Pat Chambers has his team ready to go. Coming off a very encouraging performance on the road against a ranked and tough West Virginia squad, the start of the season couldn’t come soon enough. With a hockey game being played across the street a half-hour before the opening tip of the game, the basketball team will have competition for attention on opening night.
That should not deter the returning NIT Champion Penn State Nittany Lions. Whether in front of a crowd of twenty-thousand or one closer to two thousand, the team is used to being responsible for getting ready to play its best. The fans that are in the stands, especially in the student section, will surely provide a helpful boost.
There is an unfamiliar feeling leading into this season for many people that have followed the Penn State basketball team for any length of time. Optimism. Nearly universal optimism surrounds the team even while it is replacing two very important players from the previous season. Even with the vacancies to fill, it seems like most people feel that Pat Chambers has plenty of ammunition at his disposal.
We will get our first official look at the team tonight.
Scouting the Opposition
The North Florida Ospreys opened the season on Wednesday night with a 78-70 loss on the road to Dayton. The game was competitive throughout, with Dayton coming out to a 6-point lead at the half then holding on. Noah Horchler led the way for the Ospreys with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Horchler is a force to be dealt with in the paint, but the 6-foot-8 forward doesn’t have the height advantage on Penn State’s interior defenders, even with Mike Watkins and Satchel Pierce sitting this one out.
Garrett Sams added 15 points versus Dayton and is the outside scoring threat that Penn State will have to deal account for in their game plan. Jamari Wheeler and Josh Reaves should have him in their cross-hairs.
The Ospreys finished 14-19 in the Atlantic Sun conference last season and are expected to have a better team this year.
What To Watch For
Young guards contributing early. Myles Dread started the exhibition game win against West Virginia, scoring 23 points while grabbing 5 rebounds and adding a pair of assists and 3 steals to the stat sheet. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Dread has the body to match his ability. Rasir Bolton scored 15 points while playing 31 minutes and looks ready to step in to help fill the void left by Tony Carr and Shep Garner. Myreon Jones will be a factor as well. Along with Jamari Wheeler, the young trio has a chance to give the team the outside support it needs to go along with the veterans in the front court.
Harrar and Buttrick in the paint. With Mike Watkins and Satchel Pierce out, the low-post will be filled mostly by two sophomores. Harrar proved capable of competing against a variety of challenges while playing the final games of the Big Ten tournament and then the NIT run. Buttrick played well versus West Virginia while opposite taller post players. North Florida’s tallest player is 6-foot-8 so the lack of height will not be an issue for Harrar or Buttrick, so we should see the best of what the pair has to offer.
Reaves and Stevens providing leadership. Josh Reaves scored the first basket against West Virginia, a 3-point shot, and also the game-winner, a tip-in with one second on the clock. Those were his only points on the night. Reaves will score points when needed, play defense, and inspire the team. Whatever it takes. Lamar Stevens, especially with Mike Watkins out, will have to score with regularity. Stevens will also have to play a little closer to the hoop until Watkins returns, helping out with the low-post defense.
Penn State has the talent to put this game away early. One change over past years that will be needed, for the team to take the next step to becoming an NCAA-caliber team, will be to put teams away when they hold the advantage. The final score should be twenty points in favor of the Lions, and the gap will come before halftime. Penn State 85, North Florida 62.