16 August 2019

18 July 2019

Penn State Men's Basketball: Tools In Place For 2020 Tourney

   I imagine that Coach Chambers and his staff breathed a collective sigh of relief, upon hearing the news that Big Ten First Team Coaches Poll award winner Lamar Stevens and the uber efficient scoring, blocking and rebounding machine, Mike Watkins were returning to the blue and white.

  Lamar Stevens lead the squad in scoring and minutes played, averaging 19.9 points per game and 36.9 minutes, respectively. Lamar finished his junior year with 245 total rebounds, 26 blocks and 22 steals and garnered several post-season accolades.
  Mike Watkins sat out several early games last year and he was coming off an injury to his lower leg, that kept him out of the prior year's NIT Championship run. Watkins showed flashes of his former self last year, but was mostly inconsistent. His marquee game last year was played against Michigan, in Anne Arbor. He led PSU with 19 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal. All this production came with only 26 minutes of playing time. If Mike repeats that intensity on a consistent basis, this could be the year that he dominates the paint and solidifies the interior.

Role Players: Penn State has experienced Juniors and Sophomores

   Junior John Harrah will back up Watkins at center and Trent Buttrick may finally see increased playing time, at the shooting forward. Last year, John was most comfortable backing up Watkins. While Mike was out, he felt extra pressure to perform and often ended up in foul trouble. This year, John can focus on his backup role and provide an experienced force, in Watkins' stead. 

   Trent had limited opportunities last year but saw a minor uptick in minutes, providing Stevens a brief respite. Buttrick has a real nice outside shot and his 6'8" frame can provide a nice screen for classmate Jamari Wheeler, to drive the lane. 

  Jamari Wheeler is a defensive fiend. He had 47 steals last year, coming in second behind Dallas Mavericks up and comer Josh Reaves, who tallied 80 picks. Offensively, Wheeler was most effective when he drove to the basket. If he can add a consistent 15-20 footer to his arsenal, he can become an effective two way point guard. Coach Chambers platooned him with Bolton last year swapping the guards out, when the situation or Jamari's foul trouble necessitated the move. He needs to play within himself and not commit excessive fouls. 

   Redshirt Junior Izaiah Brockington will be eligible to suit up and play, after sitting out a year. The former St. Bonaventure product was part of a team that made the NCAA tournament. At Bona, Izaiah shot 41.5% from three point range. Brockington made Jon Rothstein's list of Big Ten Impact Transfers.

  Sophomore Rasir Bolton was the teams second leading scorer. Unfortunately, he bolted for Iowa State and transferred himself out of the Lions' lineup. However, Myles Dread logged 927 minutes last year, often finding himself defending much taller opponents. But Myles is an effective three point shooter in his own right draining 35.6%. He made Jon Rothstein's list of ten B1G breakout players, for the upcoming season.

  Kyle McCloskey is a scrapper. The 6'5" former Wildcat quarterback appeared in 11 games and logged 87 minutes. When he was in, he provided the team with hustle and grit. Hopefully he can gain valuable experience during the non-conference schedule.

  Four star Freshman Seth Lundy can be an impact player right out of the gate. In an article by Tyler King of The Daily Collegian, Coach Chambers discussed Lundy's shooting ability and comparisons to Stevens, 

                    “He’s got a Big Ten-ready body,” Chambers reaffirmed at his season 
                     wrap-up press conference Tuesday.“He’s got Lamar’s body when 
                     Lamar was a freshman.Seth can play multiple positions and he can 
                     really shoot the ball,” Chambers said.

 Curtis Jones is a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, who also played at Indiana. His stat-sheet from ESPN has him appearing in 23 games last year, scoring 8 points. We'll have to wait and see how his time with the Hoosiers and Cowboys translates to Happy Valley. 

Big Ten Offseason Power Rankings:

1. Michigan State
2. Maryland
3. Purdue
4. Ohio State
5. Penn State
6. Wisconsin
7. Illinois
8. Iowa
9. Michigan
10. Indiana
11. Rutgers
12. Nebraska
13. Minnesota
14. Northwestern

The Lions Must Improve Their Free Throw Percentage

    An 0-10 start to the B1G Conference slate relegated the Lions to the bottom half of the conference. But that 0-10 start had some very close games. Penn State lost by single digits in 7 out of 10, of those games. Improving their free throw percentage, that will go a long way in taking them to the NCAA tournament. Rasir Bolton led the team in free throw percentage last year, shooting 87.6%. Trent Buttrick shot 80% but only had 10 attempts. Likewise, Myreon Jones attempted 31 and shot 77.4%.  Lamar Stevens led the Lions in free throw attempts with 204 and knocked down 77% of them. If everyone on the team commits to improving their free throw shot, the Nittany Lions can earn that Jon Rothstein Offseason Power Ranking that places them ahead of Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana.

A Long Season

  Finally, an eight game home slate of non-conference opponents will enable the Lions to prepare for the grueling Big Ten schedule. I'm looking forward to the upcoming season, hopeful that these Nittany Lions will finally be able to attend the Big Dance. 

*Notes* Blue & White Basketball is not affiliated with Penn State University.