It was just one game but we got a pretty good idea of what the Penn State basketball team will look like during its 86-65 win against VMI on Saturday. It was the first time in years that the Lions have played a game without having someone on the floor that was seen as the center of the offense. That can be a good thing, as the offense flowed through the open man, not the player with the most clout or points scored per game.
There will be times that the team will look for a tough basket and there are plenty of players on the roster that can fill that void. Myreon Jones, Seth Lundy, Izaiah Brockington and newcomer Sam Sessoms can all create their own shot. While there is no franchise player on the team, there is talent. In the past, reliance on one player has had its short-comings.
There were questions concerning the low-post defense coming into the season for the Lions. Abdou Tsimbila’s first career block came on the first shot attempt he faced. It was something else, though, that showed up on film, that could illustrate how the team will compensate for its short stature.
Trent Buttrick played 9 minutes as the natural backup center to John Harrar, grabbing 3 rebounds. Buttrick did not face a dominating set of low-post adversaries but he was under control and showed that he is able to give the team the 5-plus minutes per game that it needs from him this year.
Tsimbila, like all of the other freshmen, did not see the floor until the very end of the game. He and Buttrick were on the floor at the same time, which we may see when the Lions are facing large teams and Harrar needs a rest. When Harrar is in foul trouble or opposing teams choose to bang Penn State on the low-post, they will be called on to fill some time.
Watch as Tsimbila rotates the ball the Buttrick on the wing then sets a pick for Sam Sessoms. Buttrick may not be 7 feet tall or have the typical traits we find in a center, he does have good hands and at 240 pounds and 6-foot-8, he won’t get thrown around like a rag doll when he’s out there.
Sam Sessoms looked like a seasoned pro during his Penn State debut. He played two seasons at Binghamton after leaving his hometown of Philadelphia only to return to his home state to play for Jim Ferry. Izaiah Brockington took a similar path from Philly to St. Bonaventure and then had to sit out a year when he arrived at Penn State. Like Brockington, Sessoms is ready to contribute immediately.
Sessoms came with a reputation of having similar speed as Jamari Wheeler and that proved to be true. His defensive contribution alone would make Sessoms a great addition to the team. He is a two-way player, however, having scored 1,000 points in just 57 games at St. Bonaventure. He showed it on Saturday.
There was a question whether Sessoms would be allowed to play at all this season but when he got a waiver to play from the NCAA, less than a month ago, the question became how he would get on the floor. The answer to that would be another question: how is coach Jim Ferry going to justify keeping him on the bench?
The only two players that played more than Sessoms’ 28 minutes were Wheeler (34) and Brockington (31). The only two players that scored more than Sessoms were Wheeler and Brockington. It was speculated that Wheeler and Sessoms might see time together on the floor, though Sessoms is set to be the backup point guard. They played for nearly ten minutes together and then allowed the other to take a rest while in there alone.
Here is one offensive set that involved some great dribble penetration by Sessoms and then a kick to Wheeler for the 3-point basket. Notice that every player on the Lions touched the ball.
While it may not be the case all season that Sessoms’ penetration will set up a Wheeler three-pointer, it will create opportunities for the rest of the team. Seth Lundy will have trouble guarding opposing centers, we know that, but on the offensive side he provides just enough low-post presence to make the Penn State 4-guard look work.
When asked the question of how his team will defend the low-post this season, Jim Ferry should answer with the question, “How will the opposing team get the ball across half-court and then to the low-post?” The limitations of a small lineup are obvious on the defensive side when facing a team with 2 or more big players, which is the case for just about every Big Ten team that is on the schedule. The advantages are there as well and they should not be overlooked.
When Sessoms and Wheeler are on the court it is a nightmare for opposing guards. With Izaiah Brockington playing off the guards, waiting for the first pass, there is further trouble lurking in the waters. Add to that crafty players like Myles Dread and Myreon Jones, and there will be no easy place to throw the ball. Sure, once teams get set up in a half-court set, it will favor the taller teams, but that will be easier said than done. Penn State had 18 steals and it was not a fluke.
Later in the game two freshmen guards got their first time on the court in a blue and white uniform. DJ Gordon was not bashful, throwing up two deep balls during the 2 minutes he was out there. Dallion Johnson hit his first shot and he looked eager to contribute to the team as well.
With Gordon at 6-foot-5 and Johnson at 6-foot-3, it gives the Lions two additional players that can contribute on the defensive side. Penn State will have plenty of bodies to keep the key offensive players from getting into foul trouble while still being able to play an up-tempo, aggressive style.
It was late in the game and the competition was not what we will see during the Big Ten schedule, but Abdou Tsimbila showed why Jim Ferry is calling him the rim protector. Tsimbila may only play a few minutes per game but when he does, he will have one role, to block shots or make teams kick the ball back outside.
At 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, Tsimbila has nice agility to go with ridiculously long arms. He may have trouble with players that will try to back him down toward the basket early in his career, but he will play off the ball very well and could be the rim protector that the team needs for a few minutes at a time when it is getting abused on the low-post.
Caleb Dorsey was the fourth and final freshman to see the court. He came from outside the 3-point line to grab an offensive rebound and then got a nice shot attempt. Unfortunately he traveled on the play but that is par for the course for a rookie during his first game. The reason I show the video is that Dorsey is 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds and as you can see, he has very good agility, quickness and hands.
Dorsey is seen as a player that will contribute more next year but if he can adjust to the speed of the game, with his size, he could prove useful this season. The Lions will need every big body that they can get on the court during the grind of the Big Ten schedule.
Here is the box score for the game.