Staff Predictions: How Penn State Hoops Will Fare In 2015-16
It’s a (football) bye week, which means this Friday’s staff predictions are basketball-centric. The season tips off Saturday at 1 p.m. against VMI, which in turn begins a similar non-conference schedule to last season. After that is 18 games against elite Big Ten teams. Penn State went 18-16 last year, but lost the incredible DJ Newbill to graduation. How will the team respond this season?
Penn State men’s basketball comes in with a fantastic class and an even more promising future. This team will be improved from last year with guys like true freshman Josh Reaves and redshirt freshman Isaiah Washington joining the team. They both will provide a lot excitement and points, but more importantly, they will learn a lot this year.
Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson come in as the senior leaders, and Shep Garner comes in as possibly the team leader as a sophomore. There’s no question this team has a ton of leadership on it, and Head Coach Pat Chambers is ready for those leaders to lead this team to great things.
With such a highly anticipated team, the record may not look so promising. However, it’s important to look to the very near future for this team. Josh Reaves and Isaiah Washington will learn a lot. Shep Garner will develop as a leader. The class of 2016 is phenomenal.
Is this the year the Nittany Lions find their way back to the NCAA Tournament? Possibly. But by next year, this team will make a run in March, and you can count on that. The future starts now for Penn State men’s basketball, and it will definitely be an exciting season.
Season prediction: 18-13
Penn State finished last season with a paltry 18-16 record that included only four conference wins. The Nittany Lions may not even break .500 this season, and may struggle to win four conference games, but that’s okay. This year, in all intents and purposes, isn’t as much of a rebuilding year as it is a “hang on and wait until the program’s best-ever recruiting class gets on campus next season” kind of year.
Faced with the loss of DJ Newbill, the Nittany Lions return few proven leaders. Shep Garner, Brandon Taylor, and Jordan Dickerson all feature experience, but also inconsistency. Newcomers Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins, as well as redshirt freshman Isaiah Washington provide promise, though will likely need this season to develop.
Fortunately for Penn State, its pre-conference season, much like last year in which it went 12-1, is not terribly difficult. Winnable tests against Bucknell at home and away at George Washington and Boston College will provide a good metric for the team’s potential.
But the Big Ten will hit this squad like a train. It begins with back-to-back road games against No. 3 Maryland and No. 25 Michigan, and won’t let up – half the conference is in the preseason top 25. The Lions are picked to finished second to last in the 14-team Big Ten, and another four-win conference season won’t be the letdown of last year, but instead a likely reality.
Season prediction: 16-15 (4-14 B1G)
Last season’s 12-1 start was pretty obviously a result of an easy schedule, but at the time it was hard to contain premature excitement. Pat Chambers is the rare type of coach that you tend to suspend reality for. The illusion dissolved after the Nittany Lions suffered disappointing (4-14) Big Ten play. The close-call games were almost unbearable to watch, and it wasn’t just in my melodramatic head. Penn State lost 11 conference games by 10 points or fewer last season. Although this felt brutal last year, it lays a certain foundation of close game experience that could prove valuable this season.
The biggest challenge the team faces is DJ Newbill’s absence. There’s no getting around it: he scored more than double any other player did. He was usually where he needed to be when it counted, and a player like that is irreplaceable. Hopefully the rest of the team can use the void he and Geno Thorpe leave as a chance to flourish and develop without a crutch, and I don’t think this is out of the question.
We need to be patient. Chambers is focused on a long-term rebuild, and the 2015-16 season is caught in the crossfire. For a successful season, there’s no room for steps backward or even standing still. Veterans Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner need to be much more than just relics of the Newbill era, they need to play a more efficient game and prepare to lead an inexperienced team. Jordan Dickerson can’t let up. Freshman shooting guard Josh Reaves harbors exciting potential, but potential means nothing without a platform to execute.
The loss of Newbill, Thorpe, and Ross Travis takes an inevitable hit on optimism. The transitional vibe of this season doesn’t help. But maybe the slew of new faces will spark a chemistry that allows Penn State to turn close losses into wins. At the risk of falling victim to Chambers’ charm, I think Penn State will beat last year’s 18-16 record, and I think it will improve in Big Ten play.
Season prediction: 19-12
First, let’s talk about the positives. Sophomore Shep Garner and freshman Josh Reaves will be fun to watch. They’re both young, so the inexperience will show at times, but their talent can’t be denied. The Nittany Lions may not win a ton of games, but when they do, you can be sure either Garner or Reaves — or a combination of both — played a big part in the victory.
I believe Penn State basketball is headed in the right direction, but this season will be unkind to the Nittany Lions. Sure, the program has shown exponential growth since Chambers’ first season at the helm, but without D.J. Newbill this year, it’d be irrational to conclude that Penn State will be a better team in 2015-16. Newbill is an irreplaceable player, and at this point in time, the Nittany Lions just don’t have the pieces to overcome such a significant loss.
This is going to be a difficult season to watch, but Penn State fans must know brighter days are ahead. It’s been a slow rebuild, so what’s one more season of despair when you know the promised land is on the horizon?
Season prediction: 12-19
Yes, this take might lean on the optimistic side, but it’s definitely feasible when you consider the talent Penn State acquired this offseason. Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins, two ultra-talented freshman, figure to lead the charge and become the focal point of Pat Chambers’ master plan.
Remember now, Penn State is not Kentucky by any stretch of the imagination, so the youngsters will need to rely on veteran support that should be provided by guys like Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor. Unlike last season, this year’s offensive production will come from a by-committee approach rather than having the team structured around one superstar. That superstar, DJ Newbill is gone, and until that next star player steps up, the team really has no other option.
While there’s plenty to look forward to in 2015-16, expect much of the same when it comes to season results — give or take a few wins here or there. The Lions once again begin the season with a cupcake non-conference schedule featuring the likes of VMI, Radford, and Eastern Michigan. What follows is a brutal Big Ten schedule featuring home match-ups against Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
Overall, the team will be exciting to watch, and growth should be evident in both the team’s production and on-court chemistry. A trip to the Big Dance is a stretch, but it’s more realistic than last season.
Season prediction: 20-14