Wednesday night’s loss to George Mason was the last glimpse of the Nittany Lions (6-4) we will get to see at the BJC before the end of the semester. Pat Chambers made a number of different changes for the season, and they’ve come with pros and cons. By the time students arrive back in State College, Penn State will be in the midst of Big Ten Play. So let’s take a look at what we’ve seen up to this point in the season.
The New Offense And Chambers’ 80 Points Per Game Goal
The up-tempo style has been a welcome change to the possession-based game the Nittany Lions played last season. No, Penn State hasn’t yet lived up to Chambers’ idea that the team should be scoring 80 points a game, though. It’s averaging 71.7 points per game with its last 80-point effort coming against Grand Canyon in the third game of the season.
Still, there are a ton of positives with the new offense. It looks fluid, flashy, and potentially dangerous. The biggest issue? An up-tempo offense is usually characterized by full-court play and fast breaks. Penn State’s offense gets stuck too much in a half-court set, which slows down the tempo like it did against George Mason on Wednesday where the team only had two fast-break points.
The problem, according to Chambers, lies more with the defense not getting stops and transitioning to get to the quick offense in motion.
“On fast breaks we need to get stops and turn them over and then we get easy baskets,” Chambers said. “[George Mason] played four good guards and they took care of the basketball because they didn’t get sped up. We need to speed teams up a little bit.”
The Freshman Class
Penn State might not always be getting the results, but the freshman class is living up to some lofty expectations. If you include redshirt freshman Mike Watkins, the team has five in the class — three of which played at Shep Garner’s high school, Roman Catholic.
Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Watkins are consistently in the starting five, while Nazeer Bostick has seen decent minutes off the bench.
Stevens is averaging 12.5 points per game to begin his Penn State career, second only to Shep Garner this season. Carr leads the team with 3.7 assists per game and Watkins has been a force in the paint on the defensive end — accumulating 35 blocks already through 10 games — good for sixth in the country.
The biggest issue with the rookies is just youth (understandably). It’s the beginning of their college careers and there will be situations where that experience that drove the team last year will lack. This is a team that’s building for the future.
“What I would say is that I can’t make my freshmen sophomores and I can’t make my freshmen juniors,” Chambers said after the loss to George Mason. “This is a process and we are in the thick of this process. For four games, we have masked some of our weaknesses and tonight when you play against a little bit of an older team with two seniors, it showed our weaknesses. We have to continue to work and come back to practice tomorrow and get better.”
The Low Post
Chambers said before the season he’s not concerned with the lack of size and depth on Penn State’s low post. Without a true center and just two big-men type forwards eligible on the roster, Penn State was going to have to come up with a smaller game plan for the season.
The Nittany Lions are losing the battle on the boards by 4.1 rebounds a game — leaving them ranked No. 299 of 347 teams in Division 1. Points in the paint isn’t looking much better with Penn State often settling for outside looks in its half-court set.
Mike Watkins has been a bright spot, as noted before with his defensive presence in the paint. But when the Nittany Lions face teams with more size from the Big Ten, they will run in to problems if the up-tempo offense isn’t producing fast break looks and easy points as is its intention.
The Nittany Lions still have some basketball to play before the conference slate. They head to Newark, New Jersey for a showdown with Pitt on Saturday before getting a game with St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on December 18.