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Penn State Basketball Preview Part I: Key Returnees

Lamar Stevens headlines the key returnees for the Nittany Lions

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State may have lost a program great in Tony Carr, but the Nittany Lions return plenty of experienced talent in 2018-19.

The basketball season is just around the corner with the Nittany Lions tipping off their season on Friday against North Florida. Today, we begin our season preview coverage as we look at the key returnees for Penn State. The Nittany Lions are looking to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

Before we get started, one player that you won’t see on this list is senior forward Satchel Pierce who is academically ineligible for the first half of the season. He will have a chance to return for the spring.

G Josh Reaves - SR

2017-18: 34 games, 32 starts, 10.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists

The senior guard is the most experienced player on the Penn State roster, playing in 84 games and making 75 starts through his first three seasons in Happy Valley. With Tony Carr gone, Reaves will have his shot at the biggest role of his career with the Nittany Lions.

Over the past three seasons, the Fairfax, Virginia native has seen a rise in his overall numbers. Reaves even led the team in offensive rating a season ago at 122.1. The hyper athletic wing is efficient on both ends of the floor as the advanced stats show with effective field goal percentage of 56 percent and 2.2 defensive win shares (.186 WS/48). Those numbers ranked third and first on the team respectively. He also returns as the Nittany Lions best 3-point shooter from a year ago at 37.7 percent.

Lamar Stevens will get most of the hype entering the season, but Reaves deserves his own hype as well as he is without a doubt the best all-around player on the team. Overall, if the program hopes to meet its lofty goals this season, Reaves will be a major reason for their success and all numbers indicate that he’s in for a great season.

F Mike Watkins - JR

2017-18: 29 games, 28 starts, 12.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocks

In reality, Mike Watkins is a returnee for the Nittany Lions. However, Watkins is out indefinitely which is a huge blow for the Nittany Lions. The Philly native was the Nittany Lions best rebounder and by far the post defender a season ago with a defensive box plus/minus of 7.4.

The junior forward gets it done on the offensive end as well. He was incredibly efficient with a 68.5 field-goal percentage a year ago and an offensive rating of 121. He’ll be missed on both sides of the ball and once he returns to the program, his presence will be felt. But until that return, the Nittany Lions will just have to “survive and advance”.

F Lamar Stevens - JR

2017-18: 39 games, 39 starts, 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists

Lamar Stevens has a ton of hype surrounding him entering the season and rightfully so. The Philadelphia native may also be one of the top three players in the Big Ten. He received plenty of recognition following a 20-point, 11-rebound performance against West Virginia in an exhibition game for charity on Saturday.

It’s hard to ask anybody to replace Tony Carr’s production from a season ago, but Stevens will surely be up to the task as he looks to lead the program to the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19. As you can see from the numbers above, Stevens put together a great sophomore campaign though there are some improvements to make.

Stevens had Penn State’s second-highest usage rate a season ago at 26 percent and with Tony Carr gone, Stevens should now see that number climb closer to 30 percent or higher.

While Stevens is entering the season looking like the team’s primary scoring option, he will have to become more efficient as the team’s ORtg with Stevens on the court was at 107.1. If the Nittany Lions want to get to the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19, Stevens alongside Reaves and eventually Watkins will be the trio that gets the Lions to the dance. If one of them struggle for a prolonged period of time, it could mean a world of hurt.

F Trent Buttrick - SO

2017-18: 10 games, 0 starts, 0.5 points, 1.0 rebound, 0.0 assists

The Florida native appeared in 10 games last season for the Nittany Lions and only totaled 36 minutes. A small sample size makes it hard to draw conclusions, but either way, Buttrick should see a rise in playing time this season especially early on with Watkins out.

Buttrick struggled a bit offensively but was solid on the other end of the court with a defensive rating of 100.3 . Where he does excel, however, is on the boards. Last season, his total rebound percentage was 16.3 when on the court, meaning he grabbed 16.3 percent of available rebounds when he was on the court.

Buttrick will see an increased role, particularly with Watkins out, and could become an important part of the Nittany Lions’ rotation.

F John Harrar - SO

2017-18: 27 games, 8 starts, 1.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.1 assists

The 6-foot-9 forward put together a quality freshman season and as the season went saw more and more playing time, a testament to his hard work and improving confidence on the court.

Harrar’s low offensive output last season didn’t come struggles but more of just a lack of shots taken. He attempted just 33 shots, but made 18. His usage percentage when on the court was just 11.8 percent, among the lowest on the team. When you stretch out his offensive stats to per 100 possessions, he would average 12.7 points.

Where Harrar did excel last year and where he will see his biggest impact this season is on the boards. Last season, he had a 17.2 rebound rate when on the court and was tremendous on the offensive boards, ending the season with 29 offensive rebounds to his 28 defensive rebounds.

His ability to grab his and the team’s misses and create second-chance points is a tremendous asset to have this season. Defensively, Harrar isn’t great but he gets the job done. The sophomore probably won’t make a huge offensive impact in terms of points this season but will make a considerable impact thanks to his rebounding skill set.

G Jamari Wheeler - SO

2017-18: 39 games, 3 starts, 2.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists

One of only three players last year to play in all 39 games, Wheeler’s playing time a should tell you all you need to know about what type of player the coaching staff believes he can become.

Last season, the speedy point guard struggled offensively as many freshmen do, shooting just 34.8 percent. However, Wheeler was a good creator and strong defensively for the Nittany Lions. His assist rate when on the court was 16.1 percent and his defensive rating was 94.8, second-best on the team for players who appeared in 25 or more games.

Pat Chambers and the coaching staff would love to see Wheeler take a step forward offensively in 2018-19 but, at the very least, the Nittany Lions have a young point guard who can still impact the offense while providing tremendous defense as well.