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Analyzing Penn State Hoops Head Coach Mike Rhoades’ Coaching Style

When Penn State men’s basketball officially inked the hiring of former VCU head coach Mike Rhoades on March 29, the Nittany Lions’ newest mentor vowed for his style to encapsulate a “bold, different, and aggressive” on-court product.

While Micah Shrewsberry’s most recent schematic iteration featured a top-50 unit in pace, leading to the 13th-most three-point attempts per contest with 26.9, Rhoades’ philosophy couldn’t be more different. 

During his sixth campaign heading the Rams, Rhoades’ crew finished No. 328 out of 363 Division I squads in halfcourt pace, averaging 69.9 possessions per matchup. 

However, the deliberate, half-court attack highlighted by a pick-and-roll centric motion to create two-on-one advantages still produced 70.9 points per game. For reference, the Nittany Lions scored 64.6 points per outing throughout Shrewsberry’s initial go-around in Happy Valley. 

To counteract the slower approach, Rhoades has consistently put together defenses that sit among the nation’s most aggressive crews. Most recently, VCU averaged 8.9 steals per contest, ranking No. 14 nationally in the takeaway category. 

Consequently, the Rams posted 9.54 points out of its nearly 71-point typical output in transition, equating to nearly 14% of its total output. Penn State sat among the nation’s worst in transition offense a year ago, putting together just 6.11 fastbreak points each bout under Shrewsberry’s lead. 

The common theme of Rhoades’ traditional defensive style centers on high ball pressure stemming from full-court implementation. Rhoades employs a 1-2-1-1 press to limit opponent time of possession, which forces unsettled shot attempts for opposing groups. 

After VCU’s short-lived postseason stint in the NCAA Tournament, the Rams finished 41st nationally in opposing shooting percentage at 41.5%. Comparatively, Wisconsin shot exactly 41.5% as a team this year but finished the campaign as the second-worst Big Ten team in that category. Overall, the Badgers clocked in at No. 312 in the percentage-based stat. 

Rhoades’ steady combination of unrelenting pressure and paint prowess put VCU in the top 10 in overall defensive rating in four of his six seasons at the helm in Richmond. To break it down further, defensive rating accounts for how many points a team allows on average across 100 total possessions. 

Last season, Rhoades’ group allowed just 91.8 points on average in 100 trips down the floor, trailing only Houston and Tennessee, both of which claimed top-four seed distinctions in the Big Dance. The worst Division I unit in offensive rating, Long Island, scored 87.3 points according to the metric, with the best being Gonzaga, tallying 122.3 points every 100 series. 

On the glass, Rhoades’ teams crash the boards with urgency, an area the Nittany Lions suffered from largely due to personnel restrictions. VCU’s total rebound percentage over opposing squads hovered around 51%, but its shot-blocking percentage amounted to 8.4% for the 15th highest rate of all Division I groups. 

Moreover, the average height of VCU’s season-ending starting five stands at 6’5.4 — the exact same average compared to the Nittany Lions’ lineup, which blocked just 3.6% of opposing shot attempts last season. 

The “bold, different, and aggressive” mantra will likely stick with Rhoades for the entirety of his tenure in Happy Valley, and his track record seemingly backs his catchy sentiment. Typically, Big Ten teams aren’t accustomed to facing the press for 40-straight minutes, but with Rhaodes at the helm, high-flying onslaughts including Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan State will be forced to slow down its quick-hitting scheme to break volumes of pressure. 

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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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