Mired in a seven-game losing streak and still seeking a Big Ten win this season, Pat Chambers isn’t worried about his job security. Even if the growing social media mob suggests he ought to be.
“No one’s patting me on the shoulder saying, ‘You’re walking the plank.’ I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel that way at all,” the Penn State men’s basketball coach said Tuesday. “I still have my routine. I go to Dunkin Donuts. I go to Faccia Luna. If you want to find me, that’s where I am. Come see me. Please, those people on Twitter, come on.”
Thing is, Chambers might have a few fans take him up on that.
The coach, now in his eighth year at the helm, owns a 7-13 overall record in 2018-19. The Nittany Lions are 0-9 in conference play after a 64-60 defeat to Rutgers, a fellow Big Ten bottom-dweller, on Saturday. Penn State hosts No. 17 Purdue on Thursday night at the Bryce Jordan Center before road games at Northwestern and Ohio State next week.
Maybe, just maybe, the Nittany Lions will pull off an improbable upset of the Boilermakers, who ran over No. 6 Michigan State this past weekend. Perhaps Penn State will eke out a road victory against the Wildcats or Buckeyes. Or maybe Nittany Lions continue to come close and fall short of snatching that elusive conference win.
Whatever the future holds, what’s known now is Chambers’ squad has significantly underwhelmed 10 months removed from an NIT Championship. Still, the coach isn’t feeling pressure from Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour or president Eric Barron.
“I feel really good about where we are as a staff and what we’re doing for this program. My expectations are high. I did not expect to be in this situation. We just have to continue to get better and keep growing,” Chambers said. “But I feel supported by the president and Sandy. I feel their commitment to what we’re trying to do.”
Chambers — who possesses a 38-97 mark in Big Ten play and has never reached the NCAA Tournament with Penn State — signed a contract extension in May that runs through the 2021-22 season. He said Barbour communicates with him regularly and Barron texted him words of encouragement after the Nittany Lions’ 89-82 loss to Iowa on Jan. 16.
Barbour said prior to the Citrus Bowl that she was “fully committed to Pat and his leadership of our program.”
“They’re not wavering. I’m not wavering,” Chambers added. “Full steam ahead.”
But what about the team? What about the players who haven’t won since Dec. 29? Chambers said he likes where his guys’ heads are at. Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, Josh Reaves and company have embraced extra lifting and film sessions this week, in hopes that will help against the Boilermakers and beyond.
Penn State will need all the prep it can get as it sees through the back-end of its Big Ten slate. It only gets tougher after next week’s brief road swing. The Nittany Lions host No. 5 Michigan on Feb. 12 and travel to Purdue four days later. All told, six of Penn State’s 11 remaining games come against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 or squads that received votes in the most recent poll.
The Nittany Lions haven’t had it easy up until this point, either. Penn State’s strength of schedule ranks No. 7 in the country, per CBS Sports, with an opponent winning percentage of .6572 — the fourth-highest mark in college basketball.
Chambers’ squad is unlucky in that regard. Not only did the Nittany Lions unexpectedly lose leading scorer Tony Carr to the pros, but they had to recover this year by facing 13 teams currently projected in Joe Lunardi’s March Madness field. Ten of those programs are in the Big Ten. In the nonconference, Nittany Lions upset Virginia Tech, a projected No. 4 seed, and lost to Alabama and NC State by nine and 11 points, respectively.
Penn State’s Big Ten contests have been closer than that, for the most part. Chambers and the Nittany Lions fell to Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin — all currently in the top 25 — by double digits. The other six conference contests? Penn State has lost by an average of 4.5 points.
That statistic tells two different stories depending on your perspective. You’re either an optimist that sees a young team featuring three true freshmen on the cusp, or you see a coach and program that can’t finish in tight contests.
Like he has time and time again, Chambers said his Nittany Lions are “really close.” Just a bounce, shot or charge away from notching their first conference win.
The Nittany Lions aren’t giving up on their season, and neither is Chambers despite the noise of pitchforks sharpening.
“I fully believe we’re about to break through and get over this hump,” the coach said. “We have a lot of basketball left to be played. We’ve got 11 games and the Big Ten tournament. There’s a lot to happen still. I believe in this team, and I think they believe in us, too.”