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Penn State Basketball Preview: Can Donovon Jack Stop Fouling?

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The junior big man should be able to step up his game in 2015, but only if he can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

When Donovon Jack committed to Penn State in the spring of 2012, the scouting report on him was fairly promising. He had a great number strengths - soft touch around the basket, deft footwork, great efficiency (42 made shots in a row in high school!), range out to the 3-point line, instinctual shot-blocker and so on. However, he was still only rated a 2-star recruit that had just been released from his letter-of-intent from Duquesne after Ron Everhart was fired. The obvious knock on him as a prospect is what still holds true today.

Does Donovon Jack have the strength to be effective down low in the Big Ten?

It's a hard question to answer. The 6'9" lefty is still listed at just a meager 210 pounds entering his junior year. Now this is not a hit-piece on the Lions' strength and conditioning staff or Jack's work ethic in the weightroom. He just simply does not have the genetics and metabolism to put on the necessary 25 pounds to match the size of other Big Ten big men. At this point, expecting him to transform his body with that much muscle mass in just one offseason is wishful thinking.

But unless Donovon and his team are able to compensate for his weakness down low, he will never reach his full potential. Mostly because he'll have a hard time staying on the floor for an entire Big Ten game.

After a limited freshman year that most big men require to adjust to the college game, Jack became a regular member of the Lions' rotation last year as a sophomore. It was your typical rollercoaster season for an underclassmen, filled with moments of brilliance (La Salle) and utter failure (Minnesota in the BTT). Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to his success was his own fouling habits. It's hard to get into a rhythm if you have 2 or more fouls by halftime.

# of PF at Halftime 0 Fouls 1 Fouls 2 Fouls 3 Fouls
Games 3 12 16 3

Even when Chambers rolled the dice and played Jack with 2 fouls in the first half, he still managed to pick up a 3rd whistle three different times. No matter what the staff seemingly tried to do, Jack was a foul magnet and constantly took himself out of the game. So just how much did these woes affect his production?

MIN % PPG RPG BPG W/L B1G W/L
Games w/ 0-1 PF at Halftime 61.0% 8.1 5.2 2.3 8-7 4-4
Games w/ 2-3 PF at Halftime 38.9% 4.7 2.6 0.9 8-11 2-8

Well, his numbers practically doubled whenever he was able to avoid first half foul trouble. Meanwhile, the Lions fared much better in the win-loss column when Jack was able to substitute out at Chambers' discretion instead of the referee's. That was especially true in Big Ten play when the Lions won 50% of their games with Jack freely available compared to just 20% when he was saddled with fouls.

Considering Jack was the Lions' most efficient player last season (112.4 offensive rating), the biggest area for Jack to improve is his defense. The former volleyball standout displayed incredible timing on shot block attempts (9.2% block%, 47th best in the country last year per KenPom.com), but his lack of strength often made him susceptible to whistles. Donovon will have to exercise better judgment on when he attempts to block versus just contesting an opposing player's shot this season.

It will also help tremendously if Jordan Dickerson and Julian Moore can combine for as many minutes as possible at the 5, especially on defense. Let them eat the fouls down low, while banging with the bigger guys their size. A prime example is Iowa, who has 7-footer Adam Woodbury (6.0 FC/40) and 6-10 Gabe Olaseni (5.6 FC/40) down low that allows 6-8 Aaron White and 6-9 Jarrod Uthoff to more effectively guard opposing forwards instead of centers while being the key cogs to the Hawkeyes' attack.

This way, if Donovon can avoid the physically exhausting demand of being a rim protector at just 210 pounds every night, perhaps the season's fatigue won't cripple his outside shot. Jack started the season as an effective 3-point shooter, finishing the non-conference slate at 47.5% from beyond the arc. But that percentage quickly went south in Big Ten play.

Jack 2014 3P%

Donovon's shot completely vanished midway through January. He finished the year on a 2-27 slump over his last 15 games, which made him just a 23.3% 3-point shooter in conference play. He also finished the year at just 58.8% from the foul line, as well. I'm willing to guarantee those will be the worst shooting percentages for the rest of Donovon's career.

But again, I think it speaks volumes to Jack's game that he was able to still be the Lions' most efficient player last year despite these shooting woes. Mostly because the big man was the only player in the country last year to post a higher block % than turnover %. His 25th-best turnover rate (just 8.5%!) is evidence of his strong footwork in the post and soft hands around the rim, something nearly anyone 6'9" or taller in a Penn State uniform has struggled with for the past decade-plus. Not only does he actually get shots off at the rim, but he converts them at a solid 61.5% (per hoop-math.com).

The Lions haven't had an effective inside presence like that since Jeff Brooks. Now, Donovon will never be the focal point of this offense, but it's nice to have such an effective 3rd or 4th option, especially one that can create and convert high percentage shots.

However, he can only be effective this season if he can stay on the floor. How Donovon controls his fouling habits will go a long way to determining the success of his junior year.