Penn State basketball fans can breathe a sign of relief. Well, sort of. The Nittany Lions’ issues are far from being resolved, but yesterday’s 62-58 win at least got the team back in the win column and cringe-inducing losses to Duquense and Radford. While nobody thought the Nittany Lions would be great this season or even match last season’s 12-1 non-conference record, losing to those teams by an average of 19 points isn’t very encouraging.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some things that both are and aren’t working right now for Penn State.
First off, the frontcourt hasn’t shown much improvement. Brandon Taylor’s playing well and that’s great, but this team was always going to need more this year from Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Julian Moore and so far they haven’t really delivered. A lot of this can’t be looked at as too much of a surprise. We knew Dickerson was never going to be much more than a shot-blocker but still, getting just 2.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18 minutes a game from someone 7’1" is pretty frustrating. And with just 0.4 blocks per game, he isn’t excelling there either.
Jack, on the other hand, is averaging just 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in 13 minutes. We knew the guy wasn’t a star or maybe even an every game starter, but his production has declined since his sophomore year and that’s disappointing. Moore actually has shown improvement so far in his second season, it just isn’t enough to carry the load.
Penn State’s wings are guards have certainly been better, just not consistent enough. Shep Garner still seems to have a bight future and he’s shooting the three really well right now, but hitting only 37 percent of your two-point attempts is not gonna cut it. He also needs to improve as a distributor with just 2.8 assists per game. Then there’s Josh Reaves, who’s started every game as a freshman so far. The kid plays his tail off and has looked good defensively (1.6 blocks) but still looks uncomfortable on offense most of the time. Still, you’ve got to cut the kid some slack as he’s just a freshman.
The other major negative is the absence of Mike Watkins, but I’ve already covered that at length.
It may be a year too late, but Brandon Taylor seems to be finally maturing into a consistently good player. He’s averaging 16.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and shooting 45.5 percent from three. He’s gotta keep it up, but he’s giving Penn State what it needs for the most part.
Another player who’s looked good so far is Payton Banks. Banks didn’t show much last season, but he’s started every game so far, scored double digits in four out of five games and sank the winning 3-pointer against Bucknell. And while their names came up in the previous section, give credit to Garner and Moore for improving in their second years and to Reaves for holding his own so far. They’re all still huge pieces of Penn State’s future.
Overall, give the team a little credit for pulling out a win on Saturday. Yeah, it was a non-conference game, but those are the games that Penn State has always lost in the past. There is still a lot to see before believing with this Penn State team, but it does seem like a team that could be a bit better than many anticipated. The next step is winning games like that in the Big Ten, which has yet to be determined.