The 2023-24 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2023-24 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.
Penn State made it back to the NCAA Tournament and then promptly watched the entire team leave in the following months, including head coach Micah Shrewsberry. Now former VCU head coach Mike Rhoades is hoping to rebuild the Nittany Lions on the fly, relying heavily on the transfer portal to fill up basically the entire roster after he was left with four players remaining with the team.
1. 2022-23 Season Performance
- Record: 23-14 (10-10, 9th in Big Ten)
- KenPom ranking: 36th
- NET ranking: 48th
- Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round
At one point things weren’t looking particularly good for Penn State as a four game skid had them sitting at 14-11 and 5-9 in the conference. They turned things around at the right time, however, closing the season on a 5-1 run before winning three games in the Big Ten Tournament and only losing to Purdue by two points in the title game. When everything was said and done Penn State made it to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in around 20 years.
Micah Shrewsberry had an experienced team that was based around Jalen Pickett and a medley of players that could shoot lights out and Penn State actually fielded a highly entertaining team to watch throughout the season. They took that late season success and won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2001 when they knocked off Texas A&M by 17 points. They ultimately fell a bit short in the second round versus 2 seeded Texas, a game in which they came back to take the lead before going ice cold over the last several minutes.
2. Offseason exits
- G Jalen Pickett (17.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 6.6 apg)
- F Seth Lundy (14.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.9 apg)
- G Andrew Funk (12.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 1.1 apg)
- G Camren Wynter (8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2 apg)
- G Myles Dread (5.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 0.9 apg)
- F Kebba Njie (3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
- F Evan Mahaffey (2.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
- F Michael Henn (2.4 ppg, 1.1 rpg)
- G Caleb Dorsey (2.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
- G Dallion Johnson (2ppg, 0.7 rpg)
After the best Penn State season in years the Nittany Lions essentially get to start completely over. Literally. Gone from last years roster is a whopping 95% of the scoring and basically every key player that led Penn State back to the NCAA Tournament. Even head coach Micah Shrewsberry is gone after Penn State didn’t immediately lock him up and promptly lost Shrewsberry to Notre Dame.
A Penn State team that was fun to watch and could shoot lights out is entirely gone this year, including star Jalen Pickett and sharpshooter Seth Lundy. The resulting departures effectively forced new head coach Mike Rhoades to rebuild the team on the fly through the transfer portal in around two months to lock down a roster.
3. New Additions
- SG D’Marco Dunn (North Carolina - 2.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg)
- C Favour Aire (Miami - 0.6 ppg, 0.6 rpg)
- PG RayQuawndis Mitchell (Missouri-Kansas City - 17.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)
- PF Leo O’Boyle (Lafayette - 11.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
- C Qudus Wahab (Georgetown - 9.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
- SF Puff Johnson (North Carolina - 4.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
- SF Zach Hicks (Temple - 9.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 apg)
- SF Nick Kern (VCU - 5.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.8 apg)
- PG Ace Baldwin (VCU - 12.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.8 apg)
- G Bragi Gudmundsson (unranked)
Mike Rhoades effectively rebuilt the Nittany Lions on the fly through the portal and it remains to be seen how that will play out. The most obvious gets in the portal were Ace Baldwin and Nick Kern, both of which followed Rhoades from his previous tenure at VCU. Also of note is a somewhat familiar face in Qudus Wahab, a center from Georgetown that previously spent some time in the conference at Maryland as well.
Rhoades also added a pair of former Tar Heels (Puff Johnson, D’Marco Dunn) that will look to have a bit more success outside of North Carolina. Guys like Zach Hicks and Leo O’Boyle are stretch fours that lit it up behind the arc at their previous schools and should hopefully give Penn State some much needed perimeter shooting. Miami transfer Favour Aire didn’t play much at his previous school but should add some depth to the frontcourt.
One of the more interesting players to watch is RayQuawndis Mitchell, a high volume guard that averaged over 17 points per game. He can get to the rim and is capable of shooting from beyond the arc, but he was also an inefficient volume shooter and highly turnover prone. There’s some much needed playmaking ability but it’ll be curious to see how it translates to the Big Ten.
4. Points of Optimism
There are some potential pieces here that could make Penn State an entertaining team with some potential.
First off is the addition of Ace Baldwin and Nick Kern, both of which stared at VCU under Mike Rhoades. They give Rhoades two familiar faces to immediately plug in the starting lineup and should prove to be a solid foundation to build around. Likewise, Wahab has spent time at both Georgetown and Maryland and should do fine at the starting five. Even Hicks and O’Boyle provide some intrigue as they were more than capable of shooting from outside and are effectively stretch fours.
There’s basically no recruiting class for 2023, with the lone commit being Bragi Gudmundsson. While that could cause problems in the near future (and likely more reliance on the transfer portal), Rhoades did a decent job of landing some potential pieces here. Even Dunn and Johnson were former four-star recruits that will look to return to form now that they left North Carolina.
5. Points of Concern
There’s always going to be concern when you lose 95% of your scoring from the last season. Likewise, there’s always going to be concern when your team is effectively built on the fly through the portal. There are always possible chemistry issues from the portal and Rhoades inheriting a roster of four guys meant he needed to find players that fit his system and wanted to be at Penn State while not having much time to be picky on who he brought in.
Rhoades largely covered most of the needs Penn State had but a lot of the players coming in either spent time playing against mid-majors or were major program recruits that disappointed. There’s a few better portal additions, but there’s no guy that stands out as a potential playmaker like Pickett and most opposing Big Ten teams probably aren’t particularly scared about what Penn State brings to the table this year.
6. Top Player
The most certain player on the roster is probably Ace Baldwin Jr., a senior point guard that followed Rhoades over from VCU. In his junior season Baldwin averaged 12.7 points, 5.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. His ability to distribute the ball and run the point was impressive while he’s shown the ability to also shoot from outside, hitting 34.2% of his threes last season.
Baldwin was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year and his familiarity with Rhoades should allow him to understand the system and what his coach wants to run. His ability to both run the point and be a lockdown defender is Penn State’s best asset heading into the 2023-24 season.
7. 2022-23 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/6 - Delaware State
- 11/10 - Lehigh
- 11/14 - St. Francis (Pa.)
- 11/17 - Morehead State
- 11/23 - Texas A&M (ESPN Events Invitational)
- 11/24 - Butler/Florida Atlantic (ESPN Events Invitational)
- 11/26 - Iowa State / VCU / Boise State / Virginia Tech (ESPN Events Invitational)
- 12/2 - Bucknell
- 12/16 - Georgia Tech (Madison Square Garden)
- 12/21 - Le Moyne
- 12/29 - Rider
The non-conference schedule is a bit of a sore spot for the Nittany Lions. On one hand it provides the opportunity to rack up plenty of wins. On the other hand the non-conference SOS isn’t going to be great and if they’re on the bubble in March it won’t be much of an asset. The highlight is their involvement in the ESPN Events Invitational where they start the tourney off with a rematch against Texas A&M after dropping them in the NCAA Tournament last year. A second game against Butler or Florida Atlantic is also promising while their third game has a wide variety of interesting options, including possibly drawing VCU. The only other game of note is one against Georgia Tech set to take place at Madison Square Garden.
- 12/6 - at Maryland
- 12/9 - Ohio State
- 1/4 - at Michigan State
- 1/7 - Michigan
- 1/10 - Northwestern
- 1/13 - at Purdue
- 1/16 - Wisconsin
- 1/20 - at Ohio State
- 1/27 - Minnesota
- 1/31 - at Rutgers
- 2/3 - at Indiana
- 2/8 - Iowa
- 2/11 - at Northwestern
- 2/14 - Michigan State
- 2/17 - at Nebraska
- 2/21 - Illinois
- 2/24 - Indiana
- 2/27 - at Iowa
- 3/2 - at Minnesota
- 3/10 - Maryland
Penn State didn’t draw a great start to conference play, with a road test at Maryland and home outing against Ohio State to tip things off early December. January isn’t much better with four of their first five games including road trips to Michigan State and Purdue while hosting Michigan and Wisconsin. Even a home game against Northwestern and road trip to Ohio State won’t be easy.
Penn State does benefit from facing Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin only once this season.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Ace Baldwin Jr.
- SG: Kanye Clary
- SF: Nick Kern
- PF: Zach Hicks
- C: Qudus Wahab
Like plenty of other teams heading into the season, this is likely set to change numerous times throughout the year. While this was the starting lineup for their exhibition game against Robert Morris, the team was without several players including Leo O’Boyle and Puff Johnson.
There’s a few locks here with Ace Baldwin Jr. being the guy at the point and Qudus Wahab being the most experienced big man on a team with a relatively thin frontcourt. Nick Kern followed Rhoades from VCU and while his stat line doesn’t really pop out, he does a lot of the little things and knows the system to the point where it’d be a surprise if he fell out of the starting lineup.
At the four spot Rhoades will likely turn to Zach Hicks or the previously mentioned O’Boyle as he considers both to be solid stretch fours and their ability to shoot should provide Penn State with some much needed offense. The other guard spot is relatively wide open, with both Kanye Clary and D’Marco Dunn set to see some minutes early in the season when trying to establish the starting lineup. RayQuawndis Mitchell and Puff Johnson also have some potential to earn larger roles if they can produce at a consistent level.
9. Overall Season Outlook
It’s safe to say that this years Penn State program likely isn’t heading back to the NCAA Tournament. Rhoades is a good coach and he has some solid pieces but the team being essentially built in less than two months through the portal doesn’t create much optimism.
We’ve seen teams that have tried (and failed) to build through the portal, with Nebraska coming to mind as Fred Hoiberg has routinely hit the portal hard. There’s not all that much separating the bottom three schools in the league this year, with Penn State and Minnesota likely fighting to see who can stay out of the basement. Rhoades ability to take a pair of VCU starters with him should provide just enough to help Penn State win a few games this year, but it’s hard to see them not finishing near the bottom in 2024.
Big Ten Prediction: 13th Place