Could the March tears of Penn State basketball fans help sprout May flowers?

If Penn State athletic director Pat Kraft makes the right move as soon as possible, he can remove the sting of losing rising star Micah Shrewsberry to Notre Dame.

And there is one candidate who seems custom-built to handle the task of preventing the Nittany Lions from falling back into their chasm of historic mediocrity: Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May.

A natural connection

There’s a chance Kraft and May need no introduction.

Both graduated from Indiana in 2000. Kraft was a football player, and May was one of Bob Knight’s student managers for the men’s basketball team.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee they crossed paths on a campus of 30,000 people. But the IU athletics family was a pretty tight-knit community in those days.

Knight’s hold on the department, and the controversies that swirled around him, made things pretty insular within IU Athletics. Outsiders were to be kept at an arm’s length.

Beyond that, there was quite a bit of basketball-football crossover at the time.

Then-IU football coach Cam Cameron was a former Knight basketball player. Quarterback Antwaan Randle El followed Cameron’s footsteps as a two-sport player, joining the basketball team for a semester in 1999.

Even if Kraft and May aren’t already friends, it’s all but certain that they have mutual connections that range into the dozens. A level of trust should already be well established. And few things matter more than trust in a working relationship.

Of course, few things usually work out worse than hiring someone because they’re already your friend. Which is why it’s a good thing May has established an impressive body of work independent of any prior connection with Kraft.

May made for March?

Penn State’s basketball history is bleak.

Shrewsberry just led the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years and their first Tournament win in 22 years. He coached the program’s first all-America player since 1954. And then he left.

First, because he’s no fool. No one has ever sustained success at Penn State. But mostly, because he’s Indiana, born and bred.

Shrewsberry’s first head coaching job was at NAIA IU-South Bend. The symbolic power of leveling up from IUSB to crosstown Notre Dame is too powerful to ignore. IUSB didn’t even have dorms until the year after Shrewsberry left to work for Brad Stevens at Butler. Now Shrewsberry works beside the Golden Dome.

It’s unfortunate for Penn State, but there’s no amount of money that could have prevented this from happening. And losing a talent like Shrewsberry is a tough blow to take when you’ve spent decades in the wilderness.

But Penn State’s basketball history is downright storied compared to what May inherited at Florida Atlantic.

When May was hired in 2019, FAU hadn’t had a winning season since 2011. The Owls had not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2002 — their lone appearance. That FAU team was a 15-seed, and in those days 15 seeds were properly disposed of in the First Round.

May had the Owls 17-16 in Year 1, including a win over Brad Underwood in his first year at Illinois. So he’s already got a proven track record when it comes to continuing what Shrewsberry did 3 times this season.

May has 5 straight winning seasons at this program that had 10 losing seasons in the 11 years prior to his arrival, with this year’s 34-3 campaign being the most successful for a Conference USA program since John Calipari’s final season at Memphis.

In other words, he’s well equipped to continue what Shrewsberry started — and maybe even take it to another level.

But it’s fair for Penn State fans to wonder if their meager basketball culture is good enough to lure a coach who will have his pick of places to go. And it’s a very vaild fear — until you look at the jobs that are available this offseason.

Penn State potentially the cream of the crop

Texas, which is still technically led by an interim coach, is the most desirable job on this year’s coaching market. But if Rodney Terry continues winning this month, there’s no way the Longhorns don’t bring him back full-time.

Terry has a chance to join Steve Fisher in a unique spot in history: interim coaches who won a national title.

After that, the next-best gig is Texas Tech. The Red Raiders play in the country’s best basketball conference and made the national championship game in 2019. But Texas connections, especially within Texas’ rich junior college culture, seem like a prerequisite to success in Lubbock.

If Terry somehow isn’t retained by Texas, the Red Raiders would be smart to scoop him up.

But beyond that, Cal is the only power conference position available outside of Penn State. And the disintegrating Pac-12 is no place for an up-and-coming coach.

In this coaching cycle, at least, Penn State basketball can actually be sold as a destination. And that’s where the old Indiana connection can come in handy. Kraft can actually sell May on a vision that transforms Penn State basketball into something better than it has ever been.

Shrewsberry’s departure is a devastating blow. But it doesn’t have to be a fatal blow for Penn State.

Dusty May is the man the Nittany Lions need. If they get him, their rise will not be short-lived.