Penn State is not yet a basketball program that gets national hype or year-round headlines, but fans who watched the team closely last year realize that head coach Pat Chambers has the chance to have success over the next two or three years with the unprecedented level of talent he’s brought to State College.
Like any great team (or potentially great team), the one growing up under Chambers needs a great leader, and last year it looked like Tony Carr was starting to become just that. The freshman point guard led his team with 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game, proving to be Penn State’s best player with 10 consecutive double-digit scoring efforts in Big Ten play.
It’s hard to call Carr’s debut season anything but a success. On the other hand, it could have gone better, as his low shooting percentage and Penn State’s low win total kept Carr from earning an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, although he was named to the All-Freshman Team.
Carr may have been overlooked for the big awards, but he’s got a shot in 2017-18 to play his way straight to the top of the Big Ten and grab a First Team nod. Of the seven guards named to the three All-Big Ten teams last season, only Nate Mason of Minnesota and Bryant McIntosh of Northwestern will return to the conference this November. With Peter Jok, Melo Trimble, and Bronson Koenig moving on to the professional ranks, there’s a sizable talent gap for a rising star like Carr to fill.
However, there will be plenty of competition from other returning players in the climb to the top of the Big Ten. Rutgers’s Corey Sanders finds himself in a similar situation to Carr as the best player on a growing team, and he should become a more efficient scorer next season. Jae’Sean Tate for Ohio State — even though he’s listed as a forward — shot 55 percent from the field last year and should be doing more ball handling this autumn. However, his very low three-point and free throw percentages could hold him back from elite status.
When you add other young guards like Anthony Cowan and Cassius Winston to the list, Carr’s ascent becomes that much more difficult. Both rivals should see an increase in playing time this year, and Winston in particular could develop into one of the nation’s top assist men after averaging over five per game in 2016-17 despite playing just under 21 minutes per contest.
As much as the landscape of the conference is changing over the summer, the biggest factor in Carr becoming one of the Big Ten’s top guards is his own improvement. Carr’s 38-percent field goal shooting is bound to get better as he grows more comfortable on the floor and gains the instincts of a veteran. The increasing talent around him should allow the rising sophomore to take fewer bad shots while increasing his assist totals.
The biggest question mark for Carr might be his three-point shooting. He went just 33-for-103 from beyond the arc last year, with some of those misses looking pretty awkward. Not every great point guard needs to be a threat from long range, especially ones as fearless around the rim as Carr is. However, it wouldn’t hurt if he develops a smoother stroke over the long offseason.
Making the All-Freshman Team and becoming a leader on the court for Penn State made for a great first season, but Carr has a chance to be greater in his sophomore campaign. With all its best players coming back, the program should develop a higher profile in 2017-18, and that means more opportunities for Carr to shine on the national stage. If he’s up to the challenge of leading Penn State to the NCAA Tournament, it will be more than just Nittany Lions fans taking notice.