With Penn State’s predictable, yet somehow still dissapointing exit from the Big Ten tournament, new and old questions arise. Mainly, where do we go from here? Penn State has not made the NCAA or NIT tournament in Pat Chambers’s tenure. They have produced one real NBA talent, Tim Frazier, in the same time frame, and no Penn State basketball player has been drafted since 1999. They have only made it to the quarterfinals of the CBI one time, in 2014. We aren’t a basketball school, that is for sure, but the stagnancy of the program can be frustrating for an alumni base as passionate as PSU’s.
Let’s start off with the positives. The most obvious being how young the team is. The Nittany Lions’ top two scorers this season (G Tony Carr and F Lamar Stevens) are both freshman. The team’s fifth leading scorer, F Mike Watkins was a red-shirt freshman. Subsequently, the other two top-5 scorers, Payton Banks and Shep Garner, are both junior guards. So, the Nittany Lions, barring any transfers, will return all five of their top scorers for next year. It is important to note that Penn State did look pretty good for some stretches of the season. They held then #1 Duke to a close game, and they also beat Michigan State and Minnesota, both tournament teams, in back to back games in January. They beat Maryland at home and then three games later lost an OT heartbreaker to Purdue. They showed some serious signs of development this year.
Now, the negatives. Last season’s recruiting was phenomenal, by Penn State standards. All four players were top ten players in their states. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens were both top-20 position prospects. Unfortunately, the recruiting classes prior and the current recruiting class are not as promising. The three Roman Catholic players (Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick) are great building blocks for a program. However, they are only building blocks.
In order to create a contender, Penn State is going to have to recruit that well on a consistent basis. This season, Penn State only has one verbal commitment. That commitment comes from Trent Buttrick, a relatively unknown PF from Naples, Florida. The team’s only noticeable prospect is Najja Hunter, a SG from the Westtown School in Westtown, PA. Hunter is a 3-star recruit, and another possibly crucial building block for the program. He also has offers from Minnesota, Seton Hall, and Iona, all tournament-caliber teams. If Chambers can convince him that he will be better off (either through playing time (likely) or possible postseason play (unlikely) then they may be able to snag his commitment.
Long story short, Penn State’s season, while typical and slightly disappointing, could be the start of good things to come. However, it is contingent on the young players continuing to grow and develop and on Chambers and his staff to make more strides in recruiting. Remaining stagnant in either of these categories will most likely put Penn State exiting in the second round of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, yet again.