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Meet Penn State, which is suppressing points at both ends of the floor

it’s a pro and a con at the same time

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

NC State is back at it Saturday afternoon against its new old new friend Penn State, a team the Wolfpack beat at home last season. That game was a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but this year’s installment is a simple non-conference friendly, set in the thriving gambletropolis otherwise known as Atlantic City.

Atlantic City! Come Demolish Something With Us! (pick up free demolition sledgehammer at participating government offices)

Atlantic City! Go Boardwalk Yourself, Pal.

Atlantic City! Donald Trump Failed Here Too.

Atlantic City! There Was That HBO Show About Us That One Time.

Atlantic City! Help.

The Nittany Lions are 5-4 this season but do have to their credit a one-point win over a good Virginia Tech Team. Penn State’s offensive production is down considerably in the aftermath of do-everything guard Tony Carr’s departure for the pros (he scored 29 in Raleigh last November), and they are going to have to find some answers there in order to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

PSU Offense

Penn State OFF_EFF (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Penn State OFF_EFF (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2018 114.3 (42) 52.6 (104) 17.3 (98) 31.7 (77) 31.5 (232)
2019 106.1 (121) 47.9 (259) 18.7 (157) 32.5 (79) 31.0 (242)

Carr and senior sharpshooter Shep Garner accounted for 480 three-point attempts last season, and both hit threes at a 43% clip. Those guys made PSU one of the best outside-shooting teams in the country. With those guys gone, it’s not surprising to see the Nittany Lions struggling from the perimeter—they are making only 31.3% of their threes this season, down from 38.7% last year.

Penn State’s shooting numbers are down across the board, partly because replacing an efficient high-workload scorer like Tony Carr is difficult, and also because PSU is relying more on freshmen to carry the water. There is some promising talent among those freshmen, but that youth also comes with a good bit of inconsistency.

Starters

Josh Reaves (6-5, 214) — Reaves is fairly productive as a secondary option at the offensive end, but his real value is on the defensive side, where he is a huge key to Penn State’s ability to disrupt opponents. Reaves has made a living stealing dudes’ cookies: he ranked 15th in steal percentage as a sophomore, 11th as a junior in 2018. and he’s sixth in that category this season.

Rasir Bolton (6-2, 180) — The freshman is not shy, give him that much—he stepped right into a high workload and is second on the team in scoring as a result. Bolton is 21-49 from three, which is a pretty good start I’d say. He does have some typical underclassman/short guy issues, though: he is prone to turnovers, and he’s made less than 40% of his twos.

Myles Dread (6-4, 215) — He has a fantastic basketball name, but I must quibble when it comes to his artistic choices. Myles Dread shoots a lot of threes—pretty much that’s his game. Myles Dread cannot merely be a jump shooter! He inspires a significant amount of fear and apprehension—I wish there were a word for this—in his opponents! Jump shooting is far too mundane. Myles Dread needs to be a slasher, obviously.

Lamar Stevens (6-8, 230) — Stevens had been a high-workload player during his first two seasons, but he’s taken that to another level as a junior. He leads the team in scoring at 20.1 PPG, but the workload is taking a toll on his outside shooting. He’s by no means a great jump shooter, though he had been good enough to keep teams honest (32% from three last year). This season he is 5-29 from outside. The good news for Penn State is that he’s still effective inside the arc (50% from two) despite the increase in attention.

Mike Watkins (6-9, 254) — Watkins is a tremendous rebounder, which is what makes him a problem. He grabbed 14 rebounds (5 offensive) against NC State last season as the Nittany Lions won the rebounding battle handily. There might not be a better defensive rebounder in the country. He also blocks a lot of shots and makes a whole lot of his two-point attempts in the paint.

Bench

John Harrar (6-9, 243), Myreon Jones (6-3, 170), Jamari Wheeler (6-1, 170), Trent Buttrick (6-8, 234). Wheeler rarely shoots the ball, which is good, because he is so bad at shooting he should look for a new sport before it’s too late. For his career, Wheeler is shooting 44.1% from the free throw line (gah), 44.2% from two (bleh), and 17.1% from three (gross).

Harrar is also unlikely to figure much into the offense, but he can get Penn State a few garbage buckets on account of his outstanding offensive rebounding talent.

Buttrick has attempted 17 shots this season, and 16 of those have been from beyond the arc. Should someone let him know how tall he is? Nah, nah, let’s keep this on the down low for a bit.

When Myreon Jones is on the floor, he takes more shots than anyone not named Lamar Stevens, and that is, uh, that is ... well it’s one strategy. I wouldn’t call it a good one. But it certainly is a strategy that is real. Jones is 7-20 from two and 8-26 from three.

PSU Defense

Penn State DEF_EFF (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Penn State DEF_EFF (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2018 95.1 (19) 48.3 (46) 19.5 (100) 28.2 (152) 32.1 (145)
2019 91.8 (9) 48.8 (116) 21.9 (45) 25.7 (71) 30.9 (117)

Penn State’s defense is very much legit. PSU has allowed only one team to crack 1.0 points per possession this season, and even then it was just barely: Maryland managed 1.03 PPP in a seven-point win over PSU two weeks ago.

Virginia Tech ranks sixth in offensive efficiency and its game against PSU stands as the only time this year it’s been held under a point per trip. The Nittany Lions also held Indiana—themselves no slouch at the offensive end—under a point per possession.

If Penn State’s offense were better, it would not be just 5-4 right now, that’s for sure. This team has been good enough defensively to win every single game that it’s played.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by two.