Column: Will Penn State Basketball Sustain It’s Early Season Success?

Story posted December 10, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Abhar Shah

The Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball team (8-1, 0-0 B1G) is on a six-game win streak and hasn’t lost since November 20. Their only loss on the season came from a double overtime loss to the Charlotte 49ers in the opening round of the Charleston Classic.  

The Nittany Lions are off to the best start since the 2000-01 season where they started 9-1. In that season, they lost to a North Carolina State team that was 2-2 at the time.

One reason Penn State has gotten off to such a successful start is due to their late-game execution. In each of the last six wins, Penn State has won by fewer than ten points, due in large part to their pesky defense in late games.

D.J. Newbill is another reason why this team is off to such a great start. Newbill has simply been terrific so far, averaging about 23 points, five rebounds and three assists. Newbill has really improved on his outside shooting, knocking down 48-percent of his attempts from deep. No longer can opposing guards sag off the Big Ten’s leading scorer to protect against the dribble penetration.

Other than the defense and D.J. Newbill, there are many other contributing factors to the hot start. Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner are developing at a rapid pace and even though his offensive game needs major improvement, Ross Travis has been a terror on the offensive boards, and gives the team good minutes.

Even with the quick start, Penn State still has a lot of room for improvement. Their main problem is free throw shooting. As a team they are shooting around 68-percent and only have two players that shoot over 80 percent. In particular, the Nittany Lions have struggled to put games away late from the foul line.

Another problem for this team is their size. They aren’t as big as most teams and that could be problematic when Penn State heads in to the Big Ten schedule. The tallest player on the team is Jordan Dickerson, who is a little taller than seven feet, but only averages about 12 minutes per game.

Even with all the hype about Penn State starting off the season strong, it’s not really that impressive. When you look at the competition that Penn State has faced, it’s nothing special, but then again, that isn’t Penn State’s fault.

Arguments can be made that Penn State deserves to be praised because they are winning games that they have to win, but let’s not be oblivious to the fact that thus far in the season, Virginia Tech would be considered the toughest matchup.

Penn State is currently tied for first place in the Big Ten Conference. Now, to be realistic, all of that will most likely change once the Nittany Lions play conference games. Their first true challenge will be when they travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve.
As for now, Penn State faces Duquesne Wednesday night, and the games leading up to Wisconsin are against George Washington, Drexel and Dartmouth.

If you’re a Penn State basketball fan, just enjoy the wins now, because they will be tough to find once the conference schedule comes around.

Abhar Shah is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email abs5349@psu.edu.