LAST SEASON – The Nits went 4-14 in the league but were a very different kettle of fish than Rutgers. PSU was an example of a team which could play well enough to compete but just not quite well enough to win. Of their 15 losses in league play, counting the one they took in the BTT, they lost by single digits on 11 occasions and by5 points or less 6 times (and two other losses which were by more than that margin actually went into OT). So, this was a team which could compete, they just couldn’t win very often. They lost two starters but they are big losses. DJ Newbill was the heart and soul of this team. He was the only Nit to average in double digits, scoring 20.7 ppg after having worked over his PSU career to make himself a truly complete offensive player. He was also their leaders in assists and steals and was third in rebounding, so saying he’s a significant loss doesn’t begin to do it justice. They also lose multi year starting forward Ross Travis. Travis was the team’s top rebounder and gave PSU an athletic presence in the paint as an undersized power forward for much of his career.
The coaching situation there is hard to figure out. I think most observers feel as if Pat Chambers gets his kids to play hard but he hasn’t had a breakthrough season yet. He’s got a four year Big Ten record of 16-66. That’s not normally the kind of body of work which gets you anything but a ticket to the unemployment line but he just signed a two year contact extension at the end of this past season. Now, his recruiting does appear to have taken something of a positive direction and I think it’s fair to suggest that he’s had some hard luck over the past couple of seasons in terms of wins and losses but at some point, doesn’t he have to put together at least one strong season? His three predecessors who coaches PSU since they joined the Big Ten all had years where they took PSU to the NCAA Tournament.
Shep Garner is a 6’1″ sophomore who had a strong debut season for PSU. He should emerge as the primary playmaker now that Newbill is gone and he seems up to that task. He was also second in scoring for PSU, putting up 9.2 ppg. Garner looked to be more of a streaky shooter than a “good” one as a freshman but a lot of that seemed to me to be the result of poor shot selection. Hopefully for him, his discretion improves and so will the percentages.
Brandon Taylor is a 6’6″ 235lbs senior who also struggles at times with decision making, especially when it comes to shot selection. He’s just good enough as a shooter to take too many bad shots, if you get my meaning. He’s become a solid rebounder (second on the team at 5.3 rpg) and has the potential to be a positive player if he can just rein in his choices a bit on offense. To his credit, he’s one of the leaders of the “play hard” brigade on this team, so you don’t worry about his effort level.
Geno Thorpe is a 6’3″ junior guard who also struggled with the deep ball (30% on threes) but gives PSU some length on defense at the wing and is a decent secondary ballhandling option. He should be set to emerge as a starter, giving the team some experience, some defensive presence and hopefully improved shooting.
Donovan Jack is a 6’9″ senior who has shown enough flashes to suggest that it’s possible he puts it together and becomes a consistent presence for the NIts on offense as a senior. He’s never been able to gain a lot of weight but he’s got a clever post game and has shown an ability to score in the paint at times…just never consistently enough to nail down a spot as a primary option on offense. He also gives PSU some shotblocking on defense but this is a guy I think could be an 8-10 ppg scorer if he can stay focused.
Devin Foster is a 6’2″ senior guard who played some last year as a reserve after transfering in from the JUCO ranks. In limited opportunities he shot the ball well and showed flashes of being able to help in a reserve role. He’s a HS teammate of Adreian Payne.
Jordan Dickerson is a 7’1″ senior who began to establish himself as something more than a bit part guy down the stretch last season. 2.6 ppg and 3.3 rpg in 17 mpg of action may not look like much but Dickerson was at least an occasional presence in those areas later in the year and he is a real defensive force at times with his size. I’m not sure that he’s set to have a breakout season but I think it’s fair to assume that he’ll contend for a starting role again and be capable of helping this team.
Payton Banks is a 6’6″ sophomore who struggled in his first year of on court action after taking a redshirt in 13-14. He’s a guy who they think can give them size on the perimeter but he’s got to shoot better than the sub 30% he put up last year (overall and from three) in order to earn a regular role. Physically at least, his height and 220lbs frame give Chambers something to work with as a physical guard.
Julian Moore is a 6’10” 235lbs sophomore who had a few flashes of production in an otherwise limited freshman season, but PSU’s coaches are still bullish on his potential. He has size and decent athleticism, two things you can’t teach, and they think he has a rudimentarily effective post game to go with it. For him, it’s mostly going to be about continuing to adjust to a faster, tougher game and finding ways to gain consistency in his performance. The physical tools are present.
Isaiah Washington is a 6’3″ combo guard who ended up playing in just one game last season. He’s seen as an athletic guy who should be able to help more off the ball as he matures.