I thoroughly enjoyed the first game of the season for this year’s Penn State basketball team and the first game under new head coach Pat Chambers. Although I was initially suspect at the hire, what I saw at the Hartford game on Saturday afternoon has me feeling good about Chambers. While only time will tell as to his success at PSU, I liked what I saw, if only for one game.
My observations on the game are as follows (and these observations are based only the one game sample of which I saw):
Gone was the chuck-and-duck offense which all too often saw the players run down the shot clock to be left with either a) a high ball screen, leaving TB (or any other player at the point) to attack the basket or b) a late shot clock heave (Usually also from TB) from 20+ feet or so. Chambers ran an motion offense that allowed for some nice open looks; if only the players were more adept at knocking down those shots.
On defense, the use of 1-2-2 3/4 court press with traps at half court. This defensive pressure, when combined with some tight on-the-ball defense (along with good denial one pass away) lead to more steals I have seen in a single Penn State game in the past 10 seasons. Chambers has his defensive players playing much tighter on the ball along along with tighter defense off-the-ball, especially on those players “one pass away”. This defensive pressure lead to many steals and tipped or deflected passes, while also leading to a few back door cuts and many drives to the basket from the Hartford players after beating their defensive man off the dribble.
My biggest concern is whether the back side (or weak side) defensive players are capable enough to rotate in such situations and cut off the dribble penetration. There were several occasions when Penn State defensive players stepped up and drew charging fouls (3-4 by my recollection, although not all were drawn off dribble drives after beating a defensive player on the perimeter).
Offensively, this team had difficulty knocking down either open shots or close “bunny” lay-ups. The post players especially had difficulty hitting their in-close looks, as there were too many missed layups/putbacks. I can recall Jon Graham missing 5 close shots and Ross Travis missing 1 or 2 others.
Cam Woodyard also struggled with his open looks, missing a layup, an open pull-up jumper from the foul line (off a nice drive to his right from the wing) and missing an open 6-7 foot jumper from the right baseline in the second half. Woodyard only had range from beyond the arc, hitting all 4 of his FGs from 3-point range.
Sasa looked uneasy in the paint at times. He had few touches and at least two of those he did have resulted in one turnover and another unsuccessful drive penetration, which he kicked back out without a shot attempt.
Tim Frazier was aggressive attacking the basket, at times too aggressive (like he was channeling TB in those situations). While he had some nice dribble penetration, on at least as many occasions, his drives to the basket seemed to be a force in the action, resulting in a contested layup and too many misses for so many close shots to the hoop.
Billy Oliver had a nice start making his first two baskets. Unfortunately, his last two attempts (both from beyond the arc) did not draw iron. I was a little disappointed to not see him continue the momentum he created in the early stages of the first half.
It was refreshing to see Chambers rotate in 9 players within the first 5 minutes of the game. Nick Colella was effective on the 3/4 trap press, grabbing one steal and forcing another turnover.
Matt Glover played a lot of minutes, but also struggled from the field. He had a solid physical presence, grabbing more than a handful of rebounds. Unfortunately, his shot was vastly inconsistent.
Finally, I am quite surprised there isn’t more talk on here about Trey Lewis. Lewis adeptly handled the point guard duties at times in the first half after Tim Frazier sat with his second foul in the first half. He was tenacious defensively and was not shy at putting up his shots. He hit two pull up 3-pointers from the wing (eerily similar to those that TB would knock down the past four seasons) and was effective using his athleticism to create his shot. I am a little disappointed that more people aren’t abuzz about how well Lewis played in his first collegiate game. 17 points along with better than 50% FG %? Thats cause for celebration, especially in his opening game, regardless of who the competition was.
One other positive note was the effective rebounding on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The Lions did an excellent job on the offensive glass. Next step is to start knocking down those inside put backs and “bunnies”. The team also did a nice job clearing the defensive boards, as there were few offensive rebounds I could recall for Hartford.
The most disappointing thing from the game (aside from some weak FG shooting) was poor FT shooting. The players did an excellent job getting to the line. Now the players need to start knocking down their freebies and make teams pay for committing so many fouls.
All-in-all, I was extremely impressed with the intensity and energy of this year’s team. They were hustling throughout the game, diving for loose balls and creating turnovers with a great defensive presence. I decided to co-opt the teams motto for this season “Pure Energy” as my new screen name. While it is a tad cheesy (especially for those who remember the 80s song “What’s On Your Mind”, which used Leonard Nimoy to sing the line “Pure Energy” at points in the song), it does effectively capture the intensity of this year’s team, especially on defense (which is a welcome change).