Penn State Hoops 2020-21 Season Preview
The 2019-20 Penn State men’s basketball team had one of the best seasons in school history…up until the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended it, that is.
Things have not gone well since that fateful March. The pandemic canceled the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins graduated, and Pat Chambers resigned from his head coaching position.
To say that this offseason has been eventful is an understatement. But now, interim coach Jim Ferry must prepare this team for the upcoming season. Ferry has been with the program for the last three seasons, which will be an important asset in how the team prepares moving forward.
The team itself also has a lot of continuity. Three of last year’s starters will return to the starting lineup, and key role players will now be thrown further into the spotlight. Junior transfer Sam Sessoms adds an explosive playmaking ability that will be useful off the bench, while a few freshmen have a chance to carve out a big role.
The talent is there for Penn State to make a push for the NCAA Tournament, but it’s all about how it can put that talent together.
Projected Starting Lineup
- Guard — Jamari Wheeler
- Guard — Myreon Jones
- Guard — Myles Dread
- Forward — Seth Lundy
- Forward — John Harrar
Penn State is loaded with guards. It helps that the three returning starters are guards Jamari Wheeler, Myreon Jones, and Myles Dread. All three of these guys are veteran players who will not just be depended on for scoring, but on being leaders in the locker room, too.
Jones and Dread must be really good from behind the arc because that is how this team is going to score. Wheeler is a great defensive presence, although he isn’t known for his scoring ability.
The bench is deep with guards as well. Izaiah Brockington returns and is going to be expected to be a big scorer off the bench. If he has a cold night, it will be tough for the Nittany Lions to win many games.
Sessoms will also have a big part in the offense this season. Coming from Binghamton, he averaged 18.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 4.1 rebounds in two seasons. His scoring ability and athleticism are intriguing, but it remains to be seen if his success in the America East Conference can translate to the Big Ten.
The freshmen guards also add an intriguing mix to the Nittany Lion rotation. Caleb Dorsey, Dallion Johnson, and D.J. Gordon all look to contribute in some sort of way this season. Dorsey, a 6-foot-7 freshman, is perhaps the most intriguing, as he is one of the bigger players on the team.
There will be plenty off opportunity for him and the rest of the freshmen to get some playing time, as Ferry plans to play a lot of small ball this season.
This is the weak spot for the Nittany Lions. In fact, this is the reason why Penn State won’t be as good as they were last season. It’s not because they lost great players like Stevens and Watkins, it’s because they have virtually no depth to this position.
John Harrar will step into Watkins’ role as the primary big man, but there are still plenty of question marks surrounding his game. Can Harrar be a better offensive player than he was last year? We already know he is going to be a bull on defense, but he needs to get better at scoring the ball and being an offensive presence in the paint.
Seth Lundy will step into Stevens’s shoes, which are certainly hard to fill. Lundy does possess a lot of traits Stevens had though, and that can lead to some really good play coming from him. The issue is he is a 6’6″ forward playing a position where his opponents will be two or three inches taller than him. He could take them on, but it will be an immense challenge that may have some growing pains.
The forwards off the bench are senior Trent Buttrick, freshman Abdou Tsimbila, and redshirt freshman Patrick Kelly.
We have seen only glimpses of Buttrick in the past three seasons, but he still has some experience playing in Big Ten games. Tsimbila may have gotten rave reviews from his teammates, but it’s still unclear how his game in practice will translate to actual competition. Kelly redshirted last year, so it remains to be seen what he will bring to the team on the court this season.
These uncertainties with the big men are a big deal considering some of the best teams in the Big Ten have top-tier forwards and centers that will bully these Nittany Lions all game long.
What To Expect
This is hard because, on paper, there is a lot of talent with this team. Jones, Dread, and Brockington have progressed as shooters and there is no reason to think they will slow down. Lundy and Sessoms are no slouches when it comes to shooting, so the scoring ability is there. What is concerning is how these big men are going to play this season.
The Big Ten is loaded with centers, and Harrar may not be enough to slow them down. What happens if he gets hurt? The depth is also scary, especially looking at some of the best players in the conference.
Luka Garza leads an Iowa team that has high expectations going into the season, Kofi Cockburn is one of two seven-footers on Illinois, and Wisconsin is loaded with big men that will be match up problems for Penn State. It also hurts that all three of these teams are in the top ten.
The Nittany Lions will be bullied down low this season, but they have the ability to be faster and dangerous from behind the arc. Penn State has some of the best shooters in the conference, as well as some of the quickest players too. If these shooters don’t get cold in key spots, they could upset some teams. They can win some big games.
Despite the concern in the frontcourt, the Nittany Lions can’t be written off just yet, and they may have what it takes to be a bubble team this season.
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