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Big Ten Basketball Look Ahead to 2022-23: Penn State Nittany Lions

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 10 Big Ten Tournament - Penn State v Ohio State Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The look ahead continues today for BT Powerhouse as we take a look at the Penn State Nittany Lions and the questions around that program as it enters year two of the Micah Shrewsberry era.

Who will step up in 2022-23?

Penn State most definitely saw a net gain rather than loss this year in the transfer portal. However, part of that was also by necessity as a group of key players such as John Harrar to graduation and Sam Sessoms to the transfer portal.

One player not in the question mark column for the Nittany Lions is Jalen Pickett, though. Pickett led the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and assists (4.4 apg) while adding 4.3 rpg. By the end of the season, he was a capable floor general leading the offense for PSU and returns for a fifth year.

Complementing the guard play should likely come from Andrew Funk (Bucknell) and Camren Wynter (Drexel). Funk earned All-Patriot League honors last season while averaging 17.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. Wynter earned first-team All-CAA last season while averaging 15.8 points, and 5.3 rebounds. and 4.6 assists per game. Both should prove valuable additions despite the higher level of competition in the Big Ten.

As for the front court, however, that is where the big question mark rests for Penn State. With Harrar and Greg Lee gone, the Nittany Lions lack an experienced center on the roster this season. However, with players like Myles Dread back and Evan Mahaffey in as a freshman to play at the forward position, the squad may still find enough to overcome that shortcoming. At the end of the day, though, Denver transfer and seventh-year senior Michael Henn will be needed for Penn State as well. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game last season and could provide important minutes for PSU.

Will reseating noticeably impact home advantage?

Penn State consistently ranks at the bottom (or in the mix) of the Big Ten for home-court advantage. Often times the Bryce Jordan Center is jokingly referred to as a mausoleum due to its poor attendance and lack of an intimidating home crowd compared to its Big Ten “peers.”

The athletic administration is well aware of this problem and has made moves to try and improve aspects of the atmosphere before with the addition to features such as curtains covering up the empty upper deck. For the 2022-23 season, the program announced in late June that season ticket holders would have to select new seats as the arena would be shuffled around in an effort to improve the game day experience.

The biggest change will be the relocation of the student section behind the home and visiting team benches wrapped around behind the baskets. If the move has even a marginal improvement in the game day experience and impact the crowd has on the visiting team, then it will be well worth it considering how truly bad compared to the rest of the Big Ten Penn State’s home arena is.

Will Penn State make the NCAA Tournament in 2023?

Penn State currently holds the longest active drought in the Big Ten for qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. While unfortunate in that PSU would have qualified in 2020, that doesn’t change the fact that the Nittany Lions have not participated in the tournament since 2011 compared to second longest drought Nebraska in 2014.

At this point, it is difficult to tell in part because the full schedule, including non-conference, still has not been released yet. For now, fans only know that Butler visits University Park on Nov. 14 as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games and Penn State travels to Clemson Nov. 29 for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

In between the Nittany Lions open the Charleston Classic against Furman on Nov. 17, then could face either Old Dominion or Virginia Tech in game two. Then from there it could be any of Colorado State, South Carolina, Davidson, or College of Charleston for the final matchup.

As for Big Ten action, it is a helpful draw for opponent pairings that PSU only faces Michigan State and Indiana at home. It also is beneficial that Nebraska is a double-play opponent. However, road games at Ohio State along with having to face Illinois, Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin twice is going to make things difficult.

At this point, just looking at the league pairings, a bid for the 2023 NCAA Tournament seems less than likely. Still, there is a reason teams play the games. This squad is serviceable enough that Penn State might just snap the drought.