Let’s keep this thing moving with the Penn State Nittany Lions and Micah Shrewsberry’s three point dependent squad.
7-3 (1-1 in B1G play) - Torvik rankings as of Wednesday evening (Penn State is #40)
Wins: 24 Illinois (A), 51 Butler (H), 109 Colorado State (N), 135 Furman (N), 246 Winthrop (H), 281 Lafayette (H), 315 Loyola MD (H)
The Nittany Lions played in a nice, underrated tournament down in Charleston but came home with just 3rd place and no quad 1 wins after losing to an sneaky good Virginia Tech squad. They’ve also beaten their cupcakes at home as well as Butler in the Gavitt Games and the Fighting Illini. Losses to Michigan State and more particularly Clemson are disappointing as they could have really used either of those two.
Things I’ve Liked
Jalen Pickett has been the best guard in the Big Ten so far this season. He’s 2nd in the country in assist rate, and is not turning the ball over. In addition to that, Pickett is shooting 47.8% from the field and cleaning up on the defensive glass. Pickett has been held below double figures in scoring just twice. He has one triple-double already and the way he is putting up assists and rebounds, I suspect he’s got at least one more coming this season.
As a whole, Penn State is shooting 40.2% from three. Their best lineup involves surrounding Pickett with 4 dead eye shooters, letting him drive and kick to the open shooter. Over half of their field goal attempts are three pointers but they are finding the open man not just pulling up and letting it fly. 57.5% of their made field goals have been assisted.
Micah Shrewsberry is having this roster play to their strengths. It’s a good shooting team and they shoot threes a lot. They take exceptional care of the basketball to limit turnovers. Knowing they don’t have the size to compete for many offensive rebounds, they focus on getting back on defense and making sure they are set. I don’t know how good Penn State is (they certainly have some flaws), but it is super refreshing to watch a coach maximize the talent on his roster.
Things I Haven’t Liked
Lack of post play is an issue. I like Kebba Njie, I really do. But he’s not ready to compete in the Big Ten this season. In their most recent game, Penn State did not start anybody taller than 6’6”. The B1G is still the preeminent conference for post players and that’s going to be an issue for Penn State as they matchup against the likes of Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers and more.
Depth is another issue. Against the Illini, Penn State played just seven guys more than 2 minutes. They can’t have one of their main five guys go down for even a few games. There is little margin available.
Non-conference scheduling. Penn State’s five best players are seniors. The Bryce Jordan Center is often not a raucous environment. But instead of trying to get a big time non-conference opponent or two and build some sort of a resume or some sort of excitement among the student body for basketball season, Penn State’s home non-conference games are: Winthrop, Loyola MD, Lafayette, Canisius, Quinnipiac, Delaware State, and Butler (scheduled for them by the conference). This is the type of schedule you put together for next year after the seniors are gone and you are rebuilding. Not the schedule you build to prep a senior laden team for the rigors of B1G play.
Schedule and What’s Left
Games against Canisius, Quinnipiac, and Delaware State remain to finish off 2022. That will bring the total number of cupcakes to six. In Big Ten play, Penn State doesn’t have to go to Indiana or Iowa. Although they play Illinois again, the second game will be at home against the revenge seeking Illini. I’m not sure how Penn State defends Zach Edey or Hunter Dickinson (although both of them will also have to guard the perimeter on the other end of the court) and they have to play both of those squads twice.
The most dangerous stretch of Big Ten play is their first four in January: Iowa and Indiana at home, Purdue in Philly, and a trip to Ann Arbor. As long as the Nittany Lions avoid digging a hole for themselves with a four game losing streak there, they should be able to remain in bubble contention the rest of the way.
BoilerUp89’s Final Thoughts
I really like this Penn State team. They are flawed, but fun to watch and are going to pull some upsets on good three point shooting nights. Unfortunately, they will also lose a game or two they shouldn’t on bad three point shooting nights. Live by the three, die by the three.
Without a non-conference resume booster, 10-10 in the Big Ten probably isn’t getting them in the NCAA tournament especially as the Big Ten continues to crater its reputation the past few days (yes, I’m writing this during halftime of the Maryland game). 11-9 is within reach though. Double plays against Minnesota and Nebraska give Penn State the opportunity to collect some relatively easier wins (Nebraska is good, but I’d still rather face them twice than say Indiana if I was Penn State). Their game against Northwestern comes late in the season when Northwestern may be out of bubble contention. I can see Penn State making it to that 11-9 threshold, but they’ve got to avoid starting out 1-5 in B1G play. I think they are too reliant on threes to go 10-4 down the stretch if they put themselves in that hole.
Other Expert Opinions
MaximumSam: I’ve been going down the rabbit hole about Mike Leach and his sizable impact on college football. It led me reading about Archie Cooley, who was the head coach of Mississippi Valley St. in the 80’s, and happened to coach a certain receiver by the name of Jerry Rice.
Cooley had a pretty simple philosophy. Put Jerry Rice on one side, three receivers on the other, and the defense could choose to put single coverage on Rice and get killed, or double Rice and face a big problem on the other side.
This is pretty close to Penn State’s usage of Pickett. Give him the ball, get him isolated on someone, and let him go to work. One on one he’s deadly. Double him, and now you have a bunch of three point shooters on the court and you aren’t guarding them all.
misdreavus79: Penn State has dealt with the loss of John Harrar by creating a team of shooters that can go off at any time. Until Kebba Njie and Demetrius Lilley can gain enough experience to battle with the bodies they’ll see in Big Ten play, Myles Dread, Caleb Dorsey, and Jalen Pickett himself have been handling the bulk of the inside touches. This is both good and bad, as having five players who can shoot from anywhere puts a ton of stress on opposing defenses —Illinois is the prime example of of this.
But of course, when the shots aren’t falling, the Lions can struggle to keep pace with the competition, and getting bullied in the paint to add insult to injury makes the losses look at lat worse at that. Virginia Tech and Michigan State are great examples of this, but even Clemson, a game they had a chance to win, could have been decided in regulation (or the first overtime) if some key shots had fallen.
Of course, it’s too simplistic to say “when teams make their shots they win,” but with Penn State’s makeup this season, they need their shots to fall even more so than your average team, as the strategy of “let Jalen Pickett cook or hand it over to a shooter” doesn’t really have an alternative. When Pickett comes off the floor, Penn State has struggled to score at the same rate, which has led to a lot of run for the senior guard. 40 minutes a game is going to add up as the conference season goes on.
Are there any Penn State basketball fans that read OTE articles?
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Yes, I’m one of them but I prefer to remain silent in the comments
Yes, I’m one of them and I’ll identify myself in the comments
How should I know?
Are you looking forward to watching Hunter Dickinson and Zach Edey try to guard a 6’6" guy on the perimeter?
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No, because they are going to have their way on the other end of the court
Will Penn State make the NCAA tournament?
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I passed out hours ago