By Alexander Yuncker
Penn State basketball is more or less a joke. The team has a total of nine tournament appearances with the last being in 2011. Since that last tournament go, and since the hiring of Pat Chambers, the team has a combined record of 127-140. That’s pretty stale.
Those of us who dedicate time to the team typically do a good job of building false hope prior to the season. Usually the team will beat a few non-conference foes, but once Big Ten play begins so do the struggles. Listen it’s been the same team for the past eight seasons and things are not likely to change. There are a few bright spots on the team that will play major roles in how this season plays out (i.e. seniors Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens). But let’s look ahead to this next season with high hopes and convince ourselves this is a team that can win.
- Jamari Wheeler: For the past two seasons I’ve had to listen to my friend told me how much he loves Jamari Wheeler and how he was so convinced that Wheeler would eventually find himself in a prominent role. Well it turns out he was right, thank Zach. A quick peek at Wheeler’s stats might be misleading (Career 2.7 ppg). Wheeler has not been very efficient as a player in his first two go abouts with struggles in scoring, shooting percentage, and free throw percentage. The upside for him is that he is an amazing athlete. He is always one of the quickest and fastest players on the court. Wheeler is also a keen defensive presence and is a prime candidate to lead the Lions in steals this season. If Penn State wants to play to Wheeler’s strengths they need to play fast and emphasize fast break scoring. There are a ton of reasonable outcomes for how Wheeler’s season will play out, that being said, don’t be too caught off guard if he finds a groove and emerges as a breakout player.
- Myles Dread: As a freshman Dread showed plenty of flashes of what might be to come. The now sophomore was particularly successful from three point range. Dread earned a starting role which was great for his development. He dropped an impressive 17 points in his debut which is all fans needed to fall for Dread. Despite overall good scoring efficiency numbers, Dread did struggle from the free throw line. If he can sort that out Myles Dread may be in line to lead the team in scoring as a sophomore. Dread will conduct the backcourt with Jamari Wheeler which might make for a very exciting duo (assuming they both play to their potential).
Using Previous Keys to Success
Penn State’s best season of late came in 2017 when they put up a respectable 23-13. That season ended in some disappointment when there was no invite to the NCAA Tournament. The bottom line is this team succeed with a guard heavy usage. This current team has a roster built to work the same way. Players Myles Dread, Jamari Wheeler, and Lamar Stevens are all primed for big seasons. Lamar Stevens lead the squad in scoring last year, but he was under a lot of pressure to do so. Stevens lacked help from other ball handlers to put up consistent points and was constantly tasked with keeping the offense afloat. This year however, assuming the young guns progress, especially Myles Dread, there may be help on the way. The team did lose Rasir Bolton transfer which is disappointing. Bolton was a promising freshman, but he departed for Iowa State.
One of the main proponents of 2017’s success came from three point shooting. The team jacked up a total of 759 threes that year converting at 38%. That compared to 693 shots from behind the arc last year, scoring on 32% of those shots. The 2017 squad was a developed team with a lot of upperclassmen who had time to better there shot. Last year as a young team they were inconsistent with their game to game three point scoring. Now, with another year under everyone’s belt, there is a good chance this team returns to being an efficient three point team. Expect head coach, Pat Chambers, to put an emphasis on scoring beyond the arc. Chambers has to realize the success he had in 2017 and build off that script. If this team can’t be effective from long range this will be same old Penn State basketball.
Expectations and Predictions
This season is really up in the air as far as what to expect. Looking back at last year, it’s hard to say if that was just a transition period for a team looking to return to success. The team lost a lot of key parts going into last year and they were extremely youthful with a lot of developing underclassmen. All this creates a scenario where they could come out this year as a completely new team with experience and leadership, this we hope.
On the other hand, this season could be bad, very very bad. I don’t want to over exaggerate here, but it would come as new surprise if this season is a complete waste. No one knows if these team will progress and make the strides needed if they want to win. Only the players and coaches know if they are where they need to be. Listen, the season may not be a disaster, but a repeat of last year is most certainly on the table.
I want to think positively going into this year and I am going to do just that. Sports bring out the optimism in me as it does many. So let’s ride that hope and optimism going into this year and expect good things. That being said I’ll give this team a 19-11 regular season record and thanks to a few big wins, a tournament appearance. Basketball is a game where winning is dependent on doing the little things, a few little things done right in big games and who knows? NCAA Tournament here we come!
Games to Watch
- Nov. 14 @Georgetown: It won’t be long for Penn State to have an opportunity to have a meaningful win. Georgetown is a reputable opponent with a great men’s hoops background. They Hoyas expect big things from sophomore guard, James Akinjo, and he presents a possible challenge for the Nittany Lion defense. This is a winnable game for Penn State thanks to Georgetown’s youth, but it will not be an easy task.
- Dec. 10 vs. Maryland: This will probably be one of the more popular games at the Bryce Jordan Center this year and for good reason. Maryland comes in with high expectations as a team being that they were granted the preseason ranking of seven. Lead by senior, Anthony Cowan, the Terps offer quite the challenge for PSU. If the team can feed off the home court crowd’s energy they may have a chance to stun the Terps.
- Feb. 4 @Michigan State: This game comes at the heart of the season and could mean a lot to this Lions team. We don’t know how Penn State will have faired to that point in the season and if things are bad this game could be the nail in the coffin. On the other hand should Penn State be playing well this could be the ultimate statement game.