For the second straight season, Penn State has started its campaign with a record of 2-0.
After defeating North Florida and Jacksonville State by a combined total of 30 points, the Nittany Lions will be looking for their third consecutive win in seven days against DePaul on Thursday as part of the Gavitt Tipoff games.
The Blue Demons are not only the first road game on the schedule for the Nittany Lions, but this will also be the first time the squad will take on an opponent from a major conference.
“Playing games away from home gives our team an opportunity to come together, kind of like an ‘us against the world’ mentality,” coach Pat Chambers said. “I thought Temple and West Virginia were great experiences for our guys, and being able to go on the road and win in difficult environments will ultimately prepare us for Big Ten play.”
The last decade or so has been one of futility for DePaul’s basketball program, and it doesn’t look like that’ll change this year.
The Blue Demons have finished in the bottom-two of the Big East in each of the past three seasons, and are projected by most outlets to end up in the cellar again.
This early outlook is rather bleak for a team in search of its first winning season since the 2006-07 campaign.
However, if the hosts are able to hang with Penn State late into Thursday’s contest, this could be where senior guard Max Strus can make his biggest impact.
Strus averaged nearly 17 points per game a year ago and his versatility as a shooter and attacker make him a dangerous offensive threat.
In their two victories this season, Strus is averaging 25 points per game, while shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor.
He’ll be joined by backcourt mate Eli Cain, who is averaging nearly 15 points to go along with seven assists per game, good for top on the team.
DePaul’s frontcourt is rather limited, meaning the Nittany Lions should expect production from John Harrar, and of course, Lamar Stevens.
As will most likely be the case for most of this season, Penn State’s offense will rest on the shoulders of Stevens.
The junior has scored a total of 47 points in two games this season, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 87 percent from the free-throw line.
Stevens will likely be doubled for most of the evening. In the first two games of the season, the small forward was effective at dribbling and passing out of the double team in an effort to set up his teammates with open looks at the basket.
The Nittany Lions will certainly look to Stevens to lead, but Penn State’s depth off the bench could be the deciding factor in the game.
Freshmen guards Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton have taken turns demonstrating their abilities. Dread had 17 points and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in the season opener, while Bolton tallied 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting against Jacksonville State.
Going against what could be one of the better backcourts in the Big East, the Nittany Lions’ young players should have a chance to prove themselves against higher-level competition with the Big Ten conference season on the horizon.
“Getting the younger guys involved is something that I stress as often as I can,” Chambers said. “The important thing for me is that they continue to stay dialed in and understand that minutes are always fluctuating, and their opportunity will come in due time.”