Traveling to Indianapolis on Wednesday for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night against Minnesota (6:30 p.m., ESPN2), the No. 10-seed Penn State men's basketball team is again on the cusp.
For a group that has racked up a remarkable 11 games decided by five-or-less points during the 2013-14 season, the position is a familiar one.
At 15-16 on the season, head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lions have an opportunity to finish the year with a .500-or-better record for the first time in his three-year tenure at Penn State. A win against the No. 7-seed Golden Gophers would send the Nittany Lions to a Friday evening game against No. 2-seed Wisconsin, and potentially, postseason play.
Understanding the ramifications, Chambers was again adamant on Tuesday morning in demonstrating just how close the program has come to producing an even better season than it has already accomplished.
"I want to play in the postseason, whether it's NIT or CBI or, you never know, the NCAA Tournament. I want to play in postseason," Chambers said at the Bryce Jordan Center. "This team has earned the right to play in postseason. They have.
"We've had some bad bounces, some bad luck, some crazy things have happened this year that I've never seen. They deserve to play in postseason, so whatever happens this weekend, I'm hoping that we're going to play next week."
Though the Nittany Lions got "jumped" early in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon against their very opponent this week, Chambers asked reporters to throw away the first 10 minutes of the game. Trailing 23-3 before the eight minute media timeout in the first half, Penn State was able to push back enough to cut the deficit down to nine points in the second before succumbing down the stretch.
Adding a senior night win at Northwestern last Thursday, two wins against Top 25-ranked Ohio State and competitive performances against the likes of conference top-tier foes Wisconsin and Iowa, and Chambers affirmed his personal mantra that the Nittany Lions are currently "the best team (they) can be" heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
"I think we've already proved we're heading in the right direction," he said. "Look, six possessions. Six possessions. Six… We're there. We're right there. We easily can be at 19 wins right now. Easily. I could probably name them all too, but we could easily be right there. I'm serious.
"Princeton, I even put Pitt up there, I'll even put Ole Miss up there, bad call at the end. Purdue. Illinois here. Indiana here. Minnesota here… Brad Stevens used to say, you're two or three possessions away from easily being 18, 19, 20 wins. We gotta clean it up this weekend hopefully and if not, we gotta prepare for next year that way."
That's not to say Chambers and the Nittany Lions weren't focused on continuing to make dramatic improvements between Monday and Thursday night's matchup, though.
Citing "poor turnovers, poor decisions, and a lot of one-on-ones" at Minnesota as big culprits toward the loss, Chambers said he is pushing to give his team a clear head in order to have an opportunity to extend the season this weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Judging by Chambers' reaction to his team's Tuesday morning practice, he was admittedly optimistic about the possibilities.
"It's all about us. It's all about our mindset, it's all about where we are, what we're thinking, where our heads are. That's what it is," he said. "If we can go into this game with a clear head and compete from the start and give ourselves a chance, we'll be OK. We got after it in there today. We competed, it was intense and guys were screaming and yelling and getting after it.
"That's what it's gotta be. It felt like a November practice today. I think that's a good thing. I think."
- One notable disappointment for Chambers and the Nittany Lions came Monday night upon the announcement of the Big Ten's all-conference teams on the BTN.
Though junior guard D.J. Newbill has produced some of the best numbers in the conference this season in a wide variety of categories, his name was withheld until the second-team selections by both the media and conference coaches.
Asked whether or not the arguable snub came as a disappointment, Chambers was unequivocal in his response.
"I was. But I blame myself for not having more wins for him. I definitely could have done some things as you look back, and changed some outcomes," he said. "It's unfortunate, but as coaches, that's what we do. We second guess ourselves, we break down the film, you question everything under the sun. I think if we have eight wins right now, which we should have had.
"But, you can't go on woulda, shoulda, coulda anymore, can you? If we have eight wins and we're in the middle of the pack at 8-10, I think he's first team. I think he deserved it."