By the time Jim Ferry leads his team back on the court against Purdue on January 17 it will have been more than two weeks since the last game. In a year that was disrupted before it began with the resignation of coach Pat Chambers, the in-season pause may turn out to be a good thing for the program.
Let’s go all the way back to October 21, the final day with Chambers at the helm of the program. It was just 35 days before the first scheduled game in a time when there was already a great amount of uncertainty. In the aftermath of Chambers’ resignation players and fans scrambled to make sense of the situation and were searching for reasons to feel good about the season that was about to begin.
The off-court distraction Chambers’ situation created was considerable for the players and before they had answers or any type of closure, the season began. Staying in form for the times, the first game against Drexel was canceled due to covid concerns. Instead the Lions began their quest with a 21-point win against Virginia Military Institute.
Fans have already begun to dwell on close games that went as losses for Penn State. The overtime losses to Seton Hall and Indiana; the competitive game that went Michigan’s way. With four losses through seven games, forgetting how the games played out could leave a person thinking that the season has not gone well thus far.
It’s easy to forget that the second win of the season, against a solid Virginia Commonwealth team, could have gone down as a loss had it not been for a last second three point shot by Myles Dread. VCU was ranked No. 30 in the NET Rankings before it lost to Rhode Island on Saturday, dropping them to their current position at 47, still very respectable.
A decisive win on the road against a ranked Virginia Tech team put the Lions in a position that few people within the fan base had expected even prior to the resignation of Pat Chambers. That win came on December 8 and is the last time the players and fans have felt the pleasure of a victory. If the Lions can find a way to beat Purdue, it still would have gone well over a month between wins.
So that must mean that the season is doomed, right? Not if you consider the NCAA’s Net Rankings, which the selection committee will use as their main tool to pick the teams that will make the NCAA Tournament this season. We were pleasantly surprised when the Lions debuted in the NET Rankings at No. 42. In the years that the committee has used the NET Rankings to pick the field, every team in the top-40 has made the cut.
With a 3-4 record, some were surprised that the metrics adored Penn State as they do. The team has risen to No. 37 while sitting idle with covid concerns while other teams in the Big Ten beat up on one another. If they were able to hold that spot, which would easily be achieved with an even record the rest of the way considering the strength of the B1G, the team would be in the hunt for an at-large bid heading into the conference tournament.
You have to slide all the way down to No. 89 in the NET Rankings to find another team with a losing record, Kentucky, who just moved up from No. 129 with a win against then-ranked No. 28 Florida. There are no other teams with a losing record in the top-100 other than PSU and Kentucky. The Kenpom ratings have Penn State at No. 48, which is another good indicator that all is not lost for the season.
The only dread that fans should be feeling, other than the sadness of going without a game for a couple of weeks, is playing 2-guard on offense and sometimes power forward on defense.
Prior to the introduction of specialized battleships such as the dreadnought, ships typically carried an array of guns. There were short-range, mid-range and long-range guns on most battleships but the dreadnought left port with only large-caliber guns. That’s an apt comparison to the offensive style that Myles Dread has brought to the Penn State basketball program.
Through 70 games with the Lions, Dread has attempted 530 shots from the floor, 433 of them coming from 3-point range. Myreon Jones has attempted 486 shots, with 242 coming from inside the arc and 244 coming outside. Jones is sometimes perceived as a specialized deep threat but he gets baskets in transition, drives to the hoop and this season has added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal.
Dread carries just the big guns. His shots, like the game-winner against Rutgers last season that guaranteed the team a spot in the NCAA Tournament or the shot against VCU, come from long range and make a massive impact. His other big guns, which he wears as arms on the sides of his 220 pound, 6-foot-4 vessel, have come in handy while playing defense.
Last season Pat Chambers used Dread as a post player on defense and though it worked much of the time, it seemed like an act of desperation. Fast-forward to this year and opponents of the Lions will tell you that it is no gimmick; the dude has bulk enough to play down low. He may be at a height disadvantage but his weight, strength, technique and willpower make him a viable option to guard even the best low-post players.
Here is Dread covering Sandro Mamukelashvili, a 6-foot-11 left-handed shooting stretch forward that had 20 pounds and 7 inches on him. It was a critical time in the game against Seton Hall and he came up with a strip that would have been remembered as a turning point had the Lions been able to hold on for the win.
Notice that Dread moved his feet to keep his girth between Mamukelashvili and the basket. Once under the hoop, Dread knows that he has lost the battle if the taller player lifts the ball up high. At that point, the height advantage and proximity to the basket would be too much for him to overcome. Stripping the ball was his last and only tool and he used it perfectly.
Late in the game against Indiana, Dread made two critical plays while at power forward. On the second to last Indiana possession Dread got help on a driving Trace Jackson-Davis and then boxed out Race Thompson while tapping the rebound to Myreon Jones. The defensive hold allowed Sam Sessoms to hit a go-ahead shot with less than a minute to play. On Indiana’s final possession they went to Jackson-Davis again, this time covered only by Dread. Dread appears to have used his hands again to get a clean strip but a foul was called, the game was tied.
On the Lions’ final possession before overtime Sam Sessoms was fouled while shooting a 3-point shot, a call that could have given him 3 foul shots and surely a win for the Lions, but no call came. Instead Sessoms fell to the floor and coach Jim Ferry launched from his seat, as angry as we have ever seen him.
Watch the video as it progresses. Dread got a bad call on one end then witnessed a bad call on the other end. His reaction after the foul that was called on him was quick; he clapped his hands and called his teammates to huddle before the foul shots, refusing to allow the situation to derail their intensity.
On the other end of the court, following the no-call on Sessoms, Dread first picked Sessoms up off the floor, then corralled Jim Ferry and brought him to safety, keeping him from getting closer to the referees and possibly a technical foul.
While it is hard not to notice when Dread hits a 3-point shot to win a game, his low-post feats sometimes get blurred during the heat of battle. The quickness with which he processes information and his ability to remain calm is a maturity level that typically alludes college players. For all that Dread does on the floor he seems to do even more off the floor and when the game is at a stoppage. His leadership and character are a credit not just to him, but also his parents and the people in his life that have helped him grow along the way.
Penn State is lucky to have a young man with such integrity enrolled at its university and we fans should take notice to the example that he sets for the team. His handling of the situation between he and Chambers two seasons ago, with Chambers getting suspended for pushing Dread, was no different. Dread had his 19th birthday a couple of months prior to that incident and he responded to it like a seasoned veteran.
The Lions will play basketball again this coming weekend. It will not take a miracle run to make the NCAA Tournament from their current position, just a finish of slightly better than .500. Myles Dread may no longer be a starter for the team but he is a critical weapon, ready to be deployed at any moment. There will be a great deal of entertainment coming our way in the next few months, so dread not, fans, when thinking about the team. They will be back and ready to succeed, maybe more so than they were at the start of the season.