We Haven’t Seen The Last Of Penn State Hoops
Penn State men’s basketball’s Cinderella season is over. Both the NCAA and the Big Ten have canceled their respective tournaments, robbing the Nittany Lions of any shot at postseason play. Fans and players alike have been left with no closure, together feeling heartbroken and empty. But, does the road end here for Penn State hoops? Probably not, and in fact, this past season may mark the beginning of a new normal for the Nittany Lions.
Amid h-worthy moments, flaming bus memes, and cries for a new coach, Pat Chambers has slowly but surely built a title-contending program at Penn State. Rather than looking at the 2019-2020 season as an enigma or last-ditch effort with an experienced team, it actually may just be another stepping stone for the Nittany Lions.
If you look at Penn State’s SRS — a rating system by Sports-Reference which takes into account point differential and strength of schedule — you’ll actually see a gradual upward trend. Chambers took over in 2011, the year after the team last made the NCAA tournament. Since then, the Nittany Lions’ SRS has been convincingly improving. Even with different players, Penn State is playing better basketball.
It looks like fans are starting to get on board too, as attendance at the BJC has also been on an upward trend since Chambers took the helm. This year’s season marked the first full sellout since 2011, and average attendance hit its highest mark in the Chambers era. Although the 2018 NIT championship is the only accolade Chambers has to his name, things have certainly been getting better.
But it would be easy to call this season a last hurrah for Chambers: a last-ditch, all-or-nothing effort at a tournament run that never actually happened. With the face of the program Lamar Stevens graduating, it’s easy to predict more years of rebuilding coming up. But this team actually has a shot at running it back next year, contingent on the development of the younger players.
Stevens, Mike Watkins, and Curtis Jones Jr. are are all graduating this year, leaving Chambers with a relatively young team to work with. However, by the end of the season, Stevens was the only senior starting for the Nittany Lions. Junior John Harrar stepped up, and ended up averaging just around the same amount of minutes (19.3) as Watkins (19.8) in conference play. Chambers also ended up favoring younger players like Myles Dread and Izaiah Brockington over Jones Jr. as well, meaning most of the core team will be around next year.
Sophomore Myreon Jones also emerged as the team’s best shooter, knocking down 40.3% of his threes and shooting 44.4% from the field on the season. His success landed him the second most playing time behind Stevens, averaging 28.6 minutes. The underclassmen success doesn’t just start with Jones, however, as both freshman Seth Lundy and Brockington, a sophomore, made impressive impacts off the bench.
Stevens had good things to say about both of them, who he actually went to high school with, remarking that Brockington is the “best athlete on the team,” and that Lundy reminds him of himself, but actually thinks he’s a better shooter.
Juniors Jamari Wheeler and Harrar will also be back for the Nittany Lions. They both played big roles for Penn State and should continue to do the same next season. Harrar will continue his role as starting center next year, while Wheeler will hopefully continue to be an energetic, defensive nuisance.
Wheeler, who earned a spot on this year’s Big Ten all-defensive team, could fall into a nice leadership role for the team, as his infectious attitude and constant gritty play set a great example for younger players.
From a recruiting standpoint, hopefully, this year’s success and top-ten AP ranking will help the team land attractive prospects in the future. The 2020 class is already looking solid for Penn State, with three-star shooting guard Dallion Johnson standing out. Johnson, who is the highest-rated recruit from Massachusetts, averaged 20.2 points-per-game in 2019.
This team is poised for another year of success next season, thanks to most of the core team returning and the promising development of young players. This season ended in an absolutely heartbreaking way, but the Nittany Lions aren’t ready to be counted out just yet.
We may have seen the beginning of a new normal for Penn State hoops.
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While he wasn’t a Nittany Lion in Penn State’s 2021 loss to Iowa, Robinson was set on revenge.
O’Hara, who plays both tight end and defensive end in high school, will likely play tight end for the Nittany Lions.
The sportsbook also put the over at 46.5 points.