Penn State Men’s Basketball Preview
It’s been a long time since the Penn State faithful was this optimistic about the future their basketball team. Some would even say that there is more excitement than ever in Happy Valley. In a town where basketball has never been heralded as one of the more outstanding sports, Penn Staters now have much to look forward to in the coming years. The Nittany Lions are very young and talented, with no seniors on the roster, and they have just brought in maybe their best recruiting class in program history.
One of coach Pat Chamber’s major points of emphasis in the preseason was that Penn State is going to play at a faster pace this season. Entering his sixth year as the Nittany Lions head coach, Chambers proclaimed that their goal is to score 80 points per game. The Lions got off to an excellent start in that area, compiling 91 points in their exhibition game against Lock Haven last week.
It appears as though Chambers will attempt to have two point guards on the floor as much as possible. The Nittany Lions return Shep Garner, one of the top players from last year’s team. They also welcome four-star freshman Tony Carr, who last week was named the starting point guard for Penn State. Connecticut transfer and lockdown-defender, Terrence Samuel, along with Isaiah Washington will add plenty of depth to the Nittany Lion backcourt.
The Lions have a lot of athleticism this year as the defense forced 17 turnovers and collected 21 points off of them in the exhibition against Lock Haven. Nazeer Bostick is another newcomer who will bring athleticism and disruptive defense off the bench for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State also returns Josh Reaves, one of their top guards from a year ago. Reaves will likely be out until the Lions play the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils on November 19. Reaves is one of the most talented players on this young team, with tremendous upside. However, he must improve his perimeter shot, as he only made three of 39 three-point attempts last season. His stroke is promising and if he can improve that percentage, he’ll be a major asset for this team going forward.
Perimeter shooting is one area of concern for Penn State this year. Outside of Garner and forward Payton Banks, who did not play against Lock Haven with a hamstring injury, the Lions lack several guys who can stretch the floor consistently. Athleticism and transition play will only get them so far. For Penn State to develop into a really competitive team in the Big Ten, they must be able to stretch the floor, especially against teams with more talent than them.
Forward Davis Zemgulis has potential from the three, and Chambers says he has done well in practice, but he struggled with that shot Friday, finishing 0-for-3. Zemgulis will definitely see more time and potentially be a valuable contributor for Penn State if he can prove that he’s a capable shooter from distance.
In the frontcourt, Julian Moore and Mike Watkins will see the bulk of time in the middle. In his media day press conference, Chambers said Watkins is raw, but he is a big man who can run the floor really well. Every team covets forwards who can be a threat in transition, so Watkins should be a terrific fit in Chambers’ up-tempo offense. Watkins had a solid outing in the exhibition in 20 minutes of action.
"He was one of the guys that I thought was nervous," Chambers said. "Think about this, he sat our an entire year, this is the first time he put the jersey on. It was a lot of emotions I'm sure for him. But he did kind of get it going a bit and looked like himself. He finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds."
Moore, on the other hand, is the more experienced of the two and played 19 minutes against Lock Haven. At this stage he does not possess Watkins’ athleticism, but he is a more polished low post player and will give the Lions a scoring threat on the block.
Another player who could potentially have a significant impact is freshman forward Lamar Stevens. Stevens is an outstanding athlete, and brings versatility on both ends of the court. Chambers said that Stevens could even play the ‘5’ during stretches of games.
"Lamar has got a really good midrange game and he's got a really nice post-up game," Chambers said. "He's going to bring the ball up for us too on occasion. They missed and he brought the ball up. That gives us four or five guys that can push the basketball up at any given time."
The new scent of optimism for the Lions mostly stems from the talent and depth added in the offseason. The Lions already have a serviceable returning core to build around with Garner, Reeves, and Moore. Add in a touted recruiting class led by Carr and Stevens, as well as redshirts Watkins and Samuel, and the Nittany Lions can look forward to a bright future.
Penn State may not be ready to challenge the usual elite teams in the Big Ten yet, but they should begin to be more competitive than ever before. The NCAA tournament may be a bit farfetched this year, but there is no reason why they can’t finish towards the middle of the pack in the conference and collect a few upset wins along the way. Penn State could, however, be an NIT tournament team by the end of the year. Either way there is something special shaping up in Happy Valley, and Pat Chambers has them headed in the right direction.
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.