How Penn State men’s basketball is preparing to play 4 games in 7 days after a long break

Jan. 14—Penn State men’s basketball had plenty of time off between games in December, having only played three games in 17 days in one of its stretches. Now, after what will be 17 days without a game, the Nittany Lions will get the games they were asking to have.

They’ll play four games in seven days from Jan. 17-23 as they try to navigate their return from a pause in basketball activities after positive tests in the team’s Tier 1 personnel, beginning with Purdue Sunday afternoon on the road.

While plenty of issues can — and likely will — arise as the team tries to make its return to the court, Penn State interim head coach Jim Ferry said his team will prioritize one thing over anything else.

“We talk about health and safety being of the utmost importance,” Ferry said Thursday afternoon. “The way we brought our guys back was about their health. We don’t want to bring these guys back and have someone get an injury because of a coach making a stupid decision or trying to do something that we’re not ready to do yet.”

Part of doing what’s best for the players’ health and safety will be determining how much they can play during the four-game stretch. Ferry will potentially have fewer players available than usual because of the Big Ten’s rule that players who test positive for COVID-19 must sit out for a minimum of 17 days. He would not comment specifically on how many players his team will have available for Sunday’s game, but said it would be “enough.”

Regardless of how many players must sit out, Ferry will have to be careful about how much he plays his athletes because they’ll need to be fresh for the rest of the upcoming stretch of games. The interim head coach said he’ll be mindful of that as he makes decisions about playing time throughout the next week.

“I’ll know who we’ll have, but it’s going to be difficult,” Ferry said. “When you’re playing four games in a week, it’s hard for NBA teams. But we’re gonna have to do it, it is what it is. But our guys are excited about it. … I believe we’re gonna have to play more guys. That’s what I’m seeing going in. … We’ve really got to be smart with this.”

The changes made to the rotation could mean less time for Penn State’s best players as the team gets ready for a taxing week of games without any practice in between. It’s difficult to project what that can look like without knowing who is available, but it seems likely that Penn State’s depth at guard and by-committee approach to scoring could come in handy.

There are a number of Nittany Lions who can fill it up on offense, which will allow them to maintain their usual offense without worrying about making drastic changes. That will be to their benefit, especially with what’s at stake as they take on Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers and Northwestern from Sunday to Saturday.

How they fare this week could dictate the Nittany Lions’ chances at reaching their goals this season. If they can knock off two — or even three — of their opponents this week, they’ll be back in business with a chance at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade.

If not, they’ll be well behind where they could have been in a conference that is as difficult as any in the country, in a position that they may not be able to escape.

For now, Ferry isn’t allowing any pressure to get to him or his players. Instead, he’s taking the next week one day at a time, beginning with Purdue.

“If we look at one game being more important than any other game in this league on the schedule, I think I’d be doing an injustice to these guys,” Ferry said. “The league is just too good, it’s too good. We have to focus on what’s in front of us, right now that’s Purdue. We’ve got to put the emphasis on the excitement of the game, that there’s actually an opportunity to play the game in front of us.”

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