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Jalen Pickett’s Unique Offensive Style Ignites Penn State Hoops To NCAA Tournament Rout Over Texas A&M

During Penn State men’s basketball’s 76-59 rout of Texas A&M Thursday evening, senior guard Andrew Funk garnered most of the immediate limelight upon blitzing the Aggies for 27 points behind 8-for-10 shooting from three-point range. 

Aside from Funk’s prowess from deep, Seth Lundy, Kebba Njie, and Myles Dread added 24 combined points of their own, highlighted by a 56% conversion rate spanning from the perimeter to the paint. 

But, as the Nittany Lions’ demolition continued to build at the Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines, Iowa, neither of the four commodities above proved to be the catalyst in surmounting the imposing beatdown. 

Despite boasting an ordinary, 7-for-18 conversion clip from the field, All-American floor general Jalen Pickett proved to leave Texas A&M’s defensive lost for a viable solution. His unique, ball-centric isolation style also left Aggies head coach Buzz Williams puzzled as to how to effectively slow down the savvy offensive weapon. 

“I think coach [Shrewsberry] does a great job in how [Pickett] is utilized,” Williams said postgame. “He has the highest usage rate of any player we’ve played this year, and as talented as No. 22 is, his best talent is he makes a decision immediately relative to how you are going to defend him.”

While Pickett concluded the bout with a steady 19-point output, his backdown, bully-ball style helped outlast the Aggies through a variety of means. If Williams elected to bring double-team looks on Pickett’s hip, the elite-level passer would, in turn, kick the rock out to either Funk, Lundy, or Dread on the perimeter, who combined for a 63% hit rate from beyond the arc. 

Ultimately, Pickett finished the Nittany Lions’ first NCAA Tournament go-around since 2011 with eight assists, nearly on par with his season average of 6.7 per matchup.

“Our focus on sharing the ball,” Funk said. “With a guy like Pickett, he commands a lot of attention, and the way we were able to play off of him — what we have been doing all year came to fruition tonight.”

Conversely, if Texas A&M decided to let Pickett earn his keep through straight-line post-play, the former Siena product would naturally work primary defender Dexter Dennis deep into the key, resulting in point-blank looks. In total, Pickett compiled six conversions inside the frontcourt, while also totaling three trips to the free-throw line in the form of five attempts.

The back-and-forth, inside-out offensive structure with a point guard doubling as a defacto high-post centerpiece is as unique as any offensive scheme left within the Big Dance’s 68-team field. Essentially, Pickett’s slow, north-to-south burn allows him to see all facets of the floor with relative ease. 

If his teammates are open on the perimeter, he’ll rapidly kick it out for a coveted open attempt from distance. But, if he’s matched up with a one-on-one battle, very little has proven to affect the first-team All-Big Ten honoree between himself and getting to the rim. 

“I have the ball in my hands a lot, and I definitely ask my teammates on the court what do they see, where they’re open at, [and] sometimes they tell me if they’re open,” Pickett said. “I see the reads immediately as soon as they come off. I know what I’m looking at. I know what should happen.”

Currently, the Nittany Lions rank sixth nationally in the assist-to-turnover ratio category, boasting a 1.55 mark. At home, where Penn State has put together nearly a 77% win rate in 17 contests, its ratio grows to a 1.89 clip, largely due to Pickett’s role as the squad’s bonafide stimulant at Bryce Jordan Center. 

Against Texas A&M, Shrewsberry’s group tallied 14 assists compared to only eight turnovers. In Pickett’s case, the senior staple possessed an absurd 8-to-0 assist-to-turnover quota at the final buzzer. 

“[Pickett] is an elite level passer that, when your rotation happens, whatever you’re going to do, the decision is happening now,” Williams said. “I think that that’s why their basket assist rate is so high, and I also think because they play with the floor spread so much, 22 is with the ball. They play with a low turnover rate, and then as soon as you make your decision on how you’re going to help, it’s going to lead to an immediate three or one more [pass].”

Although the offensive style fails to promote any semblance of one-through-five positional balance, the makeup of the current Nittany Lions’ group is far from traditional. While Kebba Njie has started for the majority of his freshman stint, he only sees the floor for 14.3 minutes per game. 

Without a valuable reserve over standing over 6’9” to fill Njie’s inexperience gap, Penn State largely plays without a low-block occupant for nearly 65% of its on-court action. 

Throughout the Nittany Lions’ recent 11-matchup run consisting of nine victories, Pickett’s assertiveness in the post has made up for his frontcourt’s lack of physical stature. While Pickett struggled to score at Northwestern just over two weeks ago, it would be brash to say he didn’t play his offensive role. 

During the come-from-behind effort, Pickett compiled 11 assists against the Wildcats. As a result, Penn State buried 13 three-pointers, including an overtime game-winner courtesy of Cam Wynter’s corner strike. While the Nittany Lions’ style will undoubtedly run through Pickett on a basis of regularity, the way in which he ultimately produces continues to cause opponents fits at all three levels. 

“We are just unique in how we play,” Shrewsberry said. “We’re unique in how we try and attack. You could see some stuff or see us do some stuff on a Monday game, and then you might not see it for two or three weeks, and then we come back to it later on or we might change a little bit here or there.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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