Penn State coach Pat Chambers has frequently referred to his team’s “youth and inexperience” this season, especially after games in which the now 12-13 Nittany Lions have struggled.
In a blowout loss at Nebraska Saturday, the players themselves seemed to fall into the trap of believing they were young and inexperienced. When senior forward, leading scorer and team captain Brandon Taylor went to the bench with foul trouble very early in the second half, the Lions he left behind became rudderless.
Down by one point at the time, PSU would eventually trail by as many as 28 before cutting it to the final of 70-54 in garbage time.
This against a team that played the whole game without its senior leader — and second-leading scorer and rebounder — as veteran Shavon Shields was still recovering from a concussion.
It made us wonder how young Penn State really is. And after a quick look at the media guide, well, let’s just say that youth should never be an excuse for this team.
Top point guard reserve Devin Foster is 21 and redshirt freshman guard Isaiah Washington is 20. Top frontcourt reserve Donovon Jack is 22.
By comparison, Nebraska started two 18-year-olds (F Michael Jacobson and G Glyn Watson Jr.), a 19-year-old (F Jack McVeigh), and a pair of 21-year-olds (G Andrew White and G Benny Parker). The two top bench players, Nick Fuller and Jake Hammond, are 20.
If anyone really wants to argue that Penn State is young, well, it just had its clocked cleaned by a team that is even younger.
Why does any of this matter on a team that is cruising to another lower-tier finish in the Big Ten? Well, it doesn’t matter this year.
But next year, Chambers’ team is actually going to be really young. Veterans Taylor, Dickerson, Foster and Jack will all be gone. There will be four juniors (Garner, Banks, Moore and UConn transfer G Terrence Samuel) and exactly zero scholarship seniors.
A heralded class of four true freshmen is arriving this summer. And talented forward Mike Watkins will be a redshirt freshman.
That’s five players who will be in their first season of college eligibility and three others who will be in their second year — which combined adds up to two-thirds of the team.
It is a talented to group, to be sure, one that appears to be the foundation of the program moving forward. But with so many young players, there are sure to be growing pains.
And that’s the problem with Chambers playing the youth card so frequently this year. First of all, his team is not young. More than half the active roster can walk into a bar and legally order a drink.
Second of all, he doesn’t need it. Anyone paying remotely close attention knew this was going to be a transition season — from the difficult early portion of Chambers’ tenure to the point where (ideally) his strong recent recruiting efforts begin to pay off.
But there will be times when he legitimately has to play the youth card next year.
And at the rate it is being dealt this season, well, it is fair to wonder if anyone will believe the coach who cried youth.