Evaluating The Significance Of Mike Watkins’ Absence
Four-star power forward Mike Watkins was not cleared by the NCAA, and that cast a sense of doubt over a highly-anticipated freshman campaign. The Phelps School star is raw offensively, his ceiling is high, and his Big Ten-ready 6-foot-8, 245-pound frame had him primed to make an early impact in the post for the Lions.
For a program still riding the momentous wave of excitement that followed consecutive high-ranking recruiting hauls, this loss hurts, even if the 2015-16 season was meant to be another step in Chambers’ process. Nonetheless, Penn State sits at 2-0, staring down a relatively painless non-conference schedule before enduring the rigors of Big Ten play, meaning there’s still time to affirm its position in the standings — just as it did last season after firing off 10 straight victories en route to a 12-1 start. With Watkins gone from the lineup, returning starters will be counted on like never before as Penn State attempts to soldier on from unfortunate circumstances.
The Lions unveiled a small-ball lineup in their opener against VMI, utilizing the combination of shooting prowess and versatility found on the team’s roster. Penn State features a number of guards who can play multiple positions, as well as forwards like Payton Banks who reside on the wing. This tactic helps Chambers compensate for the team’s lack of muscle down low. For comparison, a team like UNC features six active players listed at 6-foot-8 and up, all but one weighing in north 0f 230 pounds. Penn State, on the other hand, features three players at 6-foot-8 and up without Watkins, with only two of those three players coming in at 230 and over.
Obviously, the two programs are on entirely different levels. The point is, losing a robust player like Watkins strips Penn State of much needed muscle, especially considering the team’s struggles on the offensive glass against conference opponents at times throughout last season. With such a staggering lack of bulk down low, expect Chambers to count on Jordan Dickerson like never before. At 7-foot-1, he’s the centerpiece in the paint, and he’ll be expected to play like the player he’s been hyped to be. Occasionally plagued by a wandering mind, Dickerson needs to refine his awareness and amp up his aggressiveness on the boards — especially when matched up against powerful centers.
Likewise, the development of Julian Moore will need to accelerate this season seeing as there’s now one less big man coming off the bench. Not to say that Chambers would’ve played Watkins over Moore frequently, but there’s an increased pressure to perform with a player like Watkins sidelined for the remainder of the season. While Moore is fully capable of lighting up the stat-sheet from beyond the arc, the loss of Watkins necessitates the big man to key in on his post game and become a presence in the paint.
Overall, Penn State will survive, and a redshirt year should benefit the inexperienced Watkins. Nonetheless, a sense of “what if” is felt in regards to what the blue-chip recruit could’ve accomplished in his first season as a Nittany Lion. Though he’ll be relegated to the sidelines for the remainder of the young season, there’s no reason to worry — Chambers and his unit will find a way to prevail.