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Penn State vs Campbell Preview: A New Season With A New Hope

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The Nittany Lions open the season looking for the promise land. Can they get there?

NCAA Basketball: Radford at Penn State Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

After two back-to-back exhibition games, The Penn State Nittany Lions embark on the journey that counts. The Lions, like a number of other teams today, open their season with new hopes and aspirations. For Penn State, will this finally be the year that they’ll reach the real postseason? Can that postseason bid actually be in the NCAA Tournament? We’ll get to find out today.

We’ve spent the past month and change talking about everything the Nittany Lions have going for them, everything they need to improve upon, and everything that needs to go right for them elsewhere (namely: can some of these terrible non-conference opponents actually have a good enough season to matter) in order to help them achieve this goal.

Penn State was a mixed bag in the two exhibition games. Against Lafayette, they looked good, albeit rusty, as you would expect from a team that hadn’t played since the summer. Against Bloomsburg, they were a team of two halves: One where they looked like tournament contenders, and one where they looked like they’d barely survive the NIT. Whichever half shows up most often will decide the Nittany Lions’ fate.

Scouting the Opposition

The Campbell Fighting Camels, who went 19-18 overall last season and reached the CIT semifinals, return one of the most prolific players in Chris Clemons, the preseason Player of the Year in the Big South.

Clemons averaged a staggering 25.1 points a game last season, being the biggest part of the Camels’ offense. He however is not the only returning piece for Campbell. The Camels actually return most of its scoring production, and the Nittany Lions will have to keep last season’s Albany game deep in their minds if they don’t want a repeat of that debacle against another team that returns seven of their top eight scorers.

Aside from Clemons, the Camels return Shane Whitfield and his 11.1 points per game, Marcus Burk and his 40% three-point rate, as well as Andrew Eudy and his 5.2 rebounds per game.

The good news for the Nittany Lions is that no player in Campbell’s roster is taller than 6’8”, so they should have a height advantage throughout most of the game.

What to watch for

Which Penn State will show up? Lafayette’s Penn State, the rusty, but dominant kind, or second-half Bloomsburg Penn State? If it’s the former, this should be a pleasant watch. If it’s the latter, hold on to your butts.

Will Mike Watkins play? Chambers said a few days ago that he expects Watkins to come back this weekend, but this weekend doesn’t necessarily mean today. Can Penn State manage without the big man for the opening game if he’s not available? Will it matter? These are all good questions. Julian Moore is still working through his knee injury, so expect a good dose of John Harrar if Watkins isn’t available for this game.

Will shooting improve? We’ve seen several examples now, including the games in the Bahamas, of Penn State’s potential to shoot lights out. If they can actually do so in a game with actual implications, it will be a sign of good things to come.

Prediction

This team knows what’s in front of them. They know how easily it can all be derailed if they don’t put forth their best effort in every game. I expect the Nittany Lions to remember last year’s season opener, and a game that starts out competitively gets out of hand in the second half. Penn State 82, Campbell 67