With a new era of Penn State basketball halfway through its first year, I thought now could be an appropriate time to compare last year's NCAA squad to this year's rebuilding team. No, this comparison isn't based off similar expectations between the teams, but I'm curious to see if Chambers has had a profound impact on how PSU has played in the past. For instance, many think this team is better defensively and plays at a faster pace. Let's see what the numbers from both teams' non-conference seasons say.
Last year's team played 11 games in the non-conference slate, while this year's exempt tournament at the Hall of Fame tipoff allowed PSU to have 13 games prior to conference play. The schedule last year was rated much harder by either RPI (58th vs 249th) or KenPom (134th vs 291st) measures.
Despite proclamations that he was bringing an up-tempo style to the Penn State basketball program, Ed DeChellis coached one of the slowest programs in the slowest league in the country. We'll never know if Ed just couldn't recruit the athletes needed to run at an elite level, or if he was just blowing PR smoke about an 'exciting brand of hoops'.
Coach Chambers has made similar statements about playing 'fast' and getting out in transition. While Chambers could be sincere in that effort once he brings in his own personnel, that hasn't happened yet this season. Penn State is averaging just one more possession a game than last season at this point in the year. Here's the exact possessions numbers:
I think it's very likely PSU follows the path laid forth by last year's team. This roster is not built to push the tempo. With this young team, limiting possessions could increase their already slim chances of winning games. They might not be as plodding as 58.6 possessions a game, but I'd be surprised if they averaged over 61. The bottom line is this team hasn't changed much from a tempo standpoint under Chambers (yet).
Replacing your school's all-time leading scorer obviously is no easy task, but the numbers don't show a big discrepancy from a team standpoint. It's important to note, however, that these numbers are a bit deceiving. First off, last year's non-conference averages were brought down from that horrendous egg laid against Maryland. Penn State scored greater than 1.0 PPP in 7 out of 11 games last year compared to 6 out of 13 this year (against an easier schedule). Also, last year's team had a pretty remarkable turnaround in conference play where they improved their offense to 1.08 PPP in Big Ten play. That's not too likely to occur again with this bunch.
As far as this year's offense is concerned, it has been pretty bad. The only consistent area where Penn State has excelled has been rebounding. They've hauled in more than 34% of their opportunities in 12 of their 13 games. Heading into conference play, only Michigan State has been better at offensive rebounding (big surprise). Their turnover % and free throw rate on the season are average. However, they've had 3 games where they turned it over at a rate higher than 25% (including the 33.3% mark against Duquesne which lost them the game). Also, when they do get to the foul line, they only make 63.8% of their free throws.
Saving the worst for last, the biggest issue has been shooting the basketball. PSU's 45.7% eFG% is by far the worst in the Big Ten (Iowa is second worst at 49.9%). They have had five sub 45% games, including 3 sub 40% performances. They shoot way too many threes for how bad they are at making them (251st in 3P%). As guys like Trey Lewis get more acclimated to the college game, Penn State will improve with more scoring threats on the floor, but they will also be facing stronger resistance from Big Ten defenses.
The most encouraging aspect of Penn State's season so far has been the defensive effort, which was the area that always slowed DeChellis' teams. These numbers surely will rise as Penn State faces some of the top 10 offenses in the coming months. However, if the season ended today, PSU would have posted the highest TO%, Steal%, Block%, and lowest eFG% than any season in the DeChellis era.
The biggest strength on defense has also been rebounding. In 2010, Penn State allowed opponents to grab just 26.3% of their offensive rebounds, which ended up being tops in the country. Currently, according to KenPom, PSU ranks 22nd in defensive rebounding. And once again, only Michigan State is better in the conference at 25.7%. It's also refreshing PSU apply some stronger ball pressure which has forced more turnovers, blocked more shots, and grabbed more steals.
KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings has Penn State's D as 10th best in the league despite the improvements. But since conference play has arrived, in the coming weeks we will be able to have more consistent measures against the same competition. Stay tuned (especially on Mondays).