To say the 2017-18 season was a success for Penn State is an understatement.
The Nittany Lions raced through the competition in the NIT to win the title. Their 26 wins were the most since their 2009 NIT title run.
Penn State had so much success because it was one of the most talented teams in the field and the play of the team in the NIT is promising for the future. The loss of Julian Moore and Shep Garner, the school’s all-time leader in three-pointers made, was inevitable due to graduation.
The speculation on if star sophomore point guard Tony Carr would return was answered on Monday when he decided to enter his name in the NBA Draft and hire an agent, foregoing his final two years of eligibility.
Tony Carr plans to head to The NBA Draft 🔵🦁⚪️@Coach_Chambers: "We're going to miss him, but I think this is AWESOME… it's a dream come true and in no way, shape, or form would we ever stand in anyone's way of their dreams."#ClimbWithUs pic.twitter.com/Y3NsLKKPMe— Penn State Men’s Basketball (@PennStateMBB) April 2, 2018
Even with the loss of the first team All-Big Ten guard, Penn State has the talent to finish in the conference’s top five.
Below are the five men who should start the season opener in 2018.
The man tasked with replacing Carr is the rising sophomore from Florida. Wheeler played valuable minutes for Penn State this season as he was arguably the best on-ball defender on the team.
The knock on his game is his perimeter offense as he was 4-28 from behind the arc and made less than 50 percent of his free throws. True freshman Rasir Bolton has the offensive firepower to start right away, but Wheeler’s defensive work last season proves that he should start next season.
Shooting Guard: Myles Dread, Fr.
The first surprise on the list is the guy who will be replacing Garner. The most obvious replacement is Nazeer Bostick, Penn State’s sixth man throughout the year. His late season suspension puts his spot in the starting lineup in jeopardy.
Enter Dread, the 2017-18 Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington D.C. The Gonzaga College High School star has the size and frame to play in college right away at 6’4″ and 205 pounds. His ability to slash to the basketball and shoot from behind the arc make him a superior option than Bostick, while his larger frame makes him the choice over fellow freshman Bolton.
The first returning starter, Reaves was arguably the team’s most important player as the Nittany Lions lost three out of the four conference games when he was suspended. His impact on the game was seen in the NIT’s opening round when he went for 19 points and 11 rebounds against Temple.
Reaves has always been an impact on the defensive side of the ball as he is the two-time conference leader in steals. His offensive game took a big leap this season and it should take another step forward with Carr and Garner pursuing a professional career.
The man who spurred the run to Madison Square Garden, Stevens returns as the new focal point of the Penn State offense. His 19.2 points per game during the NIT led the Nittany Lions, joining Carr as the only two players in school history to surpass 1,000 points by his sophomore year.
Stevens’ ability to lead the offense was seen throughout the season and an improved jump shot should push Penn State into the top five of the Big Ten.
Unfortunately for Penn State, Watkins missed the final nine games of the season due to a knee injury suffered on senior night against Michigan. While the Nittany Lions won seven of their last nine games, the lack of interior presence was evident when he was out of the lineup.
Watkins was one of the top interior presences in the Big Ten and has an improving post game. Big Ten frontcourts’ should be on high alert as Watkins has the potential to become a premier force in the paint.
Head Coach Patrick Chambers will surely miss Garner, Moore and Carr, but the returning group of players could push the Nittany Lions into the 2019 NCAA Tournament.