Hype is in the air in Happy Valley and not all of it is going towards the No. 3 football team. Penn State’s basketball team is expected to have a fantastic year as the core of last year’s team returns.
Tony Carr and Mike Watkins were the main stars for the Nittany Lions as Carr proved to be the lead guard that has been lacking in State College. Watkins gives head coach Patrick Chambers the post presence that Penn State was missing over the past couple of years. His defense gave Big Ten coaches nightmares as his 90 blocked shots were only second to Minnesota‘s Reggie Lynch.
The offensive improvement of both players gives the Nittany Lions a dangerous one-two duo that could provide the conference nightmares. Their play could be spectacular, but swing man Josh Reaves will be critical for Penn State’s success.
Reaves only averaged 7.7 points per game, but his quick hands and positioning on defense were his strengths last year for the Nittany Lions. His 2.1 steals per game topped the conference, while Ethan Happ of Wisconsin was the only player to record more than Reaves’ 60.
His explosion and timing have been huge for the Nittany Lions as he has recorded almost 50 blocks and 100 steals through two seasons of play. He has done this while missing five games in each season on a team that has won only 13 conference games in two years.
An explosion up the Big Ten food chain might seem crazy with the loss of captains Payton Banks and Terrance Samuel, but Penn State has the pieces to do it on defense. Reaves is the linchpin to that success and his defensive prowess will be challenged in the opening game of the season.
Campbell University is not normally a school known for knocking off the top teams, but possess one of the nation’s best scorers in Chris Clemons. His 25.1 points per game tie him with Mike Daum for the highest returning average and he is looking to build on his play at the end of the season.
Clemons recorded at least 25 points in his final seven games including a 51 point explosion against UNC Asheville, tied with Daum for the nation’s highest mark. His ability to score off the bounce must be stopped by Reaves to avoid a potential upset at the hands of the Fighting Camels.
Unfortunately for Reaves, Clemons is not the only high level scorer Penn State will face this year as Fairleigh Dickinson and Montana both possess guards capable of dropping 20 points a night in Darian Anderson and Ahmad Rorie. Jeffrey Carroll and Admon Gilder are also accomplished scorers as Penn State will play one of them in the Legends Classic.
Reaves needs his length and athleticism to match the quickness on the perimeter or else it will be a long season for the Nittany Lion guards. Big Ten play provides more challenges as Miles Bridges, Vincent Edwards, Bryant McIntosh and Amir Coffey are some of the match-ups that he will expect to see in conference play.
The Defensive Maestro
Many defenders would go queasy trying to defend those players, but Reaves has ability and pedigree to do so. His time at Oak Hill Academy playing with the nation’s elite high school players gives him an edge over the other Penn State defenders in terms of knowing what to expect. His quick hands and instincts allow Reaves to deflect passes away and stay in front of quicker and stronger opponents. If Reaves can handle his assignment on the perimeter, the Nittany Lions will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.