Penn State heads into Micah Shrewsberry’s second season with the program under plenty of intrigue. The Nittany Lions were competitive in almost every game, and got their fair share of wins for a team that was expected to get few of them.
Here’s how the staff thinks year two under Shrewsberry will go.
Bennett: 16-15, 8-12 Big Ten
I think Penn State’s mix of talented recruiting, veterans sticking around, and addition via the portal makes for an interesting season. There’s some depth here that will sort itself out over the course of November and December. I also think Shrews can really coach. I’ll be most interested in seeing how style of play changes this year, if at all. Penn State kept itself in so many games and was tough in March because of their ability to control tempo and to X and O its way to quality shots.
Looking at newcomers, I’m probably going a little under the radar on the guy that I’m most interested to see in terms of fit - Michael Henn. His nomadic career will end in State College and his size and shooting ability make him an interesting piece to run offense through in the high post a la John Harrar.
The schedule is not a super daunting one for the Nittany Lions. Factor in it being year two for Micah Shrewsberry and the team being more talented than last season, and that factors into my belief that they make a jump this season. Jalen Pickett is one of the best players in the Big Ten which certainly helps as well.
The non-conference slate seems fairly manageable, so I’m calling for them to go 9-2 in that stretch with their only losses being once in the Charleston Classic and on the road at Clemson for the B1G-ACC Challenge. Butler is in rebuilding mode and Winthrop while having participated in March Madness a few times in recent years, is a doable season opener. The remaining home games are essentially “buy” games that will be ideal for this revamped team to gel together and to get playing time for the freshmen on the squad, which can help build depth for conference play.
Speaking of conference play: Woof, that is a brutal opening seven-game stretch with Sparty, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin. That being said, I think the Lions can win two, perhaps even three of those first seven B1G games before things get less daunting. I think they can improve on last season’s 7-13 record and add a couple more wins this time to finish just under .500 in conference play, which would put them squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
I like the talent and veteran leadership that Jalen Pickett, Seth Lundy, and Myles Dread bring to the table, as well as adding a lights-out shooter in Andrew Funk and a solid backcourt player in Cam Wynter, the latter two both coming from the transfer portal. I think Kebba Njie will go through some growing pains, but will be garnering freshman accolades by the end of the season. I also am intrigued to see the other four freshmen (Jameel Brown, Evan Mahaffey, Demetrius Lilley, and Kanye Clary), how much action they end up seeing, and how much they contribute. The sheer thinness of depth up front does concern me, but seeing how Shrews and staff managed to coach up last year’s squad and have better success than they had any business having, I’m optimistic they can MacGyver their way to a winning record and possible postseason bid.
Eli: 19-12, 10-10 Big Ten
This Penn State team reminds me a lot of the 2016-17 Nittany Lions. Penn State welcomed their best class in school history at the time, and there was a lot of promise for a group of players that would hopefully turn things around for Penn State. They would go on to show flashes, but ultimately faded due to the lack of depth at key spots, combined with having promising freshmen tasked with too much too soon.
This team also reminds me of the 2019-20 squad, a team with a lot of fresh faces, but a pretty good core to anchor the newcomers. This team has a good mix of raw talent coming in and a veteran presence that will keep that talent going in the right direction.
The biggest difference in these comparisons is coaching, which I think is an upgrade under Shrewsberry. The squad is probably not exactly where Shrewsberry wants it just yet, but it’s getting closer. And, his ability to coach will make up for the imbalance the team has going in, especially upfront. While the 2016 squad relied heavily on freshmen in the back court, this squad is likely to rely on young players up front. So, ultimately, I’m predicting this team will find itself somewhere in the middle of those two squads. Good enough to find some postseason play, but probably not good enough to push for a top half conference finish.