With a new college basketball season approaching, BTPowerhouse will continue to preview the 2017-18 season. This time, a look at several major questions for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Penn State was all over the map last season. That fact revealed itself in their first game of the season - a home loss to Albany. Eight days later they played then top ranked Duke close before losing out 78-68. A win over Georgia Tech was nice in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but two weeks later the Nittany Lions were blown out at home by George Mason.
In all, Penn State tallied a 15-18 mark and 6-12 in the Big Ten. What do they need to do this season to improve? Take a look at three of the biggest questions for Penn State as the new season approaches.
Three Questions for Penn State:
1. Is Tony Carr Ready For The Next Level?
One of the biggest jumps in ability for college players is often between their freshman and sophomore season’s. For Penn State fans, a continued rise from Tony Carr could mean taking a Penn State basketball program to new heights.
Carr was excellent last season averaging 13.2 points per game and earning Big Ten All-Freshman honors. He can stand to be more efficient this season, and a jump in three-point shooting percentage could be helpful (32 percent last season). Still, it looks like Penn State has yet another good score-first point guard in the program, and they’ve excelled with getting this type of player over the years.
2. Can Mike Watkins Rule The Paint?
Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch broke onto the Big Ten’s scene last season by averaging 3.5 blocks per game and winning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Can sophomore Mike Watkins do the same this year for Penn State?
Watkins’ freshman campaign was impressive averaging 9.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. He improved throughout the year, and saved some of his best basketball for late in the year - putting up three double-doubles over the last six games.
Lynch is still the inside favorite to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year, but if Watkins can be more consistent, people will start to recognize how good he is. An All-Defensive Team selection is well within reach. Penn State was nearly a top 50 KenPom defense last season, and with a strong season from Watkins this year, that is well within reach.
3. Is This The Year For A Breakthrough for Pat Chambers?
This seems like the question with Chambers every season. The Penn State head man is entering his seventh season in Happy Valley, but his ceiling has always been within the 16-18 win range with 6-7 of those wins coming in Big Ten play.
Can this year be different?
The arguments for a breakthrough are that Penn State returns five of their six top scorers from last year, and their core group of Carr, Lamar Stephens and Watkins are all sophomores this season and look ahead of schedule. In the years that Chambers has been coach, a core group with this much talent and potential has alluded him.
I hate to say it again, but it still feels like Penn State is a year away from competing for an NCAA tournament bid. Expect to see improvement this season and an increased win total, especially given their weaker non-conference schedule. Their Big Ten draw is not daunting either. An NIT bid looks certainly to be in play.
The Nittany Lions will sneak up on some people this season, but after seven years coach Pat Chambers needs more consistency to remain in the position. He has a nice young core to build with and this season needs to be an improvement. If not Penn State may start to think about something else after his contract expires in 2019.