Basketball Game Preview: Pitt

Audio/Story posted December 8, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Will Desautelle

PODCAST:

Cristian Flores, John Petrolias and Brian McLaughlin break down this weeks matchup between the Nittany Lions and Pitt.

College basketball season is back and in full swing. With all the late regular season drama in college football finally resolved, we can now finally focus on what’s ahead in the new basketball season.

Penn State vs. Pitt is not a matchup that generates a lot of buzz on the hardwood compared to other marquee matchups around the country, but there will be more enthusiasm surrounding this in-state rivalry than in years past.

Penn State has been recruiting well, and the talented freshmen for Pat Chambers’ squad appear to be uplifting the program. The Nittany Lions have never been a dominant force in the Big Ten, but this new group of young players will look to propel them to the top in the next few years.

Pitt, on the other hand, is a team with a lot more experience and has been a regular competitor in a consistently arduous ACC conference. First year head coach Kevin Stallings, after 17 successful seasons at Vanderbilt, looks to drive Pitt back to the NCAA tournament and take the next step forward.

Despite the young talent, Penn State is still in a bit of a rebuilding process. After dropping the season opener to Albany, the Nittany Lions have shown that they can compete against great competition. Several weeks ago, they played then top-ranked Duke closely, and recently had won four in a row.

Tony Carr and Shep Garner, former high school teammates at Roman Catholic in Philadelphia, have been leading the way in the backcourt for the Nittany Lions. Carr, one of the touted freshmen, has stepped in and done a very solid job of running the point, averaging 12 points and 4 assists per game. Garner leads the Nittany Lions in scoring at 15 per game, and is arguably the team’s best perimeter shooter. Garner has not shot the ball particularly well from the field, but he’s also had to carry much of the load offensively due to a lack of depth on the Penn State roster.

Getting Josh Reaves back, after missing the first few games with a leg injury, should somewhat help with that issue. Reaves is still easing his way back into the rotation, but he looked sharp last weekend against Wright State with 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting. Reaves, one of the team’s top returners, is an outstanding athlete who has the ability to be an excellent two-way player.

These three young guards will matchup with the much more experienced combination of Jamel Artis, Cameron Johnson, and Chris Jones. Artis has been a key player for the Panthers the last few years and is now averaging 19.7 points per game as a senior. Johnson, meanwhile, averages 11.5 points per game and shoots 45 percent from three.

In the Penn State frontcourt, freshmen Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins have both shown flashes of brilliance. Stevens, another highly regarded true freshman from Roman Catholic, is the team’s second-leading scorer and is a versatile player on both ends of the court. Watkins, who redshirted last year, has shown the ability to be a lockdown defender and a reliable offensive option on the block. Payton Banks also averages 10.6 per game and is a good shooter from the perimeter.

The biggest issue with the Nittany Lions is their lack of production outside of their top six options. Nazeer Bostick has potential, but he isn’t quite ready to be a major contributor. Terrence Samuel and Isaiah Washington have been unable to produce in the backcourt, and Julian Moore has struggled mightily as Watkins’ backup.

Pitt also does not have great depth in the frontcourt. However, Michael Young, their top forward, is one of the best players in the ACC and can do it all. The senior leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 23 points and 8 rebounds respectively, while also shooting 42 percent from three. Ryan Luther and Sheldon Jeter aren’t the most dominant frontcourt players, but are more serviceable than what Penn State has to offer.

Penn State came into the year with higher expectations than ever before, but with four losses already, including two to mid-major level teams, it might be time to pump the breaks a bit. Pitt right now has a lot more experience, is well-coached, and has a big advantage over the young Lions playing at home. Pitt wins easy.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 79, Penn State 63

 

Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email willdesautelle@gmail.com.