Penn State head basketball coach Pat Chambers spoke at Big Ten Basketball Media Day on Thursday morning and didn’t seem too concerned with his team’s offense despite an efficiency rating that ranked 13th in the conference last year according to KenPom.
The club got great contributions from newcomers Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, but Carr shot just 38 percent from the field while leading Penn State with 13.2 points per game. Chambers isn’t worried about the shooting woes continuing, though.
“Minnesota and Northwestern averaged six threes a game last year,” he said, “We averaged seven. They went to the NCAA Tournament. They finished in the top four. I don't think we have to continue to focus on threes. We have to continue to focus on defending and rebounding. We were 13 out of 14 in rebounding. We gave up 73 points [per game]. That's not a good combination. So we're going to focus on defending and rebounding.”
The Nittany Lions on defense last year trended in a positive direction, but they were far from perfect. While they did a nice job taking the ball away and blocking shots thanks to the talents of Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins, they also struggled to keep opponents off the free throw line or limit their three-point shooting.
“I know everybody is focused on offense,” said Chambers, “But I think what we lacked was that grit, that toughness on the defensive end to get stops. I look forward to saying we're not going to be a feel-good team this year. We're going to be a team that can grind one out or show its grit, especially when you're not making shots.”
Even if Chambers doesn’t acknowledge Penn State’s shooting as an issue, it will probably improve on its own. We saw last year how Stevens and Josh Reaves got more confident from beyond the arc as the season developed, and the young players should get better with shot selection as they get more experienced in Big Ten play.
“I think with Shep [Garner], Tony [Carr]'s development, Lamar's development, Josh's development, and we're going to let Satchel [Pierce] shoot some threes from the top of the key,” said Chambers, “I think that's going to add to our arsenal.”
The perimeter isn’t the only place where the Lions can improve, though. With an influx of frontcourt talent that includes Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce as well as freshmen Trent Buttrick and John Harrar, Penn State should have more going on in the post as well.
“We had great offensive production last year. But with Satchel and Mike [Watkins]'s development and Julian [Moore] being a fifth-year senior, and John Harrar, our freshman, I think we're going to be able to play inside-out a little more. We have the bigs up front, if we're in one of those scoring droughts that every team goes in, I feel really confident in putting the ball inside and being able to score from short range or at least get those guys to the free throw line where they can knock some things down.”
Chambers might not agree with some fans on where his team needs to improve the most, but it’s clear that he’s as focused as ever on bringing the program to the next level. The coach didn’t make any promises at Media Day, but with all the talent he’s bringing back, both sides understand that Penn State is supposed to do big things in 2017-18.
“We talked about climbing and we're climbing in everything we do. Sometimes that climb is never direct. It's never a straight line. You can go left, you can go right. You fall off. But you have to get that handle back and get your footing back. And that's what we're doing. And with this group and where our program's headed we feel like we're on the right trajectory.”