Penn State's Pat Chambers has tried just about everything to get his struggling team on track this season. With the 12th-seeded Nittany Lions set to face fifth-seeded (and AP No. 6) Michigan in an opening-round Big Ten Tournament game Thursday, the second-year coach began the week with an interesting workout for his squad.
We did yoga yesterday, Chambers said.
The Lions, who opened conference play with 14 straight losses, won two of their final four regular-season games. But that included Sunday's gut-wrenching, last-second home loss to then-No. 21 Wisconsin. So getting away from the sport for a day probably was not a bad idea.
Chambers, who admitted to doing zero yoga during his playing days at Philadelphia University, is now a firm believer in the exercise routine. A Philadelphia native, he has put the yo in yoga.
I was doing yoga when I was an assistant at Villanova, and I absolutely loved it, Chambers said. It just clears your mind. It's an unbelievable stretch. It's great for the body, it's good for the mind.
Penn State will need clear minds and healthy bodies to handle the Wolverines, who will have little trouble finding motivation despite playing the Big Ten's last-place team. Michigan is smarting itself after losing to No. 2 Indiana at the wire Sunday, a defeat that cost it an opening-round tourney bye. And these are the same Nittany Lions who stunned the Wolverines, 84-78, at the Jordan Center Feb. 27.
Chambers put little stock in the recent upset and what it might do for his team's confidence, saying, We both know each other very well. We know tendencies and what they're going to do, (and they know) what we're going to do. But I would say that about everybody in the Big Ten.
At 10-20 overall (2-16 conference), Penn State's only shot of advancing to the NCAA Tournament is by winning Big Tens. With that in mind, Chambers believes the Lions are playing with house money. But that doesn't mean he's about to throw caution to the wind.
We're pretty comfortable with what we're doing right now, so sometimes when you get into tournament play, you don't want to throw too many things at them, Chambers said. You want to put something out there that we've created the habits of working on the past couple of months, so we're gonna stick to what we're doing.
Besides, he noted, while attempting to break the long losing streak to start Big Ten play, there was little he did not ask the team to do.
The only thing I haven't tried is a 1-1-1-1-2 (zone press), he said with a laugh. Can you play six guys?
In truth, Penn State will likely rely heavily on just five men against the Wolverines. While the Lions were playing their best Big Ten ball of the season the past couple of weeks, Chambers shortened his bench and only substituted to give the starters a quick rest before a media timeout or if one of the first-teamers got into foul trouble.
They're playing really solid basketball and making minimal mistakes when they're out there together, Chambers said.
Nobody on the team is logging more minutes than leading scorer D.J. Newbill. In fact, only two players in the Big Ten exceeded his 37 minutes per outing in conference play.
Though the season has not gone as planned, especially since All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier was lost to an Achilles' injury in November and Newbill was forced to move from shooting guard to the point, the redshirt sophomore wants to keep grinding.
There is no better place to do it than the do-or-die atmosphere of the conference tournament.
It's great because nobody wants their season to end, we still want to play basketball, Newbill said. The season went by so fast, we want to go out there and play hard so we can play as many games as we can.
Thanks to Monday's yoga session, the Lions will be doing it with clear heads. And that includes their coach.
We're 0-0 in my mind, Chambers said. We have a lot to play for and a lot to fight for.
Penn State vs. No. 6 Michigan
Big Ten Tournament Opening Round
2:30 p.m. (approx.), The United Center, Chicago
Penn State (10-20, 2-16 Big Ten); Michigan (25-6, 12-6 Big Ten)
Pat Chambers is 22-40 in his second season at Penn State and 64-68 in his fourth season overall. John Beilien is 116-83 in his sixth season at Michigan and 667-401 in his 35th season overall.
Penn State -- G D.J. Newbill, 6-4 So. (16.1), G Jermaine Marshall, 6-4 Jr. (15.5), G Nick Colella, 6-3 Sr. (4.0), F Ross Travis, 6-6 So. (6.8), C Sasa Borovnjak, 6-9 Jr. (7.2).
Michigan -- G Trey Burke, 6-0 So. (19.2), G Tim Hardaway Jr., 6-6 Jr. (14.8), G Nick Stauskas, 6-6 Fr. (11.6), F Glenn Robinson III, 6-6 Fr. (10.9), F Jordan Morgan, 6-8 Jr. (5.3).
Penn State is the No. 12 seed in the tournament, marking the third time in the last four years (and eighth time overall) the Lions have been the last seed. PSU is 0-7 as the last seed in the tourney (and 9-8 when seeded anywhere other than last).
The final seed in the tournament is 3-15 all time, with all three wins coming by No. 11 Illinois back in 1999.
The Nittany Lions have never been seeded higher than sixth in the tournament and have never received an opening-round bye.
Current Lions have combined to score 38 career points in the tourney, with 22 of them coming from Marshall.
How strong is the Big Ten? Michigan is seeded No. 5 in this tournament and yet ranked No. 6 nationally.
The Lions are 2-0 vs. the Wolverines in the tournament, but the two teams have not squared off in the postseason since 2001.
The teams split the regular-season series this year, with each winning on its home floor. State's 84-78 stunner over then-No. 4 Michigan February 27 was considered the upset of the year in the Big Ten.
The winner of this game gets No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the quarterfinals Friday at about 2:30 p.m. (ESPN).