In case you were busy enjoying/crying during your college football Saturday, Penn State hoops returned to action and won an exhibition game over No. 13 West Virginia in Morgantown. Although it was basically a glorified scrimmage, we still learned a lot about what this team will look like in the post-Tony Carr era. Here are some of our takeaways from the game.
The three ball is alive and well
The biggest question heading into this season would be how the team would score from behind the arc without Tony Carr and the program’s all-time leader in threes, Shep Garner.
It’s clear no one player will replace Garner and Carr’s 200+ made threes in 2018, but it seems that freshman Myles Dread will be ready to step into a similar role. The 6’4 guard went 5-10 on his long balls and was a terrific 7-12 overall for a team-high 23 points. Add in a perfect 4-4 at the free throw line and you have yourself a pretty fantastic debut for Dread.
Lamar Stevens seems to be embracing his role as the offensive focal point with his longtime friend Carr playing pro ball in Italy. He led all players with 17 shots taken, making seven of them – he was also used as a press-breaking point forward against WVU, able to easily advance the ball against his defensive matchup. Consistency on Stevens’ three-point shot was a major question mark the last two seasons, but a 3-4 effort from deep on Saturday is a good start. He did struggle at the free throw line, however, making just three of his seven attempts.
Jamari Wheeler was not much of an offensive threat during his freshman season. As the season wore on the point guard earned his playing time for pesky defense, but as the most experienced backcourt player he’ll be in for a much larger role. On Saturday Wheeler nailed his only three-point attempt, shot 50% from the field overall, and was a perfect 2-2 at the free throw line. Not to mention that his aggressiveness in getting to the rim would have been rewarded a little more against a team that doesn’t have Sagaba Konate patrolling the paint. More performances like that will not only increase his confidence but should forces defenses to be a bit more honest in defending him.
All in all, seven different Nittany Lions connected from three-point land and shot 52% for the game, showing that this team has options. Carr and Garner were more or less Penn State’s only reliable options from deep last season, so seeing that a handful of guys could hold their own means the Nittany Lions should have a more balanced attack.
The bigs could use some help
Losing both Mike Watkins and Satchel Pierce for the foreseeable future has left Penn State’s front court a bit thin. John Harrar showed serious improvements late in the season and clearly benefited from an increase in minutes in the NIT while Watkins was out with an injury. The sophomore kept it going on Saturday, finishing with eight points on 4-6 shooting, six boards and zero turnovers. Harrar played just 18 minutes as he dealt with foul trouble, however. Learning to defend without fouling will be the next stage in his development.
In spell of Harrar, we got our first extended look at Trent Buttrick. The sophomore wasn’t terrific, shooting just 1-6 on the night, finding himself in foul trouble, and missing some easy shots (e.g. a Jordan Dickerson-esque wide-open dunk), but he flashed a skill set no other big man on the roster has. He was unafraid to take shots from behind the arc, shooting 1-3 from deep. You could tell he needs more minutes to adjust to the college but it’s promising to see more of a modern big on the roster.
Stevens will play somewhat of a small-ball five role, at least to start the season in Watkins’ absence. As mentioned above, Stevens had himself a productive night offensively, but he also did his job on the boards, leading all players with 11 rebounds to secure a double-double. Still, he’s just a bit too small to defend some of the league’s bigger centers, so Pat Chambers will need to find ways to make sure he doesn’t end up alone down under the rim without help defensively.
The kids are alright
Outside of Stevens, Dread and fellow freshman Rasir Bolton played the most minutes for Penn State on Saturday. Dread’s aforementioned performance should lock him into the starting lineup. Asking him to shoot 50% from deep consistently is obviously ridiculous, but if he shoots around 35% for the season, his campaign should be seen as a success.
Similar to Carr, Bolton looks a guard who is always in attack mode. He shot 4-9 from the field and showcased a devastating first step, getting the free throw line more than any other player on Saturday. He went 6-9 (ni-ce) from the charity stripe and made one of his three attempts from long range to give himself 15 points on the afternoon. Carr finished fifth in the conference in free throws attempted last season and if Saturday was any indication, Bolton can take on that role and be that guard who can draw fouls and put himself on the free throw line.
On the other hand, fellow freshman Myreon Jones had a tough debut. He was 1-5 from the field but he did make one of his two three-point attempts. He played only 10 minutes but it was good to see a young guard be unafraid to take his shots when they opened up. Daniil Kasatkin looks like a redshirt candidate, as he did not get into the game.
This team is going to Be fun as heck
It’s almost criminal that it took over 800 words into this article for me to mention Josh Reaves. The senior is the glue that holds this team together and although it didn’t show in the stat sheet, he’s Penn State’s best all-around player. He took only four shots in 27 minutes, making one of his two three-point attempts in the process. He didn’t force any shots and made smart passes, allowing Penn State to shoot over 44% from the field and over 52% from three as a whole. His game-winning tip in was just another example in a long list of heads-up basketball plays that future pros make.
This team could easily lead the Big Ten in steals and turnovers, considering their defensive quality and inexperience in the backcourt. Which is stressful, but man will it lead to some fun basketball games. The Nittany Lions officially tip off the 2018 season on Friday night and won’t play a legitimate tournament contender until Virginia Tech comes to town on Nov 27. If they can make it to that point without an embarrassing loss and if Chambers feels like Mike Watkins has made significant strides off the court, then the Nittany Lions could begin a serious push for a spot in the Big Dance.
Am I way too excited about an exhibition win in the first week of November? You better believe I am. But if you’re not optimistic before the season even starts, what’s even the point of being a fan?