Penn State will compete as a ranked team for the first time since 1996 when it plays host to winless Central Connecticut State on Friday.
The Nittany Lions climbed into the rankings this week at No. 23 following their 9-2 start. Penn State was ranked for 10 weeks during the 1995-96 season, when it joined at No. 20 on Jan. 8, 1996 and made it as high as No. 9.
Penn State’s 9-2 start is its best since 2014-15.
In addition, the Nittany Lions will be searching for their 12th consecutive home victory. Last Saturday, they rallied for an impressive 73-71 win over Alabama thanks to Lamar Stevens’ 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Stevens is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week following double-doubles against then No. 4 Maryland and Alabama.
It all added up to the rare national ranking.
“It’s great for our fans and everybody else, but at the end of the day I just want to keep on getting better and focusing on this team and focusing on one game at a time,” Stevens said. “As long as we keep on doing that, all of that outside extra stuff is going to keep coming. We’ve just got to make sure we keep responding and keep continuing to get better each day.”
This matchup almost has the feel of a trap game with the pressure of the national ranking and nearly an entire week off for final exams.
“We get to breathe just for a little bit, although they have exams this week,” Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers said. “That’s the other thing that concerns you, you know we have guys that have exams, and we have the six-game stretch. So, we’re going to learn from this game so much and we’ll get better for sure. I know I’m going to get better.”
Central Connecticut State will enter looking for its first victory of the season after dropping 11 in a row. The most recent loss came Wednesday in a 76-60 defeat at Dartmouth.
Freshman Jamir Reed led the Blue Devils with a career-best 15 points while Trey Tennyson added 12.
The young Blue Devils have played a challenging schedule with losses coming against Arizona State, Massachusetts, Vermont and Boston College.
For the first time in its 34 years as a Division I program, Central Connecticut State remains winless through 11 games to open a season.
“This year might not be the year,” head coach Donyell Marshall told the Hartford Courant. “But you put this same team out there next year, or two years from now, and it’s a team built to win because it’s a team with so many games under its belt. Very rarely are you going to get the Fab Five from Michigan or the Anthony Davis-type freshmen.
“Usually when you have freshmen, you’re going to struggle.”
The Blue Devils feature seven freshmen on their roster. They have remained competitive at times but have scuffled through too many poor stretches to come up with a victory.
“We were getting beat pretty bad early in the year,” Marshall told the Courant.
–Field Level Media