Penn State should get a victory on Friday night when they host North Florida at the Bryce Jordan Center. However, there is much to watch for as the Nittany Lions look to build off their NIT championship season. With the departure of Tony Carr and Shep Garner, Coach Patrick Chambers needs some returning players who are ready to step up and some young players who are capable of filling in major minutes.
Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins and Josh Reaves were all starters last season and those three form a good core group for Coach Chambers to build around. Stevens, a 6-8 junior, is the top offensive threat who averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds. Watkins and Reaves were both named to the All-Big Ten defensive team last season and averaged double digits in the scoring department. However, Watkins is out indefinitely due to off-court issue.
Without any other players who averaged over two points per game last season, finding the new pieces to build around Stevens and Reaves will be very difficult. Sophomore John Harrar will fill in for Watkins while he is out. As a freshman last season Harrar averaged just 1.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in limited playing time, but should at least be a solid rebounder and do the dirty work in the paint.
Jamari Wheeler was another freshman last season who did not see much action. Known as a lockdown defender, Wheeler will get playing time. But he may need to look to score at times as well. Much of the perimeter scoring load will fall on the shoulders of freshman Myles Dread. Penn State has some shooters on the roster, but Dread is expected to do the most damage from beyond the arc. Penn State got a taste of his scoring prowess in the charity exhibition game against West Virginia when he led the team with 23 points. But now Dread needs to show what he can do when it really counts.
Penn State may have some difficulties early in the campaign, most notably games against DePaul and Virginia Tech later in November, but if the underclassmen can live up to their potential, this will be a tough team by the time Big Ten play rolls around. And we can start to see what potential Penn State has on Friday against North Florida.