Penn State Basketball: The Rise and Fall
by Max Powers, Senior Handicapper - 02/07/2008
The Penn State Nittany Lions have had a remarkable season that started off well and now they have fallen back to Earth a bit and are well on their way to a double-digit seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Doc's College Basketball selection service has been along for an amazing ride with this team, often using them as a selection for or against. The following will examine the highs and lows of the Penn State basketball season.
This was supposed to be the year Penn State turned it around on the hardwood. They returned three starters and a veteran team that was predicted to finish sixth in the conference by Blue Ribbon Yearbook. This would be Coach Ed DeChellis' fifth season at the helm and now some of his recruits were starting to develop nicely. The main cog in the Penn State machine would be senior forward Geary Claxton, who averaged 16 points and eight rebounds last year. He was predicted to be an All-Big Ten player who worked well with power forward Jamelle Cornley.
This team struggled during their early non-conference portion of the season going 0-3 in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando in November. This was not a good performance as they lost to three mediocre teams in South Carolina, Rider, and Central Florida. After that they were ready for some home cooking and took down Virginia Tech in one of the few games the Big Ten won in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
We then come to Dec. 8, when Doc's Sports released Penn State as our Game of the Month selection. They were a slight home favorite against Seton Hall, a team that has a lot of good athletes who do not always play well as a team. The Hall dominated this game early, scoring 52 points in the first half and personally I felt that this selection was a lost cause. State trailed by double-digits until late in the second half and then went on an amazing run led by Claxton to tie it up late and eventually they won it in overtime.
This squad really came together after this victory and won their next six games including two impressive road victories to open the Big Ten Conference. This team was really hitting its stride and proved it could win in a variety of ways. They also had a mix of young and experienced talent and most teams had no answer for Claxton, as he was averaging close to a double-double.
State then opened up a two-game home stand against Minnesota and Wisconsin and entered as a favorite to knock off the Gophers in State College. The Lions dominated this game early and were winning by 15 points with under 13 minutes to play. But the Gophers battled back hard under their new coach and got even at 70 with under five minutes to play. Penn State scored just six points the last 10 minutes of this game and lost by three points.
There is definitely a carryover effect into their next game against Wisconsin, as the Badgers jumped on them early and got out to an 18-2 lead and never looked back after that. They ended up winning the game 88-55, but that was not the worst thing that came out of this game. Claxton went out with an ACL injury midway through the first half and was declared out for the season shortly after the game concluded. This was a devastating loss for the Lions and Doc's Sports certainly questioned how this would affect the squad.
After losing in Bloomington by 16 points, the Lions were back home hosting Purdue. Purdue came in as a slight favorite similar to what Wisconsin was and the game was very similar as well. Purdue jumped on them midway through the first half and led 39-18 at halftime and cruised to a 22-point victory, giving us a big 5-unit cash. It soon became evident that Penn State could not complete without Claxton in the Big Ten and the following demonstrates all the selections we have used with Penn State this season. The only time we went with them was against Seton Hall and Claxton played that game. The feature college basketball pick came on Jan. 26; we went against Penn State for our College Game of the Year.
--12-8 - Penn State -1 ½ over Seton Hall - 89-86 Win, +5 units
--1-23 - Purdue -2 over Penn State - 64-42 Win, +5 units
--1-26 - Iowa -6 over Penn State - 64-49 Win, +7 units
--1-29 - Ohio State -8 ½ over Penn State - 68-56 Win, +5 units
--2-2 - Michigan State -10 over Penn State - 76-85 Loss, -4 units
--2-5 - Purdue -11 over Penn State - 67-53 Win, +5 units
You can see our impressive record when using Penn State as a selection. We have gone 5-1, +23 units. Much of this has to do with the loss of Claxton, as this squad doesn't have the depth to replace such a key contributor. The oddsmakers were slow to adjust with Penn State and as you can see from above, this handicapper took note of their inconsistencies and pounded some very low numbers when the time arose. We did loose one game when Michigan State failed to take them seriously and lost straight-up despite being a big favorite. That being said we will certainly sacrifice one game for five victories.
This is a key factor in successful college basketball handicapping when you continue to go against a squad that has thrown in the towel on the season. The spreads will continue to grow with Penn State, as the oddsmakers have finally caught up, but that still does not mean you should use them as a pick. DeChellis will likely be fired after the season and his players do not have much motivation to play well as the season winds down.
Will Penn State show up with the release of our Big Ten Game of the Year? Only time will tell, but this is truly one play you cannot afford to miss. Max is a senior basketball handicapper for Doc's Sports, a company that has been providing winners in the Big Ten for 36 years. They have had an outstanding start to the mouth of February and encourage you to try them out for a month package that will include the world famous, "Big Ten Game of the Year."