Nittany Lions Hoping for Long Run

The Big Ten Tournament could have postseason implications for No. 10 seed Penn State. Included is a video interview with Lion coach Pat Chambers.

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Senior guard Tim Frazier is the only member of the current Penn State basketball team who has experienced success at the Big Ten Tournament. And that includes the coaching staff.

Frazier was a starter on the 2010-11 team that entered the tourney as a No. 6 seed. That group of Nittany Lions won three games in three days to advance to the championship tilt, where their weary legs finally gave way in a 71-60 loss to No. 1 seed Ohio State.

PSU is the 10th seed this time around. After back-to-back opening-round losses at Big Tens -- including last season, when Frazier was out with an Achilles' injury -- the veteran captain has some advice for his teammates and coaching staff.

“Make sure you pack all the way to Sunday,” Frazier said. “Believe that you'll be there until Sunday. Come out and compete. If we play our game and play Penn State basketball, there is no team we can't beat.”

The flip side to that, of course, is that there's no team that can't beat the Lions if they are not sharp. That much was obvious in Sunday's regular-season finale at Minnesota, where the Golden Gophers forced a rash of early PSU turnovers and blew out to a 23-3 lead. The Lions never recovered.

Penn State's opening-round opponent at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Thursday (6:30 p.m., ESPN2)? No. 7 seed Minnesota, which swept the season series between the two teams.

As the Lions prepare for the third matchup -- the Gophers escaped the Jordan Center with a 68-65 victory Jan. 8 -- they are worried less about what Minnesota did right Sunday and more about what they did wrong.

“We showed our guys film and said this is (about) you,” said third-year coach Pat Chambers, who is still looking for his first Big Ten tourney victory. “Just poor turnovers, poor decisions, a lot of one on one. … We have to do a better job of playing Penn State basketball -- taking care of the ball and not hurting ourselves.”

“We turned the ball over way too much,” said junior guard D.J. Newbill, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors earlier this week. “… It's almost impossible to win that way.”

Much has been made of the fact that Minnesota is firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and probably has to win at least two games in Indy to punch its ticket. But Penn State is playing for its postseason life, too.

At 15-16, the Lions must win at least two games to guarantee the .500 record needed to make the NIT. However, the CBI has taken teams with sub-.500 records, including Purdue and Texas last year. The only shot Penn State has of making it to NCAAs is by claiming the automatic bid that goes to the Big Ten tourney champ.

But that would mean winning four games in four days, which has happened only once (Iowa in 2001) in the 16-year history of the tournament.

The Lions will accept a bid to any postseason tournament that will have them, even if it means going to the CBI with a losing record.

“I want to play in the postseason, whether it's the NIT or CBI, or even the NCAA Tournament,” Chambers said. “This team has earned the right to play in the postseason. They have. We've had some bad bounces, some bad luck, some crazy things that have happened this year that I've never seen.”

With Newbill and Frazier (himself a third-team All-Big Ten pick), the Lions have proven they can compete with anyone on a given night. They were 2-5 against ranked teams on the season. And they had a league-high six one-possession games in conference play.

A win vs. Minnesota would bring a quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 seed (and 12th-ranked) Wisconsin Friday. PSU lost a 71-66 decision to the Badgers at the BJC March 2, but it was a two-point game with 18 seconds to go.

Newbill reiterated the notion that the Lions hold the key to their own success this week -- and possibly beyond.

“We enjoy playing together and we want to extend the season,” he said. “Our focus right now is playing games. Hopefully we go out and play our style of basketball and we'll be happy with the outcome and we'll get to the postseason. That's our goal.”

Frazier's bags are packed for a long trip.

“You want to try to win as much as possible and keep the train rolling,” he said.


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