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2015-16 Big Ten Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions Backcourt

After losing their top two guards in the offseason, Penn State needs its youngsters to step up for this year to be a success.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

We knew that 2015-16 was going to be a tough season for Penn State because D.J. Newbill was graduating. The do-it-all senior last year led the team with 20.7 points and 3.1 assists per game last year, and that's not to mention his leadership skills or 30-percent usage rate. No one player was going to fill Newbill's shoes by himself, but at least Geno Thorpe was here to help out... until the rising junior was released from his scholarship last spring.

It was the departure of Thorpe that made this offseason an especially tough one for Penn State fans. Newbill was someone they knew was not going to be playing in 2015-16, but Thorpe was a big breakout candidate and a very important part of head coach Pat Chambers's program.

An unprecedented streak of recruiting success has since then has made the pain of the Thorpe news fade away, but the Lions will still be hurt from his absence in 2015-16. Without Newbill and Thorpe, someone else will have to step up and play a major role in the Penn State offense.

Devin Foster, senior, point guard

As a junior college transfer, last year was Foster's first in Division I, and it showed by the way Chambers used him. The only pure point guard on Penn State's roster didn't start seeing major playing time until January, when he started his Nittany Lion career in earnest with 22 minutes at Michigan State.

From that point forward, Foster was used sparingly, though he did show some ability when leading the fast break. He averaged fewer than three points and one assist per game, but Chambers needs him much more now that Newbill is gone. Look for Foster to handle the ball a lot in the early going before the young Lions are ready to take over.

Shep Garner, sophomore, shooting guard

Garner is a confident shooter with excellent range. The only problem with that is Garner's range not being as excellent as he thinks it is. As a freshman last year, he hit on 34 percent of his team-leading 175 three-point attempts. That doesn't sound too bad, but he was much better during non-conference play when the defenses weren't as fierce. In fact, Garner scored in double figures during the first five games of his career, but the rest of the way he never even had three such consecutive games.

He'll be a starter on this year's team by default, but for Penn State to be anything more than a doormat, he has got to be more consistent with his shooting and work on his inside-the-arc game as well.

Isaiah Washington, redshirt freshman, shooting guard

Said to be more of a defensive player than a points provider, Washington sat out most of his true freshman season due to injury and watched Penn State blossom into a decent defensive unit thanks to the efforts of Newbill and Thorpe. With those two gone, Washington has a chance of becoming a role player for the Lions, but on the other hand, this team needs as much offense as it can fit on the court at a time. If Washington can't provide that, he might be better off serving as a reserve.

Josh Reaves, freshman, shooting guard

The true freshman out of Oak Hill Academy is a good candidate to start every Penn State game this season due in part to his apparent talent and in part to the talent in the rest of the guard rotation. Based on what we saw out of Foster and Garner last year, Reaves is going to get plenty of opportunities to be the man for Penn State early on. If the scouting reports lauding his athleticism and scoring ability are accurate, the kid has a great chance of leading his new team in scoring for this year and in the future as well.


The starting lineup on opening night for Penn State will be a good indication of how Chambers feels about his team. If Foster and Garner are on the floor, it means that he is confident that the two experienced players have made strides since last year. However, if Reaves is heavily involved, we'll know the freshman has impressed during early practices and could be close to taking over as the program's floor general. Base on Reaves's prospect status and how the other guards played last year, it wouldn't be surprising to see Chambers hand the reigns to the new kid very early this season.