Another week, another roundtable. Penn State did what most of us thought would happen, but in the wrong order. The Nittany Lions blew a 21-point lead in the first game of the series, then beat their second opponent by 21 points exactly. Here are the staff’s thoughts.
Q: Old habits creeped back in their loss to Ole Miss. What went wrong?
Clay: I do want to believe this team is different. But that collapse was so familiar. Bad ball handling. Missed free throws. Stagnant offense. Bad play design. Lack of composure. It was like an awful flashback.
Marty: Even after all these years Pat Chambers still struggles to design in bound plays coming out of a timeout. While a lot went wrong in the last 15 minutes of that game, the inability to inbound the ball in the closing seconds was most maddening.
Rowen: I was unable to watch this game, but one area this team will need to improve upon especially in Big Ten play is closing out games and continuing to play with the same effort after a lead is established.
ChrisTaylor: First what went right. The way that the team played in order to get the lead is exactly what they need to do night in, night out. They came out with confidence and played shut-down defense. With the large lead, the team basically gave it up in 4 chunks. All 4 chunks had slightly different reasons; missing shots, bad turnovers, not playing the defense we know they can, allowing open 3 pointers.
Eli: Obviously, I come up with the questions each week, so the question itself is a window into what I think. Basically everything that plagued the Nittany Lions last season and before creeped back —long stretches of no scoring, an inordinate amount of turnovers, opposing players seemingly making every shot from beyond the arc, and the bonus inbound ineptitude that leads to the other team winning bonanza [flashes of Purdue and Iowa games come crashing back]. It’s hard for me to pick just one thing, but the silver lining is that now the team has plenty to look at on film to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Q: Yet, against Syracuse, they never trailed. What went right?
Clay: Syracuse is very bad and this team appears to have some pride.
Marty: They put their foot on the Orange throat early and never let up. No sloppy play, no foul issues, no wasted possessions, just relentless basketball.
Rowen: Syracuse had a chance to do what Ole Miss did, but Penn State was able to hit a couple of key three-pointers to extend the lead back to double-digits. I’d like to think they learned something in the Ole Miss loss that helped against Cuse, but it comes down to which team was able to make the clutch shots when the game was at a turning point.
ChrisTaylor: The game plan by Chambers was executed perfectly. There were so many high post entry passes, and the ball kept moving. I loved watching as a player realized that there was no one on the high post, then they rushed to the spot. You could tell that it had been drilled into them. It was great to watch, critical to playing against Syracuse’ zone.
Eli: The first thought I had after this game is that yeah, Syracuse isn’t that good this year. Then I remembered that this same thought creeped up when they beat Georgetown on the road. And if and when they beat Wake Forest (the third team from a power conference so far this season), it’s likely going to be the same thing. So instead of taking credit away from Penn State for beating teams they can clearly lose to, I’m going to focus on what did happen to avoid the loss. The Nittany Lions made their free throws, they did not let up, and basically all of the mistakes they made against Ole Miss were rectified against Syracuse. Watching them pick apart the zone was pretty fun too.
Q: Who’s your player of the week?
Clay: Mike Watkins. Had he played more in the second half against the Rebels, the comeback probably doesn’t get completed.
Marty: Mike Watkins
Rowen: Mike Watkins. He was dominant in both games, and completely changed the dynamic of the team at both ends. You can’t ask for much more.
ChrisTaylor: Myreon Jones. He has shown that he can score in bunches and also play straight point guard without looking for his shot when the team needs that. He has been as consistent in his play as any player, especially this past week.
Eli: Mike Watkins. That man was on a mission.
Q: The Nittany Lions are getting votes in the AP poll. What will it take for them to be ranked?
Clay: A win over a ranked team without bad losses to balance it out.
Marty: A win over the Buckeyes on Saturday would do it.
Rowen: A win against Ohio State or Maryland should do it.
ChrisTaylor: Win 3 of the next 4 games and it could happen. If not, maybe check back in January after they have a chance to go 3-0 in Big Ten play with games against Iowa, Rutgers and then Wisconsin. The main thing is to avoid long losing streaks. With OSU and Maryland coming up, it would be nice to beat Wake Forest heading into the stretch and then Alabama coming out of it.
Eli: Beat all the teams they should, only lose to teams they’re expected to lose to, and avoid any upsets. Come mid-January, this team will be ranked for the first time in almost every player’s lifetime.
Q: Penn State has an interesting week ahead. What would you like to see in the next two games?
Clay: A win over a solid Wake Forest team and a competitive showing against a very balanced OSU team.
Marty: Penn State needs to beat Wake Forest on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions are the better team, they need to show it. As for Saturday’s showdown with the Buckeyes it is an opportunity to prove they’ll be contenders in the Big Ten this season. Even if they lose, I want to see a well played game that has a close finish.
Rowen: I’d like to see the team handle Wake Forest without too much drama, and take the Buckeyes down to the wire in Columbus on Saturday. It will be encouraging if Watkins continues to play at the level he did last week in Brooklyn.
ChrisTaylor: The team plays an ACC team, two B1G teams ranked in the top-10 Kenpom, then an SEC team. While hoping for wins is obvious, it will be more important that the team continue to play hard, and together, through this stretch. Win or lose, it would be nice to avoid any 5 minute stretches without a hoop.
Eli: Wake gave Arizona everything they could handle, which leads me to believe they’re not as bad as everyone is making them out to be (except if they lose on Wednesday, then they’re a terrible, good for nothing team). So I want to see a home win against Wake. I won’t get too greedy here, but a competitive game in Columbus would be great. A win would be a bonus. The thing about a win on Saturday is that an unranked Penn State team has already gone to Columbus and beaten a Chris Holtmann coached, ranked Ohio State team in the past, so there is that!