beat them 55-54 in Raleigh with a late layup and then after NC State’s Trevor Lacey couldn’t get a shot off in time.
Duke announced on Sunday that forward Semi Ojeleye will transfer. The sophomore averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in six games, and will likely look to go where he can have a bigger role.
The Scholar Roundball Classic was among the high school events this weekend, and we’ll have a look at Sunday’s action in the event later on.
It’s a light slate as a lot of teams are off for final exams this week. There are a few matchups that are noteworthy in one way or another.
- Duke tries to remain undefeated as they host Elon.
- Missouri State goes on the road for an interesting matchup at Oral Roberts.
- Gonzaga hosts Texas Southern.
- The Gotham Classic continues with South Alabama at Pepperdine.