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Penn State Basketball Preview Part IV: Season Prediction Roundtable

NIT again? NCAA Tournament this time? Or perhaps, a big step back this year? Let’s see what our hoops writers had to say.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Final-Penn State vs Utah Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Can you feel it? The 2018-19 college basketball season begins in earnest tomorrow night for Penn State, when the Nittany Lions play host to North Florida. We’ll have your usual game preview and open thread/recap for you tomorrow, but today we complete our annual season preview with a classic roundtable discussion. The topic was simple: How do you see Penn State’s season playing out? Our answers can be seen below, while yours can be seen in the comments section.


I was all set to make a rather pessimistic prediction for the season after reading the news about Mike Watkins being out indefinitely. At least that was before this team surprised the hell out of me by shocking a 13th-ranked West Virginia team. Yes, it was an exhibition, but both teams sure as hell seemed to be treating it like it counted as a regular season game.

Jamari Wheeler seems to have settled nicely into the starring point guard role, and will be that guy who doles out assists and comes up with at least a couple of steals per game. Myles Dread is the real deal and will go a long way towards lessening the blow of simultaneously losing Shep Garner and Tony Carr’s 3-point shooting prowess. Dread’s fellow incoming frosh Rasir Bolton and Myreon Jones also look like solid players who can provide some scoring production off the bench for the backcourt.

John Harrar will once again, have to lead the way for the big men with Watkins out, but he seems poised to pick up where he left off from the NIT championship run. Even though Trent Buttrick seems to be a pleasant surprise, the front court is once again dangerously thin, which could pose serious problems if Harrar or Lamar Stevens get into foul trouble.

Speaking of Lamar, he is far and away the most well-rounded and important player on the floor for this team. Whether it is grabbing rebounds, nailing shots from anywhere on the court, or playing tenacious defense, this is the player PSU can ill-afford to see go down to an injury.

The non-conference schedule certainly looks beefier than last year, with games against the likes of Virginia Tech, Alabama, NC State, plus giant-killers UMBC, it appears to be designed for a team vying for an NCAA Tournament bid. Granted, I think NCAA’s are a tricky proposition for this team, unless Watkins makes it back at some point this season and provides that defensive post presence the team sorely misses.

I’ll say PSU goes 8-3 in the non-con while managing a 10-10 mark in Big Ten play, putting them at 18-13 overall going into the conference tournament where they would need to make a deep run (probably B1G semifinals) to even be considered by the NCAA selection committee for the Big Dance. Can’t say I’m holding my breath on the latter part, but every now and then, this program is capable of pleasantly surprising me.


Ah yes, college basketball season.

A time where I spend five months reminding myself that I’ve never really enjoyed Penn State hoops and that I was a Nova hoops fan before a PSU fan and only didn’t apply to the latter because I was an awful high school student (I would’ve gone to PSU regardless).

Nonetheless, we climbin’.

As always, I’m taking a pessimistic view of this season considering Penn State couldn’t make the tournament with Tony Carr at the helm and Shep Garner being the only other shooter on the floor.

Now they’re gone and Mike Watkins could be suspended to start the season.

Lamar Stevens is back. As is Josh Reaves who should be a B1G DPOY candidate.

Jamari Wheeler and Myles Dread look like they could be your starting backcourt, though I wouldn’t mind a big lineup of Dread/Reaves/Steves/Buttrick/Watkins.

Penn State should start the season 4-0, but don’t sleep on a trip to an ever-improving DePaul program. After that, it’ll be either Bradley or SMU in Cancun, both of which could be tough.

Then No. 15 Virginia Tech and Buzz Williams come to town for the B1G-ACC challenge before conference play starts.

Penn State will also face NC State and Alabama in nonconference place as well as Duquesne, Colgate, and UMBC.

The conference schedule is brutal for Chambers in co., mostly due to other programs improving and Penn State just sort of inching along.

I think Penn State is above .500 on the season, but just barely.

14-17 overall, 7-13 in conference. No postseason.


It’s time to climb, y’all!

Pat Chambers and company are back after capturing a NIT Championship last season and now look to take the next step and reach the NCAA Tournament. The team’s biggest hurdle could be replacing Tony Carr who was Mr. Do It All for the Nittany Lions in recent seasons.

The non-conference schedule will not be an easy one for Penn State. They welcome preseason top-15 Virginia Tech to the BJC in late November, and also do battle with Alabama, NC State, and America’s darling UMBC.

With Carr gone, it is time for Lamar Stevens to emerge as the team’s leader and best player. Josh Reaves should garner B1G Defensive Player of the Year consideration, and, hopefully, he will take care of business of the court and not miss any time this season.

Despite the emergence of John Harrar in the NIT Tournament last year, I’d argue that Mike Watkins remains the team’s most important player. Watkins remains heads and shoulders above every other big man on the roster and he is a key player on both ends of the court. Prior to the NIT, there was a big dropoff in the team’s performance last season when Watkins was not on thecourt. That said, it is possible he is suspended to start the season.

It is also vital Jamari Wheeler and true freshman Myles Dread grow up quickly in Penn State’s backcourt.

I’ll be optimistic, which I never do with PSU hoops, and say they go 19-12 (10-10 in the B1G) and make the NIT once again.


I have Penn State going 18-13 overall this season and 9-11 in the Big Ten while earning a second consecutive NIT berth. The bright side is that there’s room to grow upwards depending on how the new guards play. Myles Dread, Rasir Bolton, and Myreon Jones are all freshmen, and they’ll be tasked with replacing the production lost with the departures of Tony Carr and Shep Garner. It won’t be all on the newcomers’ shoulders, as Lamar Stevens figures to take a step forward as a scorer and should have the ball in his hands more often with no experienced point guard on the roster. The Lions are also counting on Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins to continue contributing great defense with double-figure scoring of their own.

However, without some great play by the freshman trio, it’s going to be an uphill climb against the rest of the Big Ten. Stevens is a great player who can score from multiple spots on the floor, but he’s going to be counted on too much if the backcourt can’t be counted on to make a shot. It would also help if Jamari Wheeler stepped up his offensive game, but he could turn out to be Penn State’s version of Tum Tum Nairn; a speedy point guard who never develops a reliable jumper.

In other words, outside shooting could once again prove to be Penn State’s downfall, but we won’t know for sure until we see the team on the court. Given all the uncertainty surrounding the offense, getting back to .500 in league play would be an accomplishment.


With Mike Watkins’ status up-in-the-air for now, I put this prediction together under the assumption that he will not play in the majority of games this year. His absence will certainly be a detriment to the team, but as we saw in the NIT run, John Harrar and Lamar Stevens are capable of providing an interior presence on both ends of the court. Lamar will have to step into Tony Carr’s vacated role as the go-to offensive player. While Lamar can handle the ball well for his size, he won’t be the team’s primary ball handler, and I think that will open things up on offense. Other than the final possessions of games where I expect to see Lamar get the ball in isolation, we should see less hero-ball with one player dominating the time of possession.

As Chambers alluded to on Media Day, there is no replacing what Carr and Shep Garner provided. Myles Dread is the most likely candidate to consistently score double-digits, but the team will need contributions from Jamari Wheeler, Rasir Bolton, and Myreon Jones when Dread is having an off-night. Josh Reaves needs to continue to build upon his offensive production, especially his perimeter shooting, in order to keep the offense on track. Mike’s absence will be felt the most on defense, especially once conference play begins. Harrar and Buttrick will be relied upon to battle in the paint against NBA-ready players, and the depth behind them is non-existent should one or both get into foul trouble. Lamar reportedly put on 20+ pounds in the offseason, and he will be tasked with guarding opposing bigs.

By the end of the year, I think this will be one of the deepest PSU teams in recent memory (not saying a whole lot), especially if Mike Watkins is able to return. The question is how quickly the freshman can develop into reliable starters/depth players. Myles Dread, by all accounts, is the closest to being a bona fide Big Ten player. His performance in the exhibition against WVU didn’t do anything to change that perception. Rasir Bolton and Myreon Jones have a bit farther to go, and that could cost the team early on. I see two key stretches in the schedule which will determine the outcome of the 2018-19 quest for a NCAA Tournament berth: 11/27-12/4 (VaTech, @umd, IU) and 2/19-3/10 (Neb, @ill, UMD, @wisc, @ru, ILL). The first stretch will give us a sense of where the team is at. Going 0-3 isn’t inconceivable, but 2-1 isn’t absurd either. The final stretch, which closes out the regular season, has enough winnable games for the team to make a run into the postseason. By my estimation they should win at least four of the final six.

I’ll join Marty taking an optimistic outlook, picking a final record of 19-12 (10-10 in B1G). With that record, it probably takes two wins in the B1G Tournament to reach the NCAAs. I think they can manage that, and return to the dance for the first time since 2010-11. *If Mike were to return to the team by the end of November, I’d add a win to the total, but I don’t think he’s as important to the success of the team as his imposing presence and talent would suggest.

Chris Taylor

I agree with what Rowen said so I won’t repeat it too much. This could be the most depth that Pat Chambers has had to deploy during his tenure at Penn State. You could argue that Jamari Wheeler is the best on-ball defender of point guards in the Big Ten. Josh Reaves is one of if not the best defender in the conference, and he can defend three positions and rebound well. With Watkins in the paint, that is a pretty formidable defensive trio. Throw in the tall, 6-foot-4, 215 pound Myles Dread and the passing lanes are going to be hard to find for opposing guards.

Lamar Stevens will be lurking for off the ball steals as he continues to gain savvy and wisdom with experience. The team will go as far as the defense takes them.Rasir Bolton appears ready to contribute and John Harrar provides a solid low-post presence. Trent Buttrick looks ready to provide meaningful, productive minutes as a low-post defender and outside threat on offense.

At 6-foot-8, Buttrick has just enough height to go with his 234 pounds. Myreon Jones will provide additional depth off the bench, there should be no shortage of options in the back court. Deivus Zemgulis gives the team an interesting option on the low-post as a defender. At 6-foot-6, having come to the Lions as a projected outside shooting threat that didn’t play much defense inside, it is amazing to see him transform into a viable low-post defender, and on offense a helpful high-post passer. Had Zemgulis not shown the ability to play low-post defense, as he did last year several times including the win on the road at Ohio State, and then again in the exhibition game versus West Virginia for several key minutes, it would be hard to believe.

Satchel Pierce will be academically ineligible until the spring semester, but if he can make it back onto the court, he will provide a nice 7-foot frame and additional post depth, which will come in handy during the Big Ten conference slate.I would say 20-13 (11-9 in B1G)and an NCAA tournament invite.

Like last season, the team should be in the hunt for the NCAA tournament until the final weeks of the season. How that plays out, we will see.