Welcome to the Midseason review of the Penn State Nittany Lions Men’s Basketball team. Thus far, the 2019/2020 season is going better than expected. Penn State is 14-5 and have beaten quality teams now in back-to-back games. For a team picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, Penn State is surprising the rest of the Big 10 adding to the chaos of the conference this season by knocking off a slew of the conference’s better teams.
Following a hot start to the season, Penn State slid off the rails a few weeks back, losing three straight before rebounding at Ohio State.
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The Nittany Lions are a team led by seniors and sophomores. Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins are the Senior forwards who combine to average 26.5 PPG and 15 RPG. Sophomore guard, Myreon Jones, leads the team in assists (2.8), second in points (14.3) and is the team’s deep threat (41% from three this season). The team rotates nine players regularly, so their depth has been a very underrated factor in their success so far.
Though the Nittany Lions have only one other player who is a legitimate threat from deep (Seth Lundy is 40.5% from three). Though Curtis Jones Jr (33%) occasionally gets hot from deep, the team as a whole only averages around 32% for the season. Though it doesn’t help that Myles Dread leads the team in three-point attempts per game (5.9) when he’s just 28% from three this season. Penn State is 21st in the country in two-point percentage (53.3%) but ranked #275 in two-point attempts on the season.
NOV 5 (W) – vs MD Eastern 84-46
NOV 9 (W) – vs Wagner 91-64
NOV 14 (W) – vs Georgetown 81-66
NOV 19 (W) – vs Bucknell 98-70
NOV 23 (W) – vs Yale 58-56
NOV 27 (L) – Ole Miss 74-72
NOV 29 (W) – Syracuse 85-64
DEC 4 (W) – Wake Forest 76-54
DEC 7 (L) – Ohio State 106-74
DEC 10 (W) – Maryland 76-69
DEC 14 (W) – Alabama 73-71
DEC 20 (W) – Central Connecticut St 87-58
DEC 29 (W) – Cornell 90-59
JAN 4 (W) – Iowa 89-86
JAN 7 (L) – Rutgers 72-61
JAN 11 (L) – Wisconsin 58-49
JAN 15 (L) – Minnesota 75-69
JAN 18 (W) – Ohio State 90-76
JAN 22 (W) – Michigan 72-63
Overall, the Nittany Lions have had a solid season thus far, and they’re building a case for a spot in the Top 25 following back to back wins over Ohio State and Michigan. As far as a resume for March goes, the Nittany Lions have a fairly strong resume. Their losses to Ole Miss, Wisconsin, and Minnesota aren’t awful by any means, but when you factor their wins against Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, and Syracuse, it just further reinforces the narrative that there’s a lot of parity in college basketball this season, and there will be a 20-25 horse race for the Bubble on selection Sunday.
Penn State is +4500 to win the title
To put into perspective how solid these odds are compared to the rest of the field, we have to look at some surrounding teams in that range.
Teams below them:
Florida (12-6) +5000
Colorado (14-4) +5000
Texas Tech (12-6) +5000
Teams above them:
#5 Florida State (16-2) +4000
North Carolina (8-10) +4000
Wichita State (16-3) +4000
We see Penn State is sandwiched between these two groupings. The UNC odds are a bit strange, but that team is depending on the return of Cole Anthony to push them down the stretch. Florida State is probably a great bet right now, given their talent and defensive prowess. Colorado stands a firm chance of making the tournament, as is Florida, so going off this logic, Penn State stands a fair chance at making the tournament, given their placement above this group from an odds perspective. 40-1 odds may seem farfetched, but Penn State has the senior leadership and guard play to carry them in the tournament. Even if they don’t win, a deep run should provide a few solid opportunities to hedge.
Last Week in Review
Following a three-game losing streak, Penn State rebounded against Ohio State, avenging their 32-point loss to the Buckeyes back in early December. Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones combined for 44 points and the Nittany Lions won by 14. It was an offensive explosion for Penn State, with the team going 9 for 19 from beyond the arc. Penn State went 54% from the field and were +1 in the rebounding margin. The Nittany Lions were also +3 in the turnover margin as they cruised to a comfortable victory, following a 42-27 halftime advantage.
On Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions traveled to Michigan to face the Wolverines. Michigan’s star player, Isaiah Livers, was a game-time decision, but ultimately sat. The loss of Livers was again a big difference-maker for the Wolverines as they failed to get into rhythm early in the game and struggled to score throughout. Myreon Jones and Curtis Jones combined to go six for eight from three to push the game out of reach whenever it seemed like Michigan was catching up.
Myreon did the damage in the first half, while Curtis went three for four in the second half from deep. Despite, the +3 advantage on the boards for the Wolverines and having the same amount of turnovers as Penn State, the Wolverines really couldn’t find their shot on offense, going 35% from the field and just 18% from three (5 for 28).
On January 29th, Penn State will host Indiana (14-4). On paper, both teams stack up with nearly identical splits. Penn State is +2 in scoring, +1.1 in blocks, and +2.3 in steals per game. It’s going to be an important mid-week matchup for both teams as they each aim for a spot in the tournament in March. Will the Nittany Lions continue their hot outside scoring next week? If they can win the turnover and rebounding battles, I think Penn State should pull this one out at home.