In Happy Valley, the Penn State athletics spotlight shines mainly on football, women’s volleyball and men’s hockey.
Lately, the men’s basketball team has been the talk of the university.
Penn State head coach Pat Chambers and his team were off to their best start since the 2011-2012 season at (5-0) overall, before falling to Texas A&M in Brooklyn, NY for a neutral site game.
Commentators on ESPN described this year’s squad as a unit with potential and upside, but they do possess some weaknesses that could hold them back from the tournament.
Penn State’s game against the Aggies exposed, or at the very least highlighted, some of those problems the play-by-play announcers alluded to.
Texas A&M dominated the Nittany Lions on the boards and down low.
Penn State was out-rebounded 36-23 and allowed 52 points in the paint.
In addition to those blunders, the Nittany Lions shot just 26.5% from behind the arc and were in foul trouble throughout the evening.
Penn State held its own against the Aggies for most of the game, but the 12th Man pulled away as time wore on.
In their first true test of the season, the Nittany Lions were competitive, but ultimately lost because of their obvious flaws.
If Blue & White wants to make the postseason, they are going to have to minimize their issues as much as possible.
Here is how Chambers and his team can go dancing in March:
Find a way to compete with tall teams
Watkins is a defensive machine as a rim protector, but experiences foul trouble from time to time.
Moore and Pierce, on the other hand, are unproven and might not be able to hang with tougher competition.
The best chance for the Nittany Lions to compete with tall teams is to force more turnovers in the open court.
Chambers has not been shy about running the full court press. The Nittany Lions have been able to force double digit turnovers in all of their games this season.
If the Nittany Lions can run this defense successfully for a majority of the game, it won’t allow teams to set up their offenses and feed the ball down low.
Stay out of foul trouble
This is easier said than done, but the Nittany Lions need to focus on limiting the fouls they commit.
It is going to be tough task, especially because the team will be more prone to fouls if they keep running the full court press.
Chambers has addressed the problem, saying that his team doesn’t play the same when players have to go to the bench for fouls.
Rather than playing their game, Nittany Lion players have been culprits of adjusting their game to try and avoid fouls, instead of making plays.
If Penn State can break its habit of playing timidly when under pressure from fouls, then this unit will soar to new heights.
Develop a secondary scoring option to Tony Carr
(i.e. give Lamar Stevens the ball, too)
The Nittany Lions have a lot of talent and can create mismatches on offense.
Carr is a star in the making and fundamentally sound, but Penn State needs another option to turn to in case of double teams, or injury.
Enter Stevens. The 6-foot-8 forward is a scoring threat and put his skills on display when Carr went down with a brief injury against the Montana Grizzlies.
Stevens led the team in points with 25 that night. He doubled-down and posted another 25-point performance in the loss against Texas A&M.
What impresses me the most about Stevens is that he is such a dynamic player.
He is someone who has played on the wing mostly during his young career.
Then, he was asked by Chambers to move down to the low post to accommodate for the team’s lack of depth in the paint.
The former four-star recruit showed that he can play both on the wing and in the post.
Why wouldn’t you want to put the ball in the hands of a player who can hurt you in so many ways, and adjust on the fly?
Carr is the best player on the floor, but every team needs a quality second option, with Stevens being Penn State’s.
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