An unusually strong season for Penn State basketball. Led by Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy, they announced themselves with a blowout win over Illinois and were competitive all year, finishing 19-12 and 10-10 in conference. They nearly won the Big Ten tourney, and got themselves a ten seed in the Big Dance. After knocking out TAMU, they gave Texas all they wanted but lost in the second round. Unfortunately, they were a bit too good, as head coach Micah Shrewsbury got poached by Notre Dame, leading them to hire VCU coach Mike Rhoades.
Woo boy. Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy both got drafted in the second round of the tourney. Andrew Funk wasn’t drafted but is trying to stick with the Nuggets. Myles Dread and Michael Henn ran out of eligibility. Camren Wynter joined the Temple coaching staff. The transfer portal claimed four. Caleb Dorsey went to William & Mary. Evan Mahaffey went to Ohio State. Dallion Johnson went to Florida Gulf Coast. Finally, Kebba Njie followed Shrewsbury to Notre Dame.
PG Ace Baldwin, 6’1’’ 4th Year: It’s going to be an unrecognizable team for Penn State, but they have a pretty good option at the point in Baldwin, who followed Mike Rhoades from VCU. He led the Rams in points, steals, and assists last season, and was the Defensive Player of the Year in the A-10. He has struggled at times with shot selection and turnovers, but figures to be the top player on this team.
SG RayQuandis Mitchell, 6’5’’ 5th Year: I’m going to be honest with you that I am really guessing at who will start for PSU this year. Baldwin is a lock, and probably Wahab too, but after that it’s a mystery. So I’ll pencil in Mitchell here because he is vaguely shooting guard shaped and is on the roster. This is his fourth(!) team after previous stops at Idaho, Illinois Chicago, and Missouri-Kansas City. He was a complete gunner last year, taking a ridiculous amount of shots while not being very good at all at making shots. He was a good free throw shooter, so perhaps there is something buried there.
SF Leo O’Boyle, 6’7’’ 5th Year: I’ll slot in O’Boyle at the wing. He played four years at Lafayette and developed into a strong shooter from deep, going 41% last season. With Wahab underneath the basket, putting shooters on the floor will be important for the Nits. O’Boyle can at least do that.
PF Zach Hicks, 6’7’’ 3rd Year: Portal U continues with Hicks, who comes over from Temple. His game has mostly been about floating around the three point line - that is where he has taken most of his shots and been fairly successful, hitting 36% last year. The hope here is Baldwin attacks the basket and kicks to Hicks. Hey, Kicks to Hicks! I need to call the trademark office.
C Qudus Wahab, 6’11’’ 5th Year: Well, hey there Old Friend. Wahab comes to Penn State after two years at Georgetown, a year at Maryland, and then another year at Georgetown. He’s always been a sort of prototypical solid and unexceptional big man. He makes bunnies and gets rebounds and is very serviceable as long as you aren’t dependent on him to run your offense. There is zero stretch to his game, as he has attempted three threes in his career and made zero.
SG Nick Kern, 6’6’’ 3rd Year: Another possibility to start is Kern, who like Baldwin followed Rhoades from VCU. He’s known as an athletic defender, but to date hasn’t shown much as a shooter, taking just eight threes last season. Still, Rhoades at least knows his first name, so that’s a plus.
SF Puff Johnson, 6’8’’ 4th Year: Puff comes from North Carolina, and at least has a good recruiting profile. He was a four star prospect who was known for his length and shooting, but he struggled to get minutes for the Tar Heels and didn’t show much when he did get them. However, he does have a cool name, apparently given due to his fascination with Cocoa Puffs, so that’s something announcers can talk about when the Nits are down 20.
PG Kanye Clary, 5’11’’ 2nd Year: Hey, look at this! A guy on Penn State’s team who actually played for Penn State last year. Clary was good for a few minutes a game last season and I imagine he will get that again in relief of Bailey. He has some offensive punch, and dropped 17 on Maryland last year.
SG D’Marco Dunn, 6’5’’ 3rd Year: Rhoades adds another rarely used North Carolina bench player in Dunn. Another former four star recruit, he played very sparingly though did drop 14 against Louisville last season. Thus ends the highlights of his North Carolina career.
SG Jameel Brown, 6’4’’ 2nd Year: Another returning PSU player, Brown barely saw the floor last year and is still unknown. He was billed as an athletic defender in high school, so if he can do anything on offense Rhoades may find him some minutes.
C Favour Aire, 6’11’’ 2nd Year: Another spot, another transfer, this one from Miami. He barely played last year, but profiles as your typical raw big man who will block shots and get rebounds and be completely useless if he is more than two feet from the basket. The name is top notch though.
C Demetrius Lilley, 6’10’’ 2nd Year: Lilley is the final returning player for the Nits, though he barely played at all last season. He is still tall, always a useful trait in basketball.
PG Bragi Gudmundsson, 6’5’’ 1st Year: Rhoades got himself a freshman, too, and went all the way to Iceland to get him. Do coaches go to Iceland to scout players on a regular basis? Gudmundsson played for Grindavik in the Iceland-Subway League. Is that Subway like Subway sandwiches? Like the winners get a giant pizza sub? In any event, Gudmundsson is billed as a good shooter and might be another option in the backcourt.
A Conversation With Our Writers
MaximumSam: All right, Penn State. What are we thinking?
BoilerUp89: Mike Rhoades appears to be a solid coach, but I have my doubts that he will be as good as Shrewsberry. That’s a problem in year 1 as Penn State’s roster has completed turned over with only three lightly used players returning.
MaximumSam: Yeah, there’s a decent chance every rotation player is a transfer this season. Not ideal. Who will play?
BoilerUp89: Baldwin and Wahab are a good start. Beyond them someone is going to have to step up and prove that they can score at this level. I suspect Kern and O’Boyle start. Kern will at least be familiar with what Rhoades wants to do having transferred from VCU. For the last starting spot, I honestly don’t know. Probably Hicks.
I do think Jameel Brown becomes part of the rotation this year after mostly not being used last year. Remember that Penn State had a ton of guards last year and there wasn’t much in the way of playing time available for true freshman. Brown was a decently ranked recruit (and one time Purdue commit before he followed Shrews to PSU).
MaximumSam: Somebody has to play. It does feel like a difficult year is incoming, though I like some of the pieces and they could in theory put out a decently talented team.
BoilerUp89: The biggest issue is a lack of scoring ability. Rhoades is a good defensive coach and will try to steal easy transition buckets off turnovers, but when it comes down to running the half court offense, there aren’t enough guys that can win 1 on 1 battles or knock down open shots. Depth is another major concern which is to be expected since 10 of last year’s 13 scholarship players are gone.
Penn State fans should be patient with Rhoades. Recognize that this is probably going to be a multi-year rebuild as too much of the roster turned over. Even in the era of the transfer portal it is still difficult to replace 10 players.