College Basketball Nation: Jeff Brooks

Video: Penn State's Jeff Brooks

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
10:52
PM ET


ESPN.com's Pat Forde with Penn State forward Jeff Brooks, who led the Nittany Lions with 15 points and seven rebounds in PSU's 61-55 victory over Indiana.

Rapid Reaction: Penn State 61, Indiana 55

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
10:01
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Penn State kept its outside hopes of an NCAA tournament berth alive with a must-win game against reeling Indiana. The Nittany Lions got balanced scoring instead of relying on star guard Talor Battle, played solid defense and avoided foul trouble in the 61-55 win, sending the Hoosiers into the offseason with their ninth straight defeat.

Turning point: In a consistently close game with few prolonged runs, Penn State pieced together a 17-8 push that started late in the first half and extended 5 1/2 minutes into the second half for a seven-point lead. From that point on the Nittany Lions led by at least three points the rest of the way.

Key player: With star guard Battle largely kept under wraps by Indiana defensive ace Jeremiah Rivers, senior forward Jeff Brooks stepped forward with 15 points and seven rebounds for Penn State. Brooks had a pair of difficult bank shots in the latter stages of the second half to help hold off the Hoosiers.

Key stat: Penn State was not whistled for a single foul in the second half until 2:36 remained, which might be the longest I've ever seen a team go without a foul. When the Nittanies finally did get called for one, the response was a half-sarcastic, half-outraged standing ovation from the IU fans.

Miscellaneous: Penn State basketball is the neglected stepchild of Penn State football, and it showed in the Conseco Fieldhouse stands. In the upper deck end zone, a hardy band of roughly 20 Nittany Lions fans stood the whole game and did their limited version of a white-out -- they whited out a couple of rows. They also had cards that spelled out "B-E-L-I-E-V-E." They'll be back to believe again Friday.

What’s next: The Nittany Lions get a rubber game with Wisconsin, a team it split with during the regular season. Indiana's season is over.

Big Ten title contender: Penn State?

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
11:21
AM ET
OK, OK, so I'm clearly exaggerating. The Penn State Nittany Lions are not Big Ten title contenders. But like all exaggerations, this one is born from at least a kernel of truth, which is the simple fact that in their past four games, if you couldn't read the name on the front of their jersey and had no access to their prior performance, you'd think Penn State was one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

No, seriously. It's true.

In their past four games, the Nittany Lions are 2-2. They've beaten No. 19 Michigan State and No. 16 Illinois. They've lost to No. 2 Ohio State and, last night, to No. 13 Purdue. Both of those losses came on the road -- against arguably the Big Ten's two best teams -- by a whopping combined margin of four points. More importantly, neither game was a get-close-after-a-last-ditch-comeback-attempt-and-some-missed-free-throws sort of affair. No, in both losses, as in those two huge home wins, the Nittany Lions played a Big Ten title contender close for an entire 40-minute period. In both losses, Penn State had last-second opportunities to win the game.

(On Wednesday night, Penn State fell victim to a rather questionable out-of-bounds call with five seconds remaining that gave the ball back to Purdue and allowed JaJuan Johnson to hit his game-winning jumper on the wing. That call goes the other way -- and it probably should have -- and PSU probably takes home the win.)

This is, well, surprising. Penn State's nonconference performance -- which included losses to Mississippi, Maryland (in which Penn State scored 39 points at home), Virginia Tech and Maine (a 10-point home loss, at that) -- gave us no reason to expect this sort of sudden peskiness. Nor did Penn State's first three Big Ten games -- a win at Indiana, a loss at suddenly fading Michigan and a home blowout to Purdue, the same team Penn State just took to the wire in Mackey Arena -- offer many hints. For most of the season, the Nittany Lions appeared to be who we thought they were. Which is to say, not very good.

What's been the difference? The Nittany Lions' improvement in their past four games doesn't exactly constitute a budding hoops revolution. Throughout the season, Penn State has scored 1.05 and allowed 1.03 points per possession. Over all seven conference games, Penn State has scored 1.09 and allowed 1.11 ppp. In its past four games, Penn State is scoring about 1.10 points per trip while allowing about 1.09. Clearly, the Nittany Lions' offense improved in conference play, but it has fallen victim to the Big Ten's efficient offenses more often than not. These past four games, then, can probably be credited to better defensive play. But it's not like the Nittany Lions have suddenly set the world ablaze.

Instead, it appears this team is just a bit better than we thought. It is not a conference doormat, as was the case last season. Instead, these Nittany Lions more closely resemble the squad that won the NIT in 2009. They're solid on offense -- Pomeroy has Penn State's offense ranked No. 27 in the nation in adjusted efficiency -- and suspect on defense. Still, as we've seen these past four games, if the Nittany Lions defend well enough to cause even a slight downtick in how frequently opponents score at their end of the floor, this team can score enough to hang with the best in its conference. Throw in some timely Talor Battle heroics, a healthy helping of contributions from Jeff Brooks and David Jackson, and intelligent defensive strategy against superior frontcourts, and it really does seem that simple.

Whether that defensive improvement is a fluke or something more real is a fact we'll determine in the next few weeks. In the meantime, no, kids, the Big Ten title ain't happenin'. But given how bad Penn State was last season, and how bad this season was supposed to be, and how generally depressing and apathy-inducing most Penn State basketball usually is ... well, maybe Penn State fans should get the bandwagon going anyway. It's been a pretty great two weeks, huh?
INDIANAPOLIS -- Minnesota is playing defense with the purpose of a team that needs a good week here to make the field of 65. Penn State came out looking ready for the offseason, though the Nittany Lions picked things up toward the end of the half.

Quick halftime thoughts:

  • Penn State arguably came in as the hotter team, but Minnesota was the aggressor from the start, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. Penn State's greatest strength -- aside from star guard Talor Battle -- is its length, but Minnesota is even longer and has shown it so far. Gophers senior forward Damian Johnson, who was snubbed from the All-Big Ten Defensive team earlier in the week, has been tremendous with nine points and two rebounds in the first half.
  • Battle has been relatively quiet for Penn State (4 points, 2 assists), but sophomore guard Chris Babb is providing a big lift. Babb engineered a 5-0 run to end the half all by himself and has eight points. Penn State is at its best when Battle gets help from his supporting cast. Babb has provided some so far, but other players like David Jackson and Jeff Brooks need to become more involved.
  • Speaking of involved, Minnesota's starting guards Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber were virtually invisible in the first half. They were a combined 0-for-4 from the field for no points. Westbrook and Hoffarber combine to average 23.6 points a game, so they really need to pick things up after the half. Fortunately for them, point guard Devoe Joseph stepped up with 10 first-half points on 4 of 7 shooting.

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