Three games into its season and the storylines are a-plenty for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
With that in mind, I fired up the ol’ Twitter thingamabob (no word explains the complexities of Twitter quite like thingamabob) and sifted through a sea of hot takes to find out what people are saying about the blue-and-white.
And with so many of the aforementioned takes being extra spicy, I deemed it necessary to run them through the fact-or-fiction machine to see what holds up.
We’d have beaten DePaul if we had Mike Watkins: FICTION
One thing I’ve noticed a week into the season is Penn State basketball fans using the absence of redshirt junior Mike Watkins as a panacea scapegoat for all that ails the Lions.
There’s no doubt getting the talented forward back into the lineup would be a big boost for Pat Chambers, especially when considering Penn State’s anemic frontcourt rotation and its 122-110 rebounding disadvantage through three games.
But it doesn’t take a detective to suss out that the Lions’ biggest issues aren’t being solved by an interior upgrade. Or that at 2-1, Penn State’s record has done a nice job of mitigating some crucial concerns that’ll need solved as the season progresses.
What do I mean?
Well, as things stand right now, the Lions shooting percentage (42.2 percent) currently ranks 12th in the Big Ten, while its 3-point percentage (33.7 percent) is only slightly better, placing the Lions 10th in the conference.
Watkins might help up that overall shooting percentage a few points or so, but an apt shooter from range he is not.
Looking past stats, Penn State really struggled to penetrate with its guard play against DePaul on Thursday night and Watkins absolutely isn’t helping improve there. And if Penn State wanted to rectify that by getting an inside-out game going, Watkins doesn’t have a track record of being a plus distributor with the basketball, averaging less than an assist per game in his Penn State career.
At the end of the day, does getting Watkins back in the lineup make the Lions better? Absolutely. No one is arguing that.
But I’d caution anyone expecting Penn State to take off upon Watkins’ return to pump the breaks justtttt a little. Sure, he’ll help but a lot of the issues plaguing the Lions may still be around.
Rasir Bolton should start at the point over Jamari Wheeler/We might actually be better without Tony Carr: FICTION
I’m rolling these two into one, as they relate back to each another.
Clicking through Twitter exposes one to a series of knee jerk reactions and reckless musings. After starting his Penn State career shooting 11-for-19, including 6-for-11 from distance, for a total of 38 points, no hot take was spewed more by Penn Staters that an unbridled passion to hand the keys to the Lions’ offense over to freshmen Rasir Bolton.
I was skeptical of Rasir entering the year, if only because he looked too small to play a major role as a freshmen. But I was super wrong. The dude can ball and Jamari Wheeler's grasp on the starting point guard spot is shaky at best. https://t.co/97dmctD5Fo— Eric Leisure (@Eric_PSU) November 13, 2018
What an idiot @Eric_PSU is!
Bolton’s stock came plummeting back to earth Thursday night, as he went 0-for-10 from the field, failed to get to the line, and picked up four personal fouls while committing four turnovers. He also missed a fairly open layup at the end of regulation that would have allowed the Lions to escape Chicago with an important November win.
So yeah, Wheeler’s hold on the starting point guard spot looks to be just fine.
And that, in and of itself, is a bit of a problem too.
For as good as Tony Carr was in his two seasons at Penn State, there’s been this weird subsection of Lions’ fans that have downplayed the significant role he played on last year’s NIT Championship team.
To that point, more than a handful of individuals suggested that Penn State would be markedly better in 2018-’19 because Carr left and not in spite of his departure. That rationale typically revolves around Carr’s struggles as a defender and his propensity to play hero ball. But after the first three games of this year, is there anyone who wouldn’t want Tony to be on this team?
In his defense, Wheeler has been a plus-defender for Penn State and is a real headache for opposing ballhandlers. But any excitement for his ascension to a larger role included the caveat that he’d improve on his dismal offensive contributions as a freshmen— a year that saw the feisty guard produce a negative offensive win share.
The good news for Penn State is that Wheeler has improved on that offensive win share figure! The bad news? It’s still in the negative, moving from -0.2 to -0.1.
The Lions cannot survive the year with a blackhole of production at the point guard position. Despite how badly Bolton struggled against DePaul, he remained in Chambers’ crunch time lineup, which says much more about Wheeler than it does Bolton.
Someone needs to step up for Penn State as Tony Carr isn’t walking through that door.
Losing to DePaul is actually a good thing: FACT-ISH
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Penn State drops a tough game it probably should have won. Pat Chambers takes the mic at the postgame press conference and says the words “young”, “progress”, and “climb” in some order. The same thing happens again and the process repeats itself for eternity until we’re all dead.
Removing the hyperbole that last paragraph is dripping in, the Nittany Lions have played this game before:
Albany 87 — Penn State 81
Michigan 72 — Penn State 69
Indiana 78 — Penn State 75
Indiana 110 — Penn State 102
Rutgers 70 — Penn State 68
Purdue 74 — Penn State 70
Ohio State 71 — Penn State 70
N.C. State 85 — Penn State 78
Wisconsin 64 — Penn State 63
Rider 71 — Penn State 70
Maryland 75 — Penn State 69
Indiana 74 — Penn State 70
Minnesota 95 — Penn State 84
Purdue 76 — Penn State 73
(For the record: I left a few games off this list that absolutely could have made it, oh, and THAT’S JUST THE LAST TWO SEASONS!)
To his credit, Chambers isn’t exactly wrong that putting young players in tough situations — win or lose — can have lasting positive effects. That’s why you could argue it made sense to stay with Rasir Bolton despite his struggles; although, can someone please check to make sure Myreon Jones is still alive?
But it’s tougher to keep selling these close loses as a net-positive when the trend continues. As it was laid out above, Penn State doesn’t exactly have a great track record of turning early season heartbreak into NCAA Tournament bid earning fuel.
To get Penn State to where many think it can get this year, however, that’s exactly what Thursday’s loss at DePaul will need to become.