Season openers can be tough, especially when your team has lost as much production over the offseason as Penn State's has. Without D.J. Newbill putting the ball in the bucket, would the Lions be able to score enough points to beat a high-tempo VMI team?
The answer was yes, but if you asked me before the game, I would not have thought that 60 or even 70 points would be enough for the Penn State victory. Instead of playing a track-meet-style game, though, Penn State slowed down the Keydets and banged its way to a 62-50 win.
What We Learned
1. Penn State might be able to win with defense this season
The Lions only shot 43 percent on offense, but they held VMI to 37-percent shooting while forcing 14 turnovers. That defensive performance could indicate that Penn State is continuing to improve on defense. Although head coach Pat Chambers led a team that was inefficient on offense last year, the defense solidified as the year went on thanks to the perimeter peskiness of Geno Thorpe and the inside size of Jordan Dickerson. With the Penn State offense unlikely to improve much due to the absence of Newbill, the Lions will need more defensive performances like this one to be successful in 2015-16.
2. Freshman Josh Reaves is disruptive
Thorpe has transferred to South Florida, but the man taking his place in the starting lineup might be an even more intimidating defender. That would be Josh Reaves, the 4-star shooting guard out of Oak Hill Academy who led Penn State with three blocks and notched two of the team's six steals. The freshman only scored six points on six shots in 26 minutes, but his offensive game should reveal itself more as we get deeper into the non-conference schedule.
3. Mike Watkins has not been cleared by the NCAA
The biggest news of the day for Penn State happened after the game when Chambers told the media that his other 4-star recruit, power forward Mike Watkins, had not been cleared for action by the NCAA. The coach did say that the program is working with the NCAA to get Watkins into uniform as soon as possible, but as of now there is no timetable for the freshman to make his debut. Although Watkins is considered more of a project than an immediate contributor, his presence would improve Penn State's frontcourt depth and allow him to adjust to the college game as quickly as possible.
All in all, Saturday was a good day for the Penn State program. Reaves excited the Bryce Jordan Center crowd with his athleticism and the Lions used defense to handily defeat an inferior team. The Watkins news is a bit alarming, but hopefully will not turn into a major issue. We'll learn more about what Penn State is capable of this year when it takes on DePaul as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Tuesday evening.