Penn State men’s basketball forward Mike Watkins has been the standout of the Nittany Lions’ first half of the season.
Coming off a 15-point/15-rebound double-double — his fourth of the season — to help Penn State knock off No. 24 Minnesota for its first win against a ranked opponent this season, Watkins is starting to receive some national attention for his contributions to the surging Nittany Lions.
Averaging 10.3 points per game — fifth best on the team currently — he’s made an impact in sort of a secondary role with this team, especially with his contributions coming off the bench in recent weeks.
Still, the 6’9 redshirt freshman is just one of the two true big men on the roster (the other being junior Julian Moore). Watkins success has come in that role on the one-man low post, making him the focal point of any play in the paint.
He leads the team in rebounds per game with 8.8 and blocks with 50 — averaging out to 2.8 a game through 18 games this season.
In just his first year of action, Watkins is living up to, or even surpassing, the player coach Pat Chambers built him up to be when he informed that his incoming forward would have to sit out the 2015-16 season.
While he’s been a success for the Nittany Lions, how does his play stack up against the likes of others in the Big Ten and around the nation?
Watkins made his name known in the Bryce Jordan Center on night one with his ability as a shot blocker — recording three stuffs within minutes of tipoff and finishing with five total. He peaked during the St. John’s matchup on December 18 as the No. 4 blocker in the country.
Currently he’s the No. 12 shot blocker in the country and the top freshman — leading the next closest first-year player, Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, by nine blocks total.
In conference, Watkins is second in this category to Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch — the nation’s fourth-best blocker with 54.
As stated earlier, Watkins is just one of two true big men on this roster. Most of the responsibility on the boards is going to come down to him if he’s the primary big man in the lineup. He’s fared well with the bulk of the load, putting up respectable numbers in this category as well.
Nationally, he clocks in as No. 58 in the category. Among freshmen though, he’s second to only UCLA’s TJ Leaf — who leads Watkins by just 0.1 rebound a game.
Watkins has the fourth-most boards in the Big Ten and is third-best in grabbing defensive rebounds in the conference.
While he’s only fifth on the team in scoring, Watkins is still averaging more than 10 points a game. This has set him up on a bigger rebounding days to secure those four double-doubles.
He became the first Big Ten freshman since 2003 to record at least three double-doubles in a game.
While his numbers didn’t crack the top 100 among all players nationally, Watkins is currently tied for third in the nation for a freshman. He is also tied for sixth among all players in a conference that features Naismith watch list forward Caleb Swanigan — the nation’s No. 2 in double-doubles with 14.