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Analyzing Post-Regular Season Reactions For Penn State Hoops

It’s time for March, folks.

With the conclusion of Penn State men’s basketball’s regular season, the Nittany Lions are headed to the Big Ten Tournament. After a volatile regular season, head coach Mike Rhoades’ team holds a record of 15-16 and sits on the brink of an NIT bid.

With the regular season coming to a close, our men’s basketball writers took a look at some of the hottest takes surrounding the Nittany Lions this season.

Penn State Was Better Off Without Kanye Clary

CJ Gill: Short term, the answer was yes, and long term, the answer will be yes. Rhoades has big aspirations for Penn State basketball, and it starts with building a positive culture. Clearly, there was a culture problem with Clary for him to be dismissed from the team. Next season and beyond, Clary would have held this team back from its full potential. On the court, this team looked as good as it had all year when Clary wasn’t in the game with them. That includes a three-game winning streak when Clary was still on the team but out because of injury. The sophomore’s style of play did not seem to fit the guys around him, and it showed when they succeeded in his absence. 

Joe Lister: Absolutely. It’s not worth it to dig into the rumors surrounding Clary and any off-court impact he may have had that Rhoades didn’t like. The fact is that Penn State played the same, if not better, without Clary. In his first games out when he was injured, Penn State won its first road games. In Clary’s first game after leaving the team, Penn State upset Illinois in Rec Hall.

Penn State has always been better without Clary in the lineup.

Matt Brown: People will continue to argue with this until he is out of college, but yes, the Nittany Lions are, and will be going forward, a better basketball team without Clary. When Rhoades came to Happy Valley, right away he preached about wanting to improve the culture of the program. Clary clearly affected that and Rhoades made the difficult decision to remove Clary from the team. However, addition by subtraction is sometimes a useful thing, and this team and program are better off without Clary. The team’s style of play was better shown off when Clary was out of the lineup as with Ace Baldwin Jr. as the true point guard, more players had more opportunities to score and create shots.

Leo O’Boyle Was A Bust

CJ Gill: O’Boyle was by far the biggest miss in the transfer portal this past offseason by Rhoades and his staff. Coming over from Lafayette, the fifth-year forward was plugged as a three-point shooter and solid defensive player. Neither came to fruition in the blue and white during his last year at the college ranks. O’Boyle shot a poor 29% from behind the arc and averaged less than one rebound and steal per game. From January 20 to February 8, O’Boyle didn’t score a single point and had 14 games total where he went scoreless. When you’re averaging over 11 minutes per game, you have to do more from a production standpoint, and O’Boyle just did not do that. It really isn’t much of a hot take — Rhoades missed on this one, and he should never have seen more playing time than someone like Jameel Brown or RayQuawndis Mitchell.

Joe Lister: I had high hopes for O’Boyle, especially after his 15-point performance against Ohio State. It wasn’t hard to believe Penn State men’s basketball was entering the era of the three-ball with O’Boyle leading the charge. It just didn’t pan out.

It’s hard to dock anyone for O’Boyle’s performance. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. With O’Boyle, we may never know. It just would’ve been nice to see Brown or Mitchell on the court for more minutes this season.

Matt Brown: O’Boyle was by far the worst player Mike Rhoades brought to the team in 2024. There’s no sugarcoating it. He was bad. O’Boyle was brought in to be a dominant three-point shooter and above-average defender when in reality he was one of the team’s worst shooters and worst defenders on the team. He made only 15 threes on 51 attempts, which equals 29.4% on the season. The guy didn’t score a field goal for eight straight games. For someone who was playing double-digit minutes and only scoring two points a game, that’s a problem. With transfers, you get some hits and some duds, and O’Boyle was a dud.

Penn State Will Make The NIT

CJ Gill: This is not out of the realm of possibilities. Now, Penn State would need to win at least a few games in the Big Ten Tournament for this to happen. If the Nittany Lions do go on a run in Minneapolis, the case for an NIT bid is there. A near .500 record in conference play certainly helps their case, but bad losses along the way could doom the blue and white’s chances. If Penn State does get an at-large bid to the NIT, Rhoades could use it as a massive building block heading into next season.

Joe Lister: I wouldn’t put any money on it, but it’s also difficult to bet against it right now. The Nittany Lions are just one win away from a .500 record on the season and two wins away from a .500 record in Big Ten play. I don’t necessarily think Penn State will finish with a positive record on the season or in the conference, but it certainly is good enough to reach the NIT nonetheless. I think a two-win Big Ten Tournament performance should be all it needs.

Matt Brown: Obviously, the NCAA Tournament is the goal every season for teams, although an NIT appearance for Rhoades’ team is an outstanding accomplishment. While getting there will not be easy, it is still possible. Wins over Michigan and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament are needed, and if they somehow make it to the semifinals of the tournament, I no doubt think they’ll get an opportunity at the NIT.

Regardless Of The Big Ten Tournament, Mike Rhoades Had A Successful First Season

CJ Gill: I can’t agree with this more. No matter what happens at the Big Ten Tournament, Rhoades and the Nittany Lions have exceeded expectations in year one. Rhoades is building a culture in Happy Valley that will lead to more success down the road. I was most impressed with how Rhoades and his team dealt with adversity this winter. There was no smooth sailing from November until March, but this team never let bad moments multiply. Rhoades knew that when he took the job, it was going to be hard to win at Penn State, and he laid the foundation this season for that to happen. That’s what he should be judged on most. 

Joe Lister: Yes, yes, and yes. Rhoades took a program that was nearly nonexistent and turned it into a group that could beat nearly anyone on any day. Sure, this year’s group might not make a tournament and may finish with a losing record, but Rhoades is already guaranteed to finish with more wins than former head coach Micah Shrewsberry in his first year.

Matt Brown: People need to realize that rebuilds take time and that making the NCAA Tournament doesn’t happen overnight. For a first-year coaching a Power Six team that had only three scholarship players returning, I think Rhoades did an outstanding job. Rhoades has shown that his style of play can work with the right players and has begun the long journey of turning Penn State into a “basketball school.” The Big Ten is a tough conference to win in, and the Nittany Lions found a way to win nine conference games and potentially more to come in the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis. Looking at this long term, Rhoades has started the process of rebuilding Penn State, and with a top-25 recruiting class coming in next season, the group could be very dangerous starting next year.

Penn State Already Has A Strong Core For Next Season

CJ Gill: I just don’t agree with this. We still don’t know if Baldwin and Puff Johnson will return for a final season, but if they do, then that would change things. As of now, Rhoades has a few pieces heading into next season that he can build upon, but I hesitate to call it a strong core just yet. Nick Kern Jr., Zach Hicks, D’Marco Dunn, and Brown should all be back and will fight for bigger roles next year. However, Rhoades still needs to find a few difference-makers in the transfer portal if the Nittany Lions want to take that next leap in year two. There is a foundation in Happy Valley, but there are still a lot of bricks to be laid.

Joe Lister: Personally, I have little doubt that Baldwin and Johnson will return next season. Penn State will be just fine in the future. There’s a strong freshman class coming in, and if a few players transfer away, then Rhoades and Co. might be able to upgrade the team’s talent. Between Kern, Hicks, Baldwin, and more, Penn State will have a roster that can compete in the Big Ten every day.

Matt Brown: A strong core is a strong way to describe the team heading into next season. While pieces are there for the Nittany Lions to succeed, the team would benefit mightily with Baldwin and Johnson returning for their extra year of eligibility. I do think they will come back, and if they do, this team has a strong foundation to make some noise in a jam-packed Big Ten next season. With the returning seniors as well as the hopeful returns of Brown, Dunn, Hicks, and Kern, the team can be very good come next March. I hope Rhoades can find another big man who can help replace Qudus Wahab’s play, and incoming four-star center Miles Goodman might be that guy.

Penn State Should Use Rec Hall More Often

CJ Gill: It’s no secret Penn State men’s basketball struggles to fill the Bryce Jordan Center and make it a tough environment for opposing teams to play in. After a successful Return to Rec upset victory over Illinois, many fans have called for Penn State to make the move permanent. The issue is that Rec Hall is not big and up-to-date enough for that to happen. Five other varsity programs call the old building home, and if the men’s and women’s basketball programs were to shift across campus, it would create a scheduling nightmare. I believe the most it could do is play the non-conference schedule slate at Rec Hall. Non-Big Ten games rarely get loud inside the BJC, and this would allow the program to build momentum into conference matchups. 

Joe Lister: Personally, I believe Rec Hall should be an all-or-nothing affair. I, like fellow staffer Mikey DeAngelis, feel the move to Rec Hall should be permanent. However, as head women’s basketball coach Carolyn Kieger noted, it’s not easy to coordinate these events. Multiple sports use Rec Hall and basketball just doesn’t have preference right now. If that’s true, I think Rec Hall should be used once a year as a promotion but using it too often just takes away from the electricity. Rec Hall can either be used for every game or it can be basketball’s White Out-esque game. There’s no good reason to force a meeting in the middle.

Matt Brown: Rec Hall needs to be used for college basketball as much as possible. It is honestly frustrating going to basketball games and seeing the curtains cover the top section of the Bryce Jordan Center when in reality, Beaver Stadium gets filled every Saturday. So until the BJC becomes consistently filled, Rec Hall needs to be used more. Have games be played there where they know they won’t sell out the arena or even just make it the permanent home. All I know is having basketball inside Rec Hall was a huge success and it created a terrible environment for opposing teams to play in.

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