After another disappointing basketball season in Happy Valley that featured a great performance from D.J. Newbill and a poor performance from just about everyone else, it's easy to give in to the dark side and say that the Penn State program is in terrible shape.
That couldn't be further from the truth! Well, not really, but there are reasons for optimism.
Let's start with the bad stuff first, though. Newbill is graduating, and that means that head coach Pat Chambers will have to look elsewhere for a go-to scorer and primary ball-handler. Freshman Shep Garner got some work in as acting point guard in 2014-15, but he was best used as a spot-up shooter. Newbill didn't lead the Big Ten in scoring with 20.7 points per game by deferring to someone else half of the time.
It's not as though he didn't try to get teammates involved, but Newbill was by far the most efficient offensive player on the Penn State roster. Oftentimes it doesn't make sense to kick out to players like Brandon Taylor who love taking long-range shots but aren't so great at putting them in. Newbill was better served pulling up for a 15-foot jumper that turned into a great weapon for him as the season wore on.
With Newbill gone, there is a gaping hole in the Penn State offense that needs to be filled by someone. There is still a lot of untapped potential on the roster, but finding out who will be the next great leader on this team is going to take some time. Will Taylor finally evolve into a dangerous shooter or at least refine his post game? Can Garner be more aggressive and stop settling for 25-foot jump shots? Geno Thorpe saw his jump shot develop late in the year. Maybe he can be the guy to pace the offense going forward.
My money is on Thorpe due to his ability to draw fouls, score in transition, and play great defense. However, the point is that we haven't seen enough to determine whether or not another star is going to develop. That's a problem for a team that has needed star power in the past to overcome weaknesses in size, skill, and depth.
The good news is that size and depth won't be too much of a problem for the 2015-16 team. Even with Ross Travis moving on to what he hopes is a successful football career, Penn State still has a deep forward rotation featuring Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack, and Julian Moore. The three-headed monster was pretty ugly on offense, but did enough work protecting the rim to boost the Lions' improving defense.
Hopefully making up for the lack of star power is one of the most exciting freshman classes in Penn State basketball history. Josh Reaves out of Oak Hill Academy headlines the group, and he could see a lot of playing time early, especially if Garner or Thorpe fail to improve their games. Mike Watkins from Philadelphia is an athletic shot blocker who could be a star if his offense blossoms in Happy Valley, and Lithuanian sniper Deividas Zemgulis promises to add some range to one of the worst shooting teams in the Big Ten.
So while Newbill may be gone and the Lions still seem far way from an NCAA Tournament bid, you can see the pieces they need to get there, if only everything would break the right way for once.