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Penn State Basketball Preview: Can Ross Travis Breakout as a Senior?

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Forwards have had career-defining senior years before at Penn State - can Ross Travis become the latest to help carry his team to the postseason?

Death to #RossTravisJumpShots
Death to #RossTravisJumpShots
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Will this be the year Ross Travis puts it all together? That's a question that's been asked frequently of many Penn State players in the past, particularly those of the athletic, 6'6"+ variety. With the program's lack of history in producing quality bigs and forwards, those who seem to have the skills and athleticism carry a heavier burden in the program. They are expected to produce at the highest-level, because Penn State typically doesn't have anyone else of their caliber on the roster.

The Lions have another case this year with Travis. The true senior has quickly burned through his eligibility by earning a reputation as a junkyard dog on the wing. It's a valuable role and one that he has excelled at, but Penn State needs more from the Minnesota native to improve in the win column. Particularly the Lions need Travis to carve a more productive role in the offense, because he has been nothing but a highly ineffective jump shooter for three years.

Offensive Rating Possession% Shot% eFG%
2012 97.6 16.5 16.0 46.5
2013 86.9 16.7 17.1 36.3
2014 100.1 17.6 16.4 45.8

(Source: KenPom.com)

%Shots At Rim FG% At Rim %Shots 2pt Jumpers FG% 2pt Jumpers %Shots 3pt FG% 3pt
2012 55.1% 67.1% 26.0% 18.2% 18.9% 16.7%
2013 23.0% 54.9% 59.0% 34.4% 18.0% 12.5%
2014 40.4% 60.9% 46.5% 33.0% 13.2% 30.0%
Career 36.9% 61.5% 46.8% 31.9% 16.3% 19.1%

(Source: Hoop-Math.com)

There has been very little improvement in Travis' offensive game since his freshman year. He has remained the 4th scoring option for Penn State when he's on the floor and his usage rates reflect that. However, his inefficient offensive rating can be attributed to poor shot selection. In his career, 63.1% of his field goal attempts have been of the jump shot variety, but he has only connected on 28.6% of them. His career FT% (63.8%) and 3PT% (19.1%) is further evidence that Ross is just not a guy who should be attempting jump shots further than 12 feet.

Conversely, Travis has been highly effective around the basket. His career 61.5% FG% on shots attempted at the rim is strong evidence of that. And while Travis' greatest reputation can be found in his rebounding, his inside production does not stem from numerous offensive putbacks. Only 16.3% of his shot attempts from that area of the floor came following an offensive rebound.

Why has such a low usage, inefficient player logged 76% of the available minutes the last two seasons? Obviously the lack of depth on the roster played a factor, but Ross has also been the Lions' anchor on the defensive glass. One of the Big Ten's top rebounders, Travis needs just 160 more rebounds to finish 3rd all-time in Penn State history (he's had 200+ the last two seasons). All of Chambers' Penn State teams have finished with a plus 70% defensive rebounding percentage at the end of the year, because Ross corrals 20% of the available defensive boards when he's on the floor.

So 2015 can go a number of ways for Travis and the Nittany Lions. We could see his reincarnation as a more aggressive scorer inside a la Branden Dawson for Michigan State and get more of this. Or we could see the same Ross Travis that falls in love with the pull-up 18-footer. But if we see Travis trying to fulfill the same role again, there will have to be much better results for this team to improve.

It's impossible to quantify how likely it is for a player who has played over 2,500 career minutes to suddenly reinvent their game, but the Penn State program has two prominent examples. They just so happened to be the difference-makers on Penn State's last two NCAA tournament teams. Here's how Travis stacks up to Gyasi Cline-Heard and Jeff Brooks heading into his senior year:

PPG RPG 2P% 3P% FT% eFG%
Cline-Heard Fr-Jr Years 5.7 4.3 54.8% N/A 50.1% 54.2%
Cline-Heard Senior Year 16.0 8.2 50.3% N/A 73.5% 50.3%
Brooks Fr-Jr Years 4.5 3.3 48.0% 27.7% 52.4% 46.6%
Brooks Senior Year 13.1 6.3 58.6% 40.3% 74.4% 59.0%
Travis Fr-Jr Years 6.6 6.2 44.9% 19.1% 63.8% 42.3%
Travis Senior Year ? ? ? ? ? ?

Both of those guys as seniors morphed into all-conference performers practically out of nowhere. Brooks is the more apt comparison to Travis, since their games are much more similar to each other than the bruising style of Cline-Heard down low. But both guys revamped their shooting mechanics and went on to have drastically improved shooting seasons. Cline-Heard's famous tickling of his Nittany Lion logo on his shorts helped transform his free throw from a liability to a productive weapon, while Brooks' efficient sniping from the perimeter helped open up his entire offensive arsenal.

Is Ross next in Penn State's line of late-blooming, athletic forwards? If he is, the Lions will have a tremendous chance to make the Big Dance. If he's not, look for Chambers to utilize his full roster with guys like Payton Banks to get more production out of Travis' spot. Either way, the #RossTravisJumpShots watch will have a great effect on the outcome of Penn State's season.