The Penn State basketball season is upon us. By now, you’ve already seen what we think of each individual player, and how we think the Big Ten will shape out. The Nittany Lions have already played their first game of the season, an exhibition game against Lock Haven, winning by a comfortable margin. Today, they play their first game of the regular season against Albany as part of the Hall of Fame Tipoff.
But before we get into the nitty gritty of the season, we asked the rest of the staff to tell us how they think the season will play out.
We all want this wonderful freshman class to turn Penn State into NCAA Tournament contenders right away, and while the exhibition against Lock Haven was promising, I don't think we see a big jump in performance in 2016-17. The Big Ten is still a very tough conference, and there are a lot of teams that will be returning more talent than Penn State (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana) or reloading with classes that are just as exciting as the one Pat Chambers just brought in (Michigan State, Michigan, Maryland). So I have a 6-12 conference record for the Lions with them going 15-16 overall. That's a step down record-wise from last year, but the team should move into the KenPom top 100 and get enough development from its young players to make next year's NCAA Tournament dream seem quite possible.
It's hard to say what the team will finish with in terms of wins and losses. If I had to take a stab at it, the regular season record will be 17-14 with a conference record of 8-10. The team has seen improvement at home in recent years. In 2014 it went 10-6 at home. In 2015 that record improved to 11-4. If the team can find a way to a 12-4 record at home this year, or better, it may be able to cobble together a run at post-season consideration.
Wins and losses are important but what will be nice to watch this season is the overall improvement of play. It appears that the Lions truly have ten players that it will be able to deploy, a luxury that Pat Chambers has not had since coming to Happy Valley. There will be a great deal more up-tempo play from the Lions on offense. The team will press with regularity, a trait expected from Chambers when he came to Penn State but one that hasn't been logistically possible until recent years.
If the guards can carry the team and the low-post players can stay out of foul trouble it isn't out of the realm of possibilities that the team could make a run at the NCAA tournament this season. Crazier things have happened. Whatever the final record of the team ends up when all of the games are played, it will be fun to watch the improved play on the court and the continued progress of the program under coach Pat Chambers.
I don’t remember going into a season with more excitement and mystery leading into Game 1. There was excitement heading into 2010-11, Talor Battle’s senior year, but we had a decent idea what to expect. There was plenty of mystery after Tim Frazier went down in 2012 and after DJ Newbill graduated in 2014 – but the excitement level was not quite there.
This year we get both: exciting prospects and a more talented team than in years past, but also a big mystery as to how well the freshman can adapt to the college game, and how well they will hold up through the physical B1G schedule. On top of that, Pat Chambers has indicated that we will be watching a different style of play that is faster and higher scoring. Penn State basketball fans aren’t used to nice things, so naturally many are cautious to jump on the bandwagon just yet. Chambers has stated that postseason play is the goal for the year, and the team is talented enough on paper to achieve that.
I think we will see early on that this team has the skills to finish with a winning record, but there will also be some periods of inconsistent play that have us longing to fast-forward to a more experienced squads. Regardless of the pitfalls, fans should enjoy the ride. This is likely to be a different brand of Penn State basketball than in the past, and it’s something to be excited about. Fortune favors the bold, so I’ll go with at 19-12 (9-9) prediction. A strong non-conference run, followed by a rough start to B1G play, topped off by a momentous run to end the season.
By now, we’ve covered in-depth why we’re all excited about this season: The expected immediate impact of Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, as well as the return of key players such as Shep Garner, Josh Reaves, and Payton Banks. Josh and Payton have had injury issues which thankfully, don’t seem like will keep them out of the games against bigger opponents. I’ll say that PSU goes 9-4 in the non-conference slate and 8-10 in the Big Ten. The 17-14 record given the difficult schedule should give them a decent shot at an NIT bid.
Last season, Penn State was projected to have one of its worst seasons under Pat Chambers. He had depth, but the depth wasn’t very talented. He had experience, but the experience was bunched in one area. He had talent, but the talent wasn’t spread out evenly. Many folks believed that team would barely scratch 14 wins, and some even thought they could finish in the single digits. We all know how that season went.
This season has some of the same things, but in a different direction. They have the talent, but lack the experience. They have the depth, but it’s not distributed evenly. What’s different this season, however, is that Pat Chambers has, for the first time, a team that can compete from day one. Conventional wisdom would dictate this team will take a while to get accustomed to playing together, but Chambers has already proven that he’s able to take less talented teams to play above their levels. I’m excited too see what he can do with this team.
As per record, I’ll do what I always do: 18-13, 8-10 Big Ten. That’s one extra Big Ten win, with an extra non-conference win.