It has been a long time since a player coming into the program had as much national attention as Tony Carr did last summer. Ranked 52nd nationally, and with an offer list that included a number of power programs, Carr was easily the highest rated recruit to have come into the programs since before the Crispin days. Understandably, this led to a lot of heightened expectations out of the freshman point guard.
In his first season as a Nittany Lion, Carr did not disappoint. He was able to take command of the team and do well enough to be named to the Big Ten All Freshman team at season’s end. A few hiccups here and there probably kept him out of the All Big Ten teams proper, but all are issues that are easily correctable with another offseason of practice.
Mainly due to his role, Tony Carr had the lowest offensive rating of all starters (plus departed Payton Banks). He made up for it by having by far the highest assist rate on the team, at 26.5%. That’s good enough for 149th in the country according to Kenpom. Another key factor in his offensive performance was his ability to draw fouls once he drove to the lane. His 4.9 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (and accompanying 42% free throw rate) are second only Lamar Stevens on the team. When Carr wasn’t dishing it out to his teammates, he was creating for himself.
This issue tended to be both a gift and a curse, at times bailing Penn State out of jams (Minnesota, end of regulation vs Purdue), while at other times playing a part in Penn State’s misfortune (at Michigan, overtime vs Purdue). Like DJ Newbill before him, teams quickly learned to simply crowd Carr inside the paint and half the time, as Stephen Bardo so eloquently put it, “he wasn’t going to get that call as a freshman.” I said this for Deividas Zemgulis, and it applies tenfold to Carr: A missed shot [by a teammate] is much better than a turnover.
Carr’s defensive numbers aren’t as eye-popping as some of his other teammates (as reflected by his overall defensive rating), but the reality here is that he didn’t need to be a shutdown defender for the team. With guys like Mike Watkins, who set a block record in the Big Ten Tournament, Josh Reaves, whose 4.4% steal rate is 11th in the nation, and even Shep Garner, who quietly put some decent defensive numbers this season, Carr just needed to be in the right place at the right time, and that is reflected on his defensive rebound percentage. His height advantage allowed him to grab the loose balls on both offense and defense, allowing the team to get extra opportunities at the basket.
Carr is the first player since Talor Battle to come in and immediately make an impact on the team.* He took a few games to get adjusted to college, but once he found his rhythm there was no stopping him. While he certainly had some lows, the highs were much more frequent, and much more impactful in the long run. Carr could leave as one of the best players to ever put a Penn State uniform when it’s all said and done, especially if he works on the few things that were apparent this season.
Offseason To Do List
1) Share the ball down the stretch - As I mentioned in the offensive evaluation, Carr had the tendency to take over games late, which in and of itself isn't a detriment (and sometimes it was necessary). However, many times it led to soul crushing freshman mistakes that cost the team the game. When Newbill would take every possession down the stretch a few seasons ago, he did it mainly due to necessity. It still cost Penn State many games because this routinely turned into a five-on-one contest that Newbill couldn’t always win. Carr needs to learn when to take the shot, when to drive to the basket, and when to simply give the ball away. On that same note, he should be mindful of the clock late in games. Ohio State is a prime example of what can happen when you shoot too early and leave the other team with just enough time to steal the game away from you.
2) Watch the turnovers - When you handle the ball as much as Carr did this season, turnovers are going to come. This is something not exclusive to him, but it’s nonetheless something to keep in mind, as he’s the one who facilitates for other players most of the time. Decreasing his turnovers ever so slightly would have a tremendous impact on the whole team overall.
3) Watch the body language - Carr is undoubtedly going to be one of the leaders of this team moving forward, so people will look to him for guidance. As the losses piled up this past season, the frustration was increasingly visible, to the point where he sat in the Iowa game after picking up a technical. Carr should learn to keep his emotions in check, as he’ll be setting an example for the rest of his teammates moving forward.
*If not for his redshirt season, Mike Watkins would be on this list as well.