Signs Of Progress Key For Penn State Hoops In 2015-16 Season
Heading into the 2015-16 season, it’s safe to say that expectations were not all that high for Penn State, even if our staff was higher on the Nittany Lions than most. National media outlets like CBS and BTN both had Chambers’ squad finishing 13th in the Big Ten, another lowly finish for a program that’s only been to the NCAA Tournament twice since the start of the 21st Century.
I’m not sure anyone would argue that this season was a massive success, but a 16-16 record with a 10th place finish in-conference during a rebuilding year shows that progress is being made. From an outside perspective, it may be difficult to comprehend how another tournament-less season could be looked at positively, but that’s the current state of Penn State’s program.
There were plenty of black marks this season — losing to Duquesne and Radford certainly come to mind — and a 2-8 start in the Big Ten didn’t ease the minds of fans either, but plenty of good complemented the bad. The Nittany Lions notched upset victories over No. 22 Indiana and No. 4 Iowa — two wins that restored some hope in a season that looked like a lost cause. Unfortunately, Penn State couldn’t capitalize on the momentum, faltering down the stretch and finishing the season 1-3 before bowing out of the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State.
Unsurprisingly, Shep Garner continued his development into one of the more dangerous scoring guards the Lions have had in recent memory. The Philadelphia product improved all facets of his game, seeing his scoring increase from 9.2 to 14.8 points per game and upping his three-point shooting percentage from 33.7 percent to 36.6 percent.
Brandon Taylor was the team’s most tangible example of change after a stellar final season in Happy Valley. The senior averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and played perhaps the biggest role in Penn State’s surprising season. Sophomore Payton Banks also made tremendous strides, transitioning from a role-playing position to a more integral starting role, averaging a respectable 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds that he hopes to build upon.
Both Taylor and Banks can be pointed to as evidence that Chambers and his coaching staff can develop players, allowing them to reach their potential on the court. In some ways, it’s a needed reminder that Chambers is more than just a strong recruiter and motivator.
The loss of Taylor, Donovon Jack, and Devin Foster will sting, but reinforcements are well on their way. UConn transfer Terrence Samuel will be eligible, and should vie for a spot in the starting five. Meanwhile, freshman big man Mike Watkins will make his return to the court after regaining his eligibility and will be expected to play big minutes up front.
The 2016 recruiting class figures to be one of the best in recent memory and its members will be tasked with carrying the torch. Philadelphia Roman Catholic four-stars Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens will join the Nittany Lions, along with three-stars Nazeer Bostick and Joe Hampton to make up Penn State’s future. There certainly could be a learning curve for the freshmen, but make no mistake, Carr and Stevens will play primary roles for the Nittany Lions next season.
It’s fair to question the job Chambers has done. He even said himself in a press conference after the Iowa upset that things haven’t always been easy, and that it gets frustrating to constantly be waiting for the future. But this season, really more than any previous year, showed that things are moving in the right direction. Without a bonafide star like Tim Frazier or D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions found a way to keep their heads above water. For a lot of programs, that isn’t enough. But for a Penn State program that is being built from essentially the ground up, it’s proof that better days are ahead.