Thanks to Dan Smith with Roar Lions Roar for taking the time to do this Q&A with me on short notice. Give him a follow on Twitter @sharpalright and follow their main blog account @RLRblog. They’re really a great crew.
1) Man, a big upset over #4 Maryland, huh? Before that, you were a solid-looking two-loss team. Now Penn State is absolutely terrifying. Was that win the kind of play you expect going forward, or an aberration?
No one is expecting Penn State to suddenly become a top 10 team, but being competitive in these games is definitely an expectation. The thumping they took against Ohio State should be the aberration, not the win at home against Maryland.
2) 10 games in, has the team performed about as you would have expected before the season started?
There was cautious optimism that the team would play like this heading into the season, but Penn State fans usually get burned when they allow hope to enter the equation. I would say I’m pleasantly surprised that they looked like I thought they would.
3) Senior forward Lamar Stevens leads PSU in scoring, while the OTHER Senior forward, Mike Watkins, has been a rebounding and blocking machine. Is it safe to say Penn State is a team centered around it’s big men?
The frontcourt has not historically been a strength for Penn State. Their best players in recent seasons were always guards: Tony Carr, D.J. Newbill, Tim Frazier, and Talor Battle. I would not necessarily say they are centered on their big men, but they’re definitely keys to success. They’ve allowed the team to be balanced: shooters are getting looks, and perimeter defenders can be aggressive and force turnovers knowing there is help behind them. Watkins has been terrific, playing great defense, rebounding the ball, and getting his buckets offensively when the game comes to him. Stevens has actually struggled for some stretches so far this season, getting in foul trouble frequently and struggling to finish around the rim. It’s kind of scary to think that this team may have another level if he can play to his full potential.
4) And as a follow up, how are your guards, as a group?
The guards are young, but there is talent there. Myreon Jones has been the biggest surprise of the season to this point. After a ho-hum freshman year, he has been a starter and a key weapon as a combo guard, with ability to score at all three levels. Myles Dread is a 3-and-D wing who benefits from the rest of the roster construction. Jamari Wheeler and Izaiah Brockington help defensively, and Brockington has shown flashes of offensive prowess, especially in transition. This will be the team’s core next season, and there is a lot to like.
5) Outside of a 58 point clunker against Yale, PSU has scored a lot of points in every game. Is that a result of pace or just really efficient shooting?
This has been the most efficient offense Penn State has had in nine seasons under Patrick Chambers. They have threats to score all over the court, and it forces opposing defenses to make tough decisions. That has been rare for this program. As long as they avoid settling for tough, contested looks, the offense seems to be there for them. The pace definitely contributes, and they are forcing turnovers frequently enough that transition offense can be something they rely on as well.
6) On the other hand, your defense has held one opponent in the 40s, a few in the 50s, most in the 60s, and then a horrendous 106 point meltdown against Ohio State. What kind of defense should Alabama expect this weekend?
Even when Penn State has been near the bottom of the Big Ten, Chambers has always had them playing good defense. They communicate well, have a legitimate stud inside with Watkins manning the middle, and have perimeter defenders like Wheeler and Brockington who can cause havoc. And because Penn State has a deeper team than they have had in the past (I haven’t even mentioned grad transfer wing Curtis Jones, backup big John Harrar, or freshman forward Seth Lundy), they can handle being dealt some foul trouble.
7) What’s your score prediction?
Penn State won’t mind playing tempo with Alabama, so I can see this getting pretty high scoring. The Nittany Lions want to make a statement that they are worthy of being ranked for the first time since 1996, and have shown that they have a more resilient mentality than teams of the past after tough losses against Ole Miss and Ohio State. I think Penn State wins it 85-75.
8) Finally, where do you see the Nittany Lions getting to at the end of the season?
This should be the year that Chambers finally gets Penn State into the NCAA Tournament. They have already picked up quality wins in the first month of the season, and should be able to hang around the middle of the Big Ten. I think they make the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals and end up in the 7-10 seed range come Selection Sunday.