Penn State features a guard-heavy lineup but within the group there is a great deal of versatility. Not all guards are the same. Jamari Wheeler is a true point guard and Myreon Jones is a prototypical shooting guard, so Jim Ferry can check those boxes off the list. Wheeler is an exceptional defender but Jones is not a one-dimensional player either, he leads the team with 2 steals per game. Newcomer Sam Sessoms is a perfect example of a combo guard, able to play both point guard and shooting guard.
It appears that Sessoms is so talented that were the team to ask him to stop shooting the ball, he would still have a great deal to offer. His ball-handling skill, ability to drive into the lane, and knowledge of the game would leave him with plenty of ability to play a strict point-guard role. If he was asked to stop passing and focus on scoring, it is likely that Sessoms could score 20 points per game.
Myles Dread is a natural two guard on offense, preferring to hang out around the three-point line. He can handle the ball well enough to get the job done but his skills are not suited for playing point guard. Dread has backed down smaller guards into the lane a few times, using his 6-foot-4 and 220 pound frame to his advantage, but he would never be considered a candidate to play small forward.
On defense, Dread may be the most versatile player on the team. It has been said that he can defend four positions and it has been proven to be true. Last season he played power forward on defense at times when the lineup was small, with Lamar Stevens at the center position. We’ve seen him at the four position this year as a strategic advantage for Penn State.
Against Seton Hall, late in the game, it was becoming nearly impossible to stop 6-foot-11 forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, who was on his way to a career-high 30 points. Mamukelashvili will play in the NBA and his left-handed shot makes him that much harder to defend. With two minutes to go and the Lions trying to hold on to a 6-point lead, Dread found himself isolated with Mamukelashvili on a designed in-bounds play. It didn’t go the way that it was drawn up for Seton Hall.
Dread refused to give up position, though he gave up 7 inches and 20 pounds to the man he was guarding. He went from the top of the key to the edge of the circle beneath the basket and when he got a chance, he stripped the ball clean.
Dread got hit in the chest right before Mamukelashvili turned to face up for the shot. Mamukelashvili probably expected the blow to knock Dread off his mark but as he turned to shoot, he found Dread standing right where he had been. The strength required to stand in place while a 240 pound man slams you with his shoulder is considerable. You don’t normally find it in a shooting guard.
Seth Lundy and John Harrar were nearby and could have left their man to help Dread but you can see that it was not the game plan to do so. They intended to allow Dread to play Mamukelashvili all by himself, without help. Seton Hall wanted the match-up and Penn State did not mind it either. It was a very critical point and had the Lions held on for the win, it could have been the final highlight of the game.
Izaiah Brockington had a career night against Virginia Tech, scoring 24 points while grabbing 8 rebounds and playing his typical tight defense. Brockington’s versatility comes more on the offensive side, though he is a menace while defending fellow guards. It can be very tough to guard Brockington when he is playing well. He has the ability to hit 3-pointers or to take a couple of steps inside the arc and hit a mid-ranger. He has shown his jumping ability many times when given a chance to continue to the hoop for a strong finish.
Brockington is shooting 35% from 3-point range through a little more than two seasons at the NCAA level, including 36.4% this year. That is good enough to make other players have to guard him out there and that opens up the other aspects of his game. Along with Sessoms, Brockington gives the team a player that can create his own shot from 3-point range all the way to the rim. Some teams don’t have one reliable player that can do that.
With Seth Lundy playing a versatile power forward role, the shape-shifting that has to be dealt with by opposing teams becomes that much more confusing. Lundy has shown the long range, mid-range, and is becoming a player that can play well in the paint. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has a tweener body and his skills match it perfectly. His consistency on offense will need to continue to improve during his sophomore season but that is the only hole in his game. The good thing is, even when Lundy is not scoring, he plays hard and keeps a positive attitude. Going back to last year, he seems to know when he is feeling hot, and also as importantly, not so hot. He didn’t score against Virginia Tech but he only attempted four shots. It’s nice to have a guy that can score 30 but also won’t shoot his team out of a game when he isn’t at his best.
The Lions use an 8-man rotation and Abdou Tsimbila adds a ninth threat, playing 5 minutes per contest for the past two games. With Tsimbila, Trent Buttrick and John Harrar the only true front-court players, Jim Ferry has a half-dozen mostly outside players to deploy. Brockington and Sessom’s ability to drive is critical, allowing the team to continue to attack the paint. Lundy’s contributions inside the lane are just enough of a threat that teams have to defend him when he goes down low.
Any time that Seth Lundy is on the court, which has been for an average of 28.8 minutes per game, the Lions have the ability to make the other team guard four 3-point shooting threats. That opens up chances for the center that is in the game, whether it is Harrar, Buttrick or Tsimbila. If there are four players on the perimeter and the opposing center hedges out to help the guards, it leaves Penn State’s center alone in the paint. It makes it hard for teams to help as the Lions rotate the ball around the outside.
We saw Mike Watkins finish plays with thunderous dunks for four years but a simple catch and lay-in, as Trent Buttrick did twice against Virginia Tech, works just as well. Tsimbila had a screen and cut to the hoop against Virginia Tech and was wide open but the guards did not see him. It is an easy read for the Lions’ big men. If there are four players on the outside, and their defender is not behind them, then they should raise their hands and cut to the hoop. It will at the very least make the other team react and free up the outside shooters.