Staff Predictions: Penn State Men’s Basketball’s 2019-20 Season
Are you ready for basketball season, Penn State?
Pat Chambers’ Nittany Lions will take the court for their season opener against Maryland East Shore at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Star forward Lamar Stevens headlines Penn State’s returning starters, and familiar faces like Mike Watkins, Myreon Jones, and Jamari Wheeler are among the other veterans back.
As always, there’s a healthy deal of optimism surrounding the team entering this season, but will that finally come to something more than an NIT title run? Our staff decided to take a shot at predicting the team’s regular season record and postseason fate:
Mitch Stewart: 18-13
Postseason Prediction: Bubble team that slips into the NIT
The 10-man rotation that Penn State will feature on the court this season might be the deepest group in the Pat Chambers era at Penn State. Mike Watkins and John Harrar are tested and proven in the paint, Lamar Stevens might be the best scorer in the conference, and a plethora of options in the backcourt should enable this team to improve from last year’s disappointing 14-18 finish.
Penn State will play two SEC teams (Ole Miss and Alabama), one Big East team (Georgetown), and one ACC team (Wake Forest) in non-conference play. The team also has plenty of winnable matchups before Big Ten play begins. However, back-to-back games against ranked Big Ten teams at the beginning of December (at No. 18 Ohio State, vs. No. 7 Maryland) could lead to another undesirable start in the conference for this team.
I don’t expect another 0-10 start from this team, but the Big Ten should be one of the stronger conferences in the country again this year. I think this team would need to be better than .500 in regular season play to find itself on the bubble, and the home meeting with preseason No. 1 Michigan State in the second-to-last game of the year could provide a great opportunity to launch into the NCAA Tournament field.
Yet, I’ve been fooled by this team before, so until I see it with my own eyes, I don’t think it’s smart to expect an NCAA Tournament berth. You can’t spell Nittany Lions without N-I-T, after all.
Will Pegler: 17-14
Postseason Finish: Solid NIT run
The Nittany Lions are rightfully excited about the key experience they’re returning this season. I think it’ll be enough to improve upon a disappointing 14-18 mark to finish the 2018-19 season, but I don’t expect an NCAA Tournament bid for this squad. Returning stars such as Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins will be fun to watch throughout this season, and they should help the Nittany Lions pick up a few big wins.
It’s no secret, however, that the Big Ten is a tough conference to consistently win in. After a hot start, I think Penn State’s record will start to balance out once it hits conference play.
Despite this, the Nittany Lions have plenty of talent to pick up a few upset wins over the course of this season. Don’t be surprised if Pat Chambers’ squad finds a way to get wins over talented teams like Georgetown or Ohio State. Even with wins like this, though, I don’t see this team going any further than the NIT.
Jared Raggi: 21-10
Postseason Finish: NCAA Tournament Bid
I believe the streak of seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance will come to an end this year. The Nittany Lions have a chance to get off to a hot start with winnable games early in the non-conference schedule that will also help build their tournament resume.
The real make-or-break stretch will be towards the end of January, which is when the team has to take a trip to Michigan to face both the Wolverines and Spartans. Lamar Stevens will be a first team All-Big Ten player and would win conference player of the year if it weren’t for Cassius Winston.
Big improvements from Myreon Jones and Myles Dread, along with consistent production from Mike Watkins should also help this team flourish. Penn State will be a defensive-minded bunch who will create a ton of havoc with Jamari Wheeler and Izaiah Brockington running the 1-2-2 press. This season, the Nittany Lions’ fanbase will rejoice when Penn State makes its first tournament appearance since 2011.
Ryan Simmonds: 15-16
Postseason Finish: Loss in the Big Ten Tournament
This team has the talent to finally reach the tournament. With one of the best all-around players in the nation in Lamar Stevens, a four-year starter at center in Mike Watkins, and a solid supporting cast, I want to believe that this team can make the tournament, but I just can’t see it.
The Nittany Lions will return most of its key players from last year, but most of the top teams in the Big Ten will look similar to that of last year’s squad, as well. I really want to believe that this team can finally get over the hump and make the tournament, but it’s impossible to ignore Pat Chambers’ past record. As Penn State’s head coach, Chambers is 127-140 overall, with zero (0) NCAA tournament berths and only two winning seasons.
If Chambers can get his players organized and prepared for each game, the Nittany Lions will be a tournament team, but he has yet to do that across a full season. Because of that, I’m limiting my expectations for this team.
Matt Paolizzi: 19-12
Postseason Finish: ~Deep~ NIT run
I see this season shaping up to follow the path of the NIT title team from 2017-18, with the team finding itself in contention for an March Madness spot throughout the year. But it all depends on how a few pieces shape up.
A healthy Mike Watkins will be massive for Penn State, and based on what we’ve seen of him so far, there’s a chance the big man could be considered for Big Ten honors at season’s end. He can dominate on both sides of the court and take over games, but his health will be a concern all year. Any extended absence from him or Stevens could spell disaster.
Other players will need to step up, and I think Myreon Jones especially has a chance to break out this season. Jamari Wheeler will comfortably carry the torch from Josh Reaves and become Penn State’s defensive terror. We probably won’t see another Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Happy Valley this season, but I think the junior will be in that conversation. Myles Dread will continue to build on his strong freshman year, and the transfers should provide much needed depth.
The two biggest questions for this team will be the health of its two stars and if the offense can sustain itself when Watkins and Stevens aren’t shooting well or not on the court. The Big Ten is pretty wide open this year apart from preseason No. 1 Michigan State. Maryland and Ohio State will be tough to beat, but I think Penn State should be competitive with everyone else.
Barring a completely plausible implosion at some point this season, I’m expecting another strong NIT run. I think Penn State has the talent to make a journey to the Big Dance for the first time in Pat Chambers’ tenure, but the Nittany Lions will be on the bubble and need a few big statement wins along with a strong Big Ten tourney run to sway the committee.
Otis Lyons: 17-14
Postseason Finish: Bubble Team that makes the NCAA Tournament
I know it’s unrealistic to expect the Nittany Lions to still be playing in late March with the likes of Kentucky and Michigan State (although the chances of a Lamar Stevens-led team achieving a Cinderella run is not an absolute zero). However, this season won’t have the dismal losing streaks of the 2018-19 season that led to Penn State’s demise.
There’s no denying Stevens’ talent, and combined with Watkins and a few new strong additions, the rotation has taken shape. The Nittany Lions have the potential to do a few things that the 2018-19 squad couldn’t: avoid a long losing streak and beat the teams they’re “supposed to beat.” On top of that, this side has the ability to snatch a few upset wins, such as the 2018-19 shock victories over Michigan and Maryland.
I expect the team to enter conference play with less than five losses. From there, the deep Big Ten will test the Nittany Lions, but an even 10-10 record could very well secure them a trip to the Big Dance.
Owen Abbey: 21-10
Postseason Finish: At least one win in the NCAA Tournament
This may be me being a naive freshman, but I have high expectations for the Nittany Lions. Their non-conference schedule is actually somewhat favorable with challenges against Georgetown, Alabama, and Ole Miss being their strongest tests.
How the Nittany Lions fare against the middle of the Big Ten will make or break their NCAA tournament dreams. Obviously, teams like Michigan State and Maryland will be big challenges, but if Lamar Stevens and company get quality wins against teams like Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota, they will be right there for a chance to be in the NCAA tournament for the first time in Pat Chambers’ tenure.
My bold prediction for the season, however? Penn State WILL win an NCAA tournament game.
Mikey Mandarino: 13-18
Postseason Finish: First-round loss in the Big Ten Tournament
I don’t understand why anyone would be optimistic about Penn State men’s basketball. This is the college basketball equivalent of the New York Jets we’re talking about, people. All the preseason hype and player additions in the world won’t change the fact that Pat Chambers is not a good basketball coach.
Don’t get me wrong: Chambers’ players would run through a wall for him, and he’s also an amazing human who sincerely cares about Penn State and its surrounding community. But when it comes to the actual fundamentals of basketball, Chambers’ gameplans have been consistently bad during his eight years as the Nittany Lions’ head coach. All tactics go out the window in favor of “give Lamar Stevens the ball no matter what” as soon as the other team goes on a scoring run. Stevens is an excellent player, but I feel like constantly force-feeding your star forward the ball is pretty predictable and easy to stop with, you know, double-teaming.
This team is going to underperform again, but don’t worry — Chambers will keep his job after knocking off the 17th-ranked team in the nation late in the year.
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