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Penn State Basketball 2015-16 Non-Con Advanced Stats Recap: A Shift in Philosophy?

Okay, only in one area. An important area, but it seems like it might be temporary. Here are three major points to take away from Penn State's 9-4 start to the season.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

1. If you think this looks like an Ed DeChellis team, you're not totally wrong

Let me start here by saying that a faster tempo does not correlate with more offensive success, nor does a slower tempo equal the opposite. It's purely a stylistic choice, one that is presumably tailored to a team's personnel to maximize their chances of winning. No program better illustrates that point than Virginia, who is currently 350th in the nation (2nd-slowest) in adjusted tempo, but 2nd (350th-not-worst) in the nation in offensive efficiency. Tony Bennett's team maximizes every second of every possession in search of the best possible shot, and they're incredibly tough to beat because of it. That said, here is why I am mad online:

Pat Chambers has his team playing at 66.7 possessions per 40 minutes through 13 non-conference games. That figure would represent one of top-80 fastest teams a year ago, but the shot clock reduction from 35 to 30 seconds means that Penn State is currently 312th nationally in tempo. I suspect that this is a symptom of Chambers not having faith in Shep Garner to make plays as a ball-dominant point guard and is only a one-year deal. Penn State has typically been middle-of-the-pack nationally in tempo since Chambers' arrival and he's always had a dynamic playmaker in the backcourt. If Shep isn't that guy, he'll likely have it next year in Tony Carr. So don't expect this to become a trend.

And look, Penn State is not Virginia. Pat Chambers is not Tony Bennett. That's fine. But I will be somewhat concerned if I have to watch Penn State play at a Virginia pace next season with two legitimate high-major freshmen expected to see major minutes.

2. Scoring is more balanced, but there's still a workhorse

Three Lions put up double-digit scoring averages through the first 13 games, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering nobody on this roster was deemed capable of replacing D.J. Newbill by himself. Brandon Taylor (16.2 ppg), Shep Garner (14.7) and Payton Banks (11.7) have done an adequate job of picking up the scoring without losing much in the way of efficiency. Each player has increased their individual usage (pretty significantly in the cases of Taylor and Banks) and improved their efficiency over their 2014-15 numbers:

2014-15 %Poss 2014-15 Ortg 2015-16 %Poss (Non-con only) 2015-16 Ortg (Non-con only)
Brandon Taylor 21.0 90.9 30.0 101.4
Shep Garner 19.0 102.4 21.8 109.8
Payton Banks 14.4 76.9 21.8 102.7

It's also important to note that the 2014-15 numbers span the entirety of last season, which includes games against Big Ten opponents. I don't expect Penn State to be able to keep up their current offensive output, ipso facto I don't expect these three to continue to be this effective against better competition. Nonetheless, this trio has shown significant improvement on offense and other than Josh Reaves and perhaps Julian Moore I would expect Taylor, Garner and Banks to remain the most important players for Penn State through conference play.

Now to the main point of this section - peep that non-con usage figure for Taylor. This indicates that possessions end with BT (shot, turnover, etc.) 30% of the time when he's on the floor. It's an incredibly high figure, one that even surpasses Newbill's usage from the entirety of last season (29.8%). So while scoring is more balanced, Chambers' offense is still very much revolving around a single player. That can pay dividends, as it did against Kent State when Taylor put up 29 points on 21 shots, but more often than not that dependency has sunk Penn State, especially when the senior has had an off night or gotten into foul trouble. And if you're of the opinion that BT3 is too much of a focal point, you might have a case - even Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, a candidate for National POY, has a lower usage rate than Taylor through non-conference play.

3. The persistent fouling is certainly here to stay, at least for this season

It's really a shame that college basketball officiating has moved more and more in favor of offenses, because if it weren't for the constant fouling that Chambers' teams have become known for, Penn State would have one of the top defensive units in the nation. The Nittany Lions finished non-conference play 28th in the nation in defending two-point field goals, allowing opponents to shoot a mere 42.1% from inside the arc. That's become another hallmark of this team over the past season and a half, one that can be attributed almost entirely to Jordan Dickerson. The seven-footer is the nation's 13th best rim protector in terms of block percentage - Dickerson records a block on 12.5% of defensive possessions that he plays, and that doesn't factor in all the shots he changes. Reaves and Moore also deserve some credit here, as they also rank inside the top 215 in block percentage, but ever since Dickerson arrived in Happy Valley the Lions have been very good at two-point defense, statistically speaking.

But the constant fouling, which was none more present than in Penn State's 27-foul effort against Colorado, has prevented the Nittany Lions from reaching their true defensive ceiling. That's not to say they're still not one of the nation's better defenses - they currently rank 80th nationally in tempo-free defensive efficiency on KenPom - but you can't help but feel that their aggressive nature limits how effective they can be. That goes for offense, too - foul trouble has kept key players off the floor in key spots a number of times.

Will Chambers be able to address that issue in time for Wednesday? It doesn't seem likely to happen based on his entire head coaching career, but there is a glimmer of hope for an important 2016-17 season. In his second and final year at Boston University in 2010-11, his Terriers were 39th in the nation in defensive free throw rate. That's easily the best ranking a Chambers team has ever posted in terms of keeping his opponents off the charity stripe, and there's an interesting parallel to draw (though I might just be grasping fro straws): that team was the nation's 249th tallest team according to KenPom's figures. The tallest Terrier to play more than 40% of available minutes was 6'7" freshman Dom Morris. As it stands right now, Penn State will have two players taller than 6'7" on next year's roster. Is this fishing for evidence that these fouling woes can be cured? For sure. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.