Penn State Hoops’ Big Men Remain A Question Mark For 2018-2019

Four out of five position groups look solid for Penn State men’s basketball heading into the 2018-19 season, but that one outlier is a big sore spot: The Nittany Lions are in desperate need of depth at the center position.

There’s a youth movement at the guard positions for Pat Chambers’ squad, but impressive recruiting in the backcourt and an excellent performance against No. 13 West Virginia in preseason play looks like it’ll be enough to make up for the departures of both Shep Garner and Tony Carr. 

Led by Lamar Stevens and Josh Reaves, Penn State’s forwards are among the best in the Big Ten. Stevens could even be a first-team All-Big Ten choice when all is said and done.

At the center spot, all we can do is scratch our heads. Mike Watkins has been tremendous in his first two seasons as a starter in Happy Valley. He averaged 12.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game and shot 68.5 percent from the field last season. Watkins’ size and athleticism inside makes the Philadelphia native a problem on both sides of the ball.

But Watkins missed the entire Big Ten Tournament and NIT last season after sustaining a leg injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season against Michigan. And although he’s healthy again, he’s been suspended indefinitely after legal troubles over the summer and this semester.

The uncertain return for Watkins would be manageable if Satchel Pierce were available. Pierce, a 7’0″ transfer from Virginia Tech, hasn’t seen a whole lot of playing time for Chambers. Last season, he averaged only 7.2 minutes per game compared to Watkins’ 26.3. Pierce shot just 32.4 percent from the field, but his size would prove useful with Watkins out. 

But, Pierce will miss the entire slate of games that take place in the fall semester due to academic ineligibility. Although he hasn’t been a major part of the equation in his time at Penn State, Pierce will likely factor in much more with the graduation of big man Julian Moore when the spring semester comes around.

Without both Watkins and Pierce, John Harrar will likely shoulder the load inside. Standing in at 6’9″ and 243 pounds, Harrar has the size to be a force in the paint. He saw his playing time explode last season, averaging 19.2 minutes per game in the NIT, after Watkins went down with the knee injury.

Harrar is a rebounding machine — he pulled down 12 boards against Utah in the NIT championship game. He also notched four offensive rebounds against Marquette, Mississippi State, and the Utes. He’s not necessarily a scoring machine, but his strength inside should lead to some baskets in the paint.

If Watkins returns sooner rather than later, the Nittany Lions should be in relatively good shape. The junior could average a double-double this season and cement the center of the defense. If Pierce plays well when he returns, the duo of Pierce and Watkins could be scary for opposing offenses. 

At the moment, however, the five spot is not looking great. Although Harrar has shown he can play at a high level, he has almost no one behind him with similar size. Chambers may be forced to shift Lamar Stevens to the center position to give Harrar a break, but that won’t hold up entering Big Ten play.

Simply put, the Nittany Lions lack depth at the center position. It’s impossible to predict when Watkins will return, but Penn State hardly stands a chance against the big men in conference without both Watkins and Pierce.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected].

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