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Three Key Storylines For Penn State Basketball in 2016-2017

Assessing the Nittany Lions’ chances.

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Oh boy, Penn State could get exiting this year. The question is how will it all play out and if Pat Chambers can finally get over the hump in State College.?

The Future’s Arrival

By the start of this season the four highest recruited players in the history of Penn State will have descended on Happy Valley, a testament to the work Pat Chambers and his staff have done expanding the scope of the program.

Power forward Mike Watkins redshirted last season, but is already being talked about as one of the best big men the program’s ever had. Sophomore shooting guard Josh Reaves was the fourth leading scorer on last year’s team, but will need to drastically improve his 37.5% field goal percentage and 91.9 offensive rating to stay on the floor.

On the come up are high school teammates and best friends, point guard Tony Carr and small forward Lamar Stevens. Named, respectively, to the first and second all-state teams by USA Today, both will feature prominently in Chambers’ offense. Also joining the mix is UCONN transfer Terrence Samuel.

The end result is this Nittany Lion team is receiving a surprising (for Penn State) infusion of talent. The biggest question mark is how soon the combination of raw athleticism and basketball IQ will begin to coalesce. For that, the on-court answer may lie with one young man:

Shep Garner

A solid freshman season that saw increased usage and efficiency as a sophomore. Garner has all the tools to shepherd this band of merry youngsters, but needs to make better decisions and improve his shooting percentage significantly from the high 30s, where it currently hovers.

The landscape of college basketball is forever populated with players who find that extra gear when it matters the most, who live for the moment and come through, who get better with increased time and responsibility. If it’s not going to be Shep, Penn State will be up you-know-what’s creek until Tony Carr is ready to takeover. With so much young and inexperienced talent at hand, Garner’s role is going to be of the utmost importance this winter.

Scoring and defense

Look out, Penn State is gonna run. A team that ranked 303rd in possessions last season is, according to Chambers, on the move. A slowed pace doesn’t necessarily spell doom (St. Mary’s last year held the third slowest pace and third highest offensive rating last year on their way to winning 29 games) but in Penn State’s case, they also struggled mightily to score. You can slow things done all you want, but if you can’t actually make your shots it’s going to be completely irrelevant. Oh, and defense was a problem too. Offensive and defensive ratings were 284th and 216th each, not the marks of a high-functioning basketball team (or even a middle of the pack Big Ten program).

Chambers appears to be looking to shake things up by getting his cache of guards and athletic wings out on the break. He has some experience with this, previously serving as an assistant on the 2008-09 Villanova team that four-guarded its way to the Final Four. Despite some early tourney exits, that Nova team bought Jay Wright some much-needed time (and look how that turned out). Can Chambers’s players do for his program what Dante Cunningham and Scotty Reynolds did for Villanova?

Obviously, leading a young team on the fast break could create havoc on the back-end defensively. But if nothing else, this year’s Penn State Nittany Lions should be one thing the program hasn’t sniffed at in quite some time: Fun.