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2017-’18 Penn State Nittany Lions Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Penn State Nittany Lions and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2017-’18 season.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Minnesota Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-’18 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2017-’18 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.

***

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

And fool me thrice? Well, that’s an entirely different story.

Since Pat Chambers took over at Penn State in 2011, he’s been fooling fans. He and the team build hype in the offseason, only to fail to live up to it on the court. The Nittany Lions are 87-109 (.444) since Chambers took over and an abysmal 29-78 (.271) in league play during the same period. And Penn State’s only postseason appearance during that time frame was a trip to the CBI in 2014.

That’s not exactly a great run as Chambers prepares for his seventh season.

Of course, Chambers isn’t the only one to blame for these struggles. After all, Penn State doesn’t exactly have a decorated history as a basketball school. The program only has nine NCAA Tournament appearances in its history and a lone Final Four trip in 1954. Chambers deals with challenges that few coaches at the Power Five level have to face. As such, we do need to keep Penn State’s record in context.

Additionally, Chambers has also shown he can recruit with the Nittany Lions. Over the last few years, Chambers has put together some of the best recruiting Penn State’s program has ever seen. His 2015 class featured two top 100ish prospects and his 2016 class was ranked 26th nationally by 247Sports. Those are achievements that few would have expected to see out of Penn State, even a few years ago.

However, no matter the context, Chambers enters this season with a fanbase growing impatient and a roster that merits higher expectations. Throwing around terms like “hot seat” would be hyperbolic, but the time has come. Chambers and the Nittany Lions need to show noticeable progress this season. Another four to six-win performance in Big Ten play probably isn’t going to cut it for Penn State this season.

Without some wins, the pressure will rise.

The good news is that Penn State has the pieces to get it done. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens appear primed to take a step forward from last season and the program also returns upperclassmen in Shep Garner and Josh Reaves that should fill out a nice lineup. If the Nittany Lions can find some role players, Penn State can win some games.

Either way, Penn State’s mix of talent and inexperience should make for an intriguing storyline this season. The Nittany Lions could be the biggest wildcard in this year’s Big Ten. Let’s take a look at whether the program can finally make its breakthrough with Chambers at the helm.

BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast

Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Penn State Nittany Lions, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Nittany Lions, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Eli Moreta-Feliz of Black Shoe Diaries breaking down Penn State’s roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.

1. 2016-’17 Season Performance

  • Record: 15-18 (6-12)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #87
  • RPI Rating: #101
  • Postseason Appearance: None

While Penn State’s overall numbers weren’t very impressive last season, there are two different ways to evaluate 2016-’17 for the Nittany Lions. The first is to view it as a year of inconsistency. A season where the team showed flashes, but didn’t have the depth and experience to finish things off.

There are plenty of examples to support this evaluation as well. To start, wins against Georgia Tech, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, and St. John’s imply that Penn State had the goods to knock off competent teams. In fact, Penn State finished the season with seven wins against top 100 KenPom teams. The Nittany Lions only had four during the previous season and the one before that.

Moreover, losses to Albany, George Mason, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Rutgers also support the inconsistent evaluation. Penn State finished higher than all of those teams on KenPom, with the exception Ohio State. And considering that the loss to the Buckeyes came at home, it’s easy to see why all of those were blown opportunities. A triple overtime road loss to Indiana also stings. Penn State would have finished the regular season with 19 wins had it won five of those games.

The second school of thought, on the other hand, views last year’s Penn State team as one that was just mediocre. Maybe Penn State was “inconsistent,” but maybe that had more to do with the fact that Penn State wasn’t very good than it did with a team “showing flashes” of quality play. After all, there’s a reason why the team finished 87th on KenPom and near the bottom of an underwhelming Big Ten last season.

Think about it this way. Good teams don’t blow games to opponents like Albany and George Mason at home. And if they do blow games like that, they do it once, not twice in non-conference play.

Good teams also don’t lose five league games at home, including a loss to Rutgers. And even if some losses were close, it’s worth mentioning that four of the team’s regular season Big Ten wins came by 10 points or less and the win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament was an overtime win. If we’re hypothesizing about adding games, we also need to mention that Penn State easily could have finished with two or three Big Ten regular season wins as well.

The reality probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two perspectives. We saw flashes of a team breaking out, but those were overrated because expectations were so low. Penn State was not a great team. In fact, Penn State probably wasn’t even solid. The Nittany Lions were somewhere between mediocre and average, but got bitten by the inconsistency of a team overly reliant on young players.

As will be discussed below, the hope will be that Penn State can take the positives of last season and build on them heading into this season. The wins against teams like Maryland and Minnesota were significant. Now, Penn State needs to do a better job of taking care of the winnable games on its slate.

Individual statistical leaders were Tony Carr, Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, and Mike Watkins. Carr led the team in minutes, points, and assists. Reaves led the team in steals. Stevens led the team in usage among contributors. Watkins led the team in rebounds, blocks, and total win shares.

2. Offseason Exits

As one of the nation’s youngest teams last season, Penn State won’t get hit too hard by offseason departures. Most of the key contributors were underclassmen and are back for another round. However, Penn State will be losing three players in Payton Banks, Terrence Samuel, and Isaiah Washington. All three played during the course of the year and fans were hoping they could provide depth heading into this season.

The most significant departure of these three is Banks. He averaged 10.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, started 13 games, and was on the floor for 63.4 percent of the team’s minutes last season. Notably, Banks played 20 or more minutes in seven of the team’s final eight games and earned KenPom MVP honors in both of the team’s wins over Illinois. Banks played a lot of minutes on the wing and saw major minutes behind Reaves and Stevens.

However, the key area where Banks’ departure could hit Penn State is outside the arc. Although the team finished 222nd nationally in three-point percentage and 211th in percentage of team points from deep, Banks led the roster in three-point percentage and finished second on the roster in total three-pointers last season. For a team that desperately needs to improve its shooting, losing Banks is not good news. Maybe somebody else can step up, but it’s generally not good news for a poor shooting team to lose one of its top three-point threats.

The loss of Samuel isn’t as impactful, but it’s still worth mentioning. He averaged 16.7 minutes in 28 games and started the team’s opening game against Albany. In fact, but for a late season injury, Samuel would have probably seen more minutes as well. While he wasn’t a great shot creator, Samuel did a nice job on the boards and in finding open teammates. He was a prototypical role player and one with experience.

Washington’s departure is the least significant of the three. He only played 85 minutes all season with 22 of his minutes coming in a late season loss to Ohio State. Washington was not expected to see major minutes this season, either. The only area where this hurts Penn State should be in the event of injury. The team would now have to rely on underclassmen to fill minutes.

There’s little debating that Penn State’s departures this offseason can be overcome. Only one of the three departures (Banks) finished among Penn State’s top seven players in total minutes and one barely played at all. It’s hard to be overly concerned with a roster losing one starter, a rotational piece, and a player who saw little playing time. General roster improvement alone should be able to overcome those losses.

However, it’s important to note that Penn State will have to address some concerns with this group. To start, Banks was a major contributor on the wing and for the team’s three-point attack. Finding another shooter will be a major challenge. Moreover, Samuel provided wing depth as well and Washington could help in the event of major foul or injury trouble. That failsafe won’t be there anymore. All told, these are some notable losses, but nothing that should derail Penn State’s season before it starts.

3. New Additions

This season, the Nittany Lions will be adding three new recruits, one transfer, and one walk-on. The recruits are Trent Buttrick, John Harrar, and Jamari Wheeler. Wheeler is listed as a point guard and the other two prospects are listed as power forwards. Wheeler is rated as a three-star and the other two are rated as two-star prospects by 247Sports. The transfer is Satchel Pierce, who comes from Virginia Tech. The walk-on is Taylor Nussbaum.

Penn State’s most hyped incoming recruit is Wheeler. And while he is rated 389th nationally by 247Sports, many think that he will be able to step into a backup role as a freshman. He was previously committed to Duquesne and comes out of Live Oak, Florida. Wheeler is listed at 6-foot and 150 pounds. Many regard him as a player that can drive the hoop and play defense. Both will be good traits for a role at Penn State.

The other two recruiting additions are Buttrick and Harrar. Neither of these two come with any noticeable hype and will likely see limited minutes as freshmen. In fact, Buttrick was looking at schools like Air Force and Charlotte as alternatives to Penn State. It’s also worth mentioning that Harrar will be a two-sport athlete for the Nittany Lions. He is also expected to play some tight end for James Franklin and the football team. The lone walk-on is Taylor Nussbaum, who will likely be limited to scout team contributions.

Penn State’s final addition comes in the form of Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce. During his career with Virginia Tech, Pierce appeared in 51 games, scored 131 points, and made 100 rebounds. Unfortunately, he was never able to crack the rotation consistently and averaged an underwhelming 6.2 minutes, 1.6 points, and 1.3 rebounds overall in the 2015-’16 season.

Nonetheless, Pierce is a significant addition. He will be an experienced player joining a Penn State frontcourt that had mixed contributions last season. Penn State was a nice shot blocking team, but struggled on the boards and had underwhelming backups behind Stevens and Watkins. Pierce should immediately become the team’s best reserve option at center and might even be able to push Watkins for some minutes. That would be great news.

The new additions for Penn State won’t dramatically change the team’s roster composition. However, they do have the potential to provide some much needed depth for a team that ranked 217th in bench minutes last season. Perhaps an improved bench could pay dividends in the close games in Big Ten play.

4. Points of Optimism

From a 100-foot perspective, Penn State is displaying numerous signs of a program primed to take a substantial step forward in the coming season. Chambers has recruited well, those recruits are beginning to see the floor, and there were some improvements during last season. The team is no longer getting bullied around on the floor. Penn State may lose games, but they are typically competitive losses that come down to the final minutes.

Progress doesn’t always happen in the same way for programs, but there are usually a few things you usually look for in programs that are trending in the right direction. There’s usually an uptick in recruiting, an improvement in the talent on the roster, and gradual improvement on the court. Basic logic implies that, before a program can start winning at an elite level, it needs to transition from a bottom dweller into a mediocre team and then to a solid team.

Again, it may not always be a steady climb, but that’s how the ascent often occurs.

Penn State has taken some of these steps in recent years. In the first two years with Chambers, Penn State went 22-41 overall and finished outside the top 130 on KenPom in both seasons. The 2012-’13 season, in particular, was a rough one as the team opened at 0-14 in league play. However, the Nittany Lions followed that by improving to 65-68 overall during the last four seasons, including two seasons with at least a .500 record. Nobody’s going to build statutes over those numbers, but it’s also impossible to deny that progress has occurred.

Penn State also saw improved recruiting during these last two years. The program’s 2015 class featured two top 100ish prospects and its 2016 class was ranked 26th nationally by 247Sports. Recruits like Tony Carr, Josh Reaves, and Lamar Stevens are already starting to make an impact as well. There’s little denying that a big part of the program’s improved record has been due to the team’s improved recruiting.

General logic would imply that, at some point, the talent will breakthrough and Penn State will start winning at a high level. However, when and how that breakthrough will occur are huge questions. And that’s why one’s perspective on how Penn State performed during last season is so important. It’s more reasonable to think the breakthrough will come this season, if Penn State was showing flashes last year.

With so much returning from such a young team (last year’s unit was 336th in KenPom’s experience metric), one can make a decent argument that this could be the season that the long sought after breakthrough occurs. Moderate improvement from players like Carr, Stevens, and Watkins could turn some of those close losses into wins. As mentioned above, even flipping games against teams like Nebraska, Ohio State, and Rutgers could pay massive dividends.

The key part of that improvement, of course, will have to come from players like Carr, Stevens, and Watkins. The three started as freshmen last season and could be primed to take significant steps forward this season. Specifically, Carr could very well become one of the Big Ten’s best players this season after averaging 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists as a freshman. It’s reasonable to think he could become a star for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State also has some nice depth around these three returning sophomores. Garner and Reaves will be back in the backcourt after solid 2016-’17 seasons and the team will be adding three bodies upfront. If any of these three can prove to be a reliable depth option (Pierce is the most likely), Penn State could finally have some depth to go behind Stevens and Watkins, which would be huge for the team’s frontcourt. The roster is finally starting to fill out.

All told, there’s a lot to like about this Penn State group. Barring something unusual occurring, this team is going to make progress and win some games. The question is just whether it will be this year.

5. Points of Concern

Even though there are a number of things to be excited about with this year’s Penn State team, it’s also important to keep things in context. The Nittany Lions could easily be derailed by a number of issues before the plane gets off the runway. This is a young roster that is still trying to find its feet, after all.

Let’s start with the biggest concerns off the top. Penn State has never been good with Chambers at the helm. While the past doesn’t necessarily determine the future, it’s something that fans should be aware of entering this season. And not only has Penn State never finished in the top 80 on KenPom under Chambers, the team hasn’t even finished at .500 in the Big Ten play in any given season with him at the helm. In fact, its best mark was 7-11 in 2015-’16 when the team was 140th on KenPom.

Fans have also seen this script before. Chambers has had talented players in the past at Penn State and has still failed to do anything notable with the Nittany Lions. The most significant of these stars were Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill. These two were some of Penn State’s best players of all-time and Chambers still couldn’t win with them. Maybe that comes off as harsh, but it puts this concern into context.

Just think about it this way. For as much as fans are optimistic about players like Carr, Stevens, and Watkins, do any of those three project to be better than Frazier or Newbill? The former is a contributor in the NBA and the latter was one of the program’s best scorers of all-time. Frazier was a first-team All-Big Ten player and Newbill earned second-team honors. They also both played together.

Even if Penn State does see noticeable improvement from players like Carr, Stevens, and Watkins, it’s unlikely that two of these players will be second-team All-Big Ten players, or better this season. And that’s not meant to be pessimistic either. It’s not easy to earn those Big Ten honors. Thus, if Chambers is going to get better results, the rest of the roster will have to be deeper and better than it’s been in the past.

Unfortunately, that’s far from a guarantee.

One also has to wonder about how much ‘meat is left on the bone’ with this Penn State team. While I do think frontcourt players like Stevens and Watkins can still improve significantly, Carr was already really productive as a freshman and role players like Garner and Reaves have likely already hit their ceilings.

It’s unrealistic for me to assume that Penn State doesn’t have any room left to improve. However, the roster makeup is quite similar to last year’s unit that finished 15-18 overall and 6-12 in the league. Just because a player is older doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they will be better. There will probably be some improvement, but how much and from who? Both questions will tell a lot about Penn State’s chances.

And the biggest area where Penn State needs improvement is on the offensive end. The Nittany Lions were ranked 168th nationally by KenPom in offensive efficiency and 306th in effective field goal percentage. The team was also 222nd in three-point percentage and 211th in percentage of team points from long range. Notably, Penn State was below a point per possession in five of its final seven games of the season.

A big part of these struggles were due to the fact that Carr and Stevens occupied such a large portion of the offense. Penn State is going to need others to step up, so that the team can become more efficient. It’s hard to see Penn State making noticeable improvements without getting better on the offensive end of the floor.

6. Top Player

Heading into last season, I pointed to Garner as the most likely selection as the team’s best player. However, I also noted the potential of Carr to step into the role as well:

“While the easy answer for Penn State’s best player would be Shep Garner, one has to wonder about how much more he can improve during his senior year. Garner was productive last season with 14.8 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game, but he still needs to improve his consistency and his interior game if he hopes to be one of the Big Ten’s best players this season.

Outside of Garner, the easy choice would be freshman Tony Carr. He enters the program with a tremendous amount of hype and could be Penn State’s most talented addition in the online recruiting era. It’s always hard to pick a freshman to be a team’s best player, but if there’s a guy that can do it, Carr seems like the pick.”

In reality, I think the debate was actually between Carr and Watkins. The overall numbers liked Carr, but the advanced numbers favored Watkins. The two both had stellar freshman seasons and are now looking to take the next step this year. The smart money will be on one of these two to be the team’s best player yet again.

However, there are a few other potential options. To start, Garner is back for his senior season. He played 78.7 percent of the team’s minutes last season and is hoping to put up similar numbers yet again. Stevens is also a potential wildcard after averaging 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season. He is another sophomore than will hope to elevate his game.

Penn State may not have a clear frontrunner heading into this season, but with young players like Carr, Stevens, and Watkins returning and Garner back as well, there’s a lot to like. Expect these four to lead the show for the Nittany Lions and try to make some noise for postseason All-Big Ten awards.

7. 2017-’18 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/4 - Lafayette (Ex.)
  • 11/5 - Bloomsburg (Ex.)
  • 11/10 - Campbell
  • 11/12 - Fairleigh Dickinson
  • 11/15 - Montana
  • 11/17 - Columbia
  • 11/20 - Pittsburgh (New York City, NY)
  • 11/21 - Oklahoma State/Texas A&M (New York City, NY)
  • 11/24 - Oral Roberts
  • 11/29 - at North Carolina State
  • 12/2 - at Iowa
  • 12/4 - Wisconsin
  • 12/9 - George Washington
  • 12/17 - at George Mason
  • 12/19 - Binghamton
  • 12/22 - Rider
  • 12/30 - Coppin State
  • 1/2 - at Maryland
  • 1/5 - Northwestern
  • 1/9 - at Indiana
  • 1/12 - Nebraska
  • 1/15 - Minnesota
  • 1/20 - at Northwestern
  • 1/25 - at Ohio State
  • 1/27 - Rutgers
  • 1/31 - at Michigan State
  • 2/3 - Iowa
  • 2/7 - Maryland
  • 2/11 - at Illinois
  • 2/15 - Ohio State
  • 2/18 - at Purdue
  • 2/21 - Michigan
  • 2/25 - at Nebraska

Managing schedules is one of the most difficult and underrated aspects of building a college basketball program. A slate needs to be challenging enough to excite fans, but not so difficult that it prevents a team from building a resume and having a shot at postseason play.

The good news is that Penn State has done a pretty good job at balancing those interests. The team’s schedule has enough challenging games, but not so many that the slate should overwhelm the Nittany Lions. There are also a number of non-conference opponents that should help build the team’s resume, even though Penn State will be a solid favorite when the teams face off.

Let’s start with the non-conference schedule. Penn State should face five teams that are top 150ish or above on KenPom, including marquee games against North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma State or Texas A&M. All of those would be nice wins for Penn State, especially since they come away from home.

While I think KenPom has the Nittany Lions overrated at No. 40 in its preseason rankings, there’s a decent chance Penn State is favored in every non-conference game this year. That doesn’t mean the team will go 13-0 in those matchups, but it should signal big things. If Penn State can find a way to win 10 or 11 non-conference games, that would be a huge boost to the team’s postseason hopes.

Of course, things will get far more difficult in league play.

To start, Penn State gets double-plays against Iowa, Maryland, and Northwestern, road games against Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue, and three home games against teams that made last year’s NCAA Tournament. All of those games should be pretty challenging for the Nittany Lions.

The only ‘gimme’ games that Penn State figures to get this season are home games against Ohio State and Rutgers and two games against Nebraska, which are all teams that beat the Nittany Lions last season. Simply put, there’s a reason why KenPom has Penn State at 40th nationally, but only going 10-8 in conference play. The team is going to have an uphill battle for a winning league record.

Schedules are always difficult to project in the offseason. With so many moving pieces, teams can look entirely different than they did in a previous year. However, there’s little denying that Penn State is going to have its work cut out this season. The schedule is manageable enough to overcome, but not if the Nittany Lions don’t improve off the last few years.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: Tony Carr (So.) - 95%
  • SG: Shep Garner (Sr.) - 95%
  • SF: Josh Reaves (Jr.) - 90%
  • PF: Lamar Stevens (So.) - 95%
  • C: Mike Watkins (So.) - 90%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

There will be little drama regarding Penn State’s starting lineup heading into this season. With four of the team’s starters returning and another player who averaged 32.1 minutes per game back as well, it’s pretty easy to figure out the five players that will start the game on opening night. However, there are a few positions that should have some interesting developments on the depth chart.

At the point guard position, Carr should lock down a starting role after putting up impressive numbers as a freshman. Most are hoping that he can go from an All-Big Ten Freshman level to a first or second-team All-Big Ten level. Carr’s backup minutes should be filled by Wheeler. While Wheeler doesn’t arrive on campus with incredibly high expectations, fans are hoping that he can manage 5 to 10 minutes a game.

Garner figures to start alongside Carr in the backcourt. Although Garner struggled with some inconsistency last season, he’s still an experienced guard that should contribute significantly. Behind Garner should be Nazeer Bostick and a few minutes from Reaves. Bostick is hoping to expand his role after averaging just 6.7 minutes per game in 18 contests last season.

On the wing, Reaves and Stevens should lock down starting roles. Reaves is a fantastic player on the defensive end of the floor and Stevens was very productive for a freshman. Reaves will be hoping to expand his offensive game and Stevens will look to improve his efficiency. Although Stevens was quite productive, he could still improve his shooting numbers and improve on his 96.3 offensive rating.

However, behind Reaves and Stevens should be an interesting battle. Banks is now gone, so a plethora of minutes will now be available. Deividas Zemgulis figures to take some of those minutes after playing in 18 games last season and the two incoming freshmen should also make a mark in Buttrick and Harrar.

This wing reserve group could be one of the most important parts of the lineup. There are a lot of minutes to fill here, but few knowns. None of these reserves have played significant minutes or high expectations entering the season. Nonetheless, one or some combination of the three will need to play. As such, this will be a key thing to watch for fans heading into this season.

Upfront, Penn State will rely extensively on Watkins after he put up impressive numbers as a freshman. Behind Watkins will be another interesting battle. Moore returns for his redshirt senior season and Pierce joins the program after transferring in from Virginia Tech and sitting out the 2016-’17 season. It will be interesting to see how the backup minutes are dispersed at this position, but the two should be more than competent to fill the reserve role.

There might not be much drama heading into Penn State’s starting lineup for this season, but that’s a good thing for the Nittany Lions. The team has plenty of potential entering this season and it starts with a talented returning core.

9. Team Perspective From Eli Moreta-Feliz of Black Shoe Diaries

“Penn State doesn't usually find itself returning all five starters on from the prior season. Even more rare is the instance when those starters are actually good players across the board. The Nittany Lions have a great opportunity in front of them this season.

They have a weak enough out of conference schedule that wins will be had (anything from 11 to 13 wins is possible), and a conference schedule that, while not as easy as last season's is still forgiving enough to provide confidence to this team early. If Penn State can take last season's experiences and return more focused and ready to close out all the tough games, a 24-7, 13-5 record is within reach.

If we see some of the same problems we saw last season, we could be looking at a 21-10, 9-9 record. If disaster happens, and Penn State falls flat in conference play like they did in D.J. Newbill's senior season, it will be Chambers's last year as the Nittany Lions head coach.”

10. Overall Season Outlook

Predicting a breakthrough is not an easy task. Some teams manage to elevate themselves quickly, while others taken a longer (and often unsuccessful) route up the mountain. Anticipating how and when those climbs will occur is arguing the most challenging part of preseason predictions.

There is little debating that Penn State is hoping to make its breakthrough this season. While the Nittany Lions have improved under Chambers, the team has spent most of its time settle between underwhelming and mediocre. Chambers has only directed Penn State to one winning season in six years and the Nittany Lions still went 4-14 in conference play during that season. It hasn’t exactly been a fun run.

However, things clearly appear to be trending in the right direction. Chambers has recruited well and now returns one of the Big Ten’s more talented rosters, on paper. Carr and Stevens were top 100 prospects in 2016, Reaves and Watkins were top 100ish prospects in 2015, and those four are surrounded by some interesting role players. The pieces are all there and, unlike last year, these players are no longer freshmen trying to learn the college game.

But there’s still hesitation to buy in on this team. To start, it’s hard to look past Chambers’ 87–109 (.444) overall record with the program. Maybe times have changed (Penn State fans hope so), but that’s a really underwhelming performance over the course of six seasons. If you want some context on how long Chambers has been around, just remember that Tom Crean spent nine seasons at Indiana.

Simply put, it’s been awhile.

Moreover, one has to wonder about how much players like Carr, Stevens, and Watkins can improve on their performances last season. All three had really nice performances for freshmen, but we have seen plenty of great freshmen “level off” as upperclassmen. This is a huge test. The team also has to figure out how to improve its underwhelming shooting performance from last season.

All told, it’s hard not to like where Penn State is heading. The breakthrough should be coming at some point. However, I’m not sure it’s going this year. My guess is that fans will see more signs than last year, but Penn State will struggle with inconsistency thanks to its lackluster outside shooting.

Big Ten Prediction: 11th Place