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Does Penn State Hoops Play Better As A Team Without Kanye Clary?

Since 2009, Penn State men’s basketball has held claim to a player who’s finished at least one season in the blue and white averaging over 17.5 points per game. 

Historically, the clip places the weapon firmly within the Big Ten’s top-10 individual scoring ranks, with most landing among the conference’s top-five talents around the rim. 

Talor Battle, Tim Frazier, DJ Newbill, Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Jalen Pickett have all had single seasons averaging at least 17.5 points per matchup over the last 15 campaigns. 

This year, sophomore phenom Kanye Clary is on pace to become the Nittany Lions’ next great one-on-one, isolation cornerstone. Through 20 contests, the Virginia product is averaging 18.4 points per game as the sixth-leading scorer among all Big Ten commodities. 

However, after sustaining a hit to the face during the Nittany Lions’ January 27 home matchup against Minnesota, Clary has not returned to head coach Mike Rhoades’ lineup over the last two contests. 

Suddenly, without Clary’s offensive prowess, Penn State picked up its first two road wins of the season in victories over Rutgers and Indiana. Additionally, Rhoades’ squad now resides at .500 overall with a home bout with Iowa looming. 

After cementing a 3-6 record in league play with Clary, his absence begs the question — does Penn State play better as a team without Clary’s individual production in the lineup?

Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to preface that several of the Nittany Lions’ nine victories with Clary commanding the offense would’ve likely concluded in losses without the sophomore at the point. 

In wins over Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Penn State’s margin of victory amounts to 4.3 points per battle. Non-coincidentally, in those matchups, Clary averaged 21.3 points per game.

However, Clary shot 23-for-57 (40.3%) in the three conference victories he was available for, accounting for just over 30% of the Nittany Lions’ total shot attempts during that span. 

Moreover, in the three conference wins with Clary available, Penn State assisted-to-score on just 37% of its made field goals with him in the lineup. 

Now, let’s take a look at Penn State’s offensive production without Clary. Despite the small sample size, the Nittany Lions have won both road matchups, in Jersey Mike’s Arena and Assembly Hall, by 14.5 points per game. 

Additionally, Rhoades’ group has assisted the scoring player on 29-of-51 shot attempts for a 56.9% assist-to-score ratio. The metric has increased by nearly 20% without Clary in the lineup. 

The numbers, and eye test, show that the Nittany Lions are moving the ball more fluidly without Clary’s 14.4 shot attempts per game. 

With Clary positioned at the point or as the two-man alongside Ace Baldwin Jr., the VCU transfer averaged 4.4 assists per game — a 24% decrease from his career-high 5.8 assists per matchup clip previously set with the Rams. 

Over the last two games, Baldwin has exploded for 18.5 points per game, while averaging 7.5 assists in the process.

For Penn State to make a late-season push to possibly secure a backdoor double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, Rhoades’ roster will undoubtedly need Clary’s production back to pick up inevitable team shooting woes. 

But just as Clary will likely need to better involve other scoring threats on the floor, Rhoades could also utilize analytics from the last two games to make necessary lineup adjustments. 

Take DeMarco Dunn’s production, for example. Through 20 matchups with Clary, the North Carolina transfer has served as a spark plug off the bench, averaging 7.1 points across 17.8 minutes per game. 

Per the Medium, college basketball starters typically play 63% of the game’s allotted 40-minute window, amounting to 25.2 minutes per game. 

In Clary’s absence, Dunn’s minutes per game mark has skyrocketed from 17.8 to 25 — a 40.4% increase. As a result, his offensive presence has shown its worth. 

As a second option to Baldwin, Dunn has scored 12 points per game on 52.6% shooting. His scoring output has increased by 70% in comparison to his previous average after assuming a starting role. 

Through just two games, it’s almost impossible to conclude whether the Nittany Lions collectively play better without Clary in the lineup. 

However, statistics conclude that Penn State assists the scorer more frequently on field goal conversions, wins by a more conclusive margin, and involves its role players better without the starting guard’s services.

Ultimately, the conundrum is a favorable problem for Rhoades to have. Clary averages just 2.8 assists per game. 

If he’s able to better involve Dunn, Zach Hicks, or Jameel Brown on the perimeter, Penn State could morph into a force to be reckoned with throughout the season’s latter half. 

Again, this is not a knock on Clary or his production through 20 games. It simply shows what the Nittany Lions can be by unleashing the talent pool from all of the roster’s facets. 

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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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