With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we tip off our look at the Big Ten with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Penn State may have taken a step back last season from a wins and losses perspective, but the rebuilding effort being led by Pat Chambers continues to move along at a program with little historical success on the hardwood.
If there is such a thing as a competitive two-win Big Ten team, Penn State fit the bill a season ago. The Nittany Lions struggled to find their footing after losing Tim Frazier to a torn Achilles’ tendon, but finished the conference slate with a home win over eventual national runner-up Michigan and a win at Northwestern. Penn State also played Wisconsin to a narrow 66-63 loss to close the regular season at the Bryce Jordan Center.
With Frazier back in the rotation to go along with D.J. Newbill, Penn State boasts one of the league’s best backcourts. Frazier was a first team All-Big Ten selection back in 2011-2012 and while he’s never been particularly efficient, he posted a ridiculous assist rate of 45.2 (second nationally) while also averaging 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game in his last full season.
Newbill, a junior, had a breakout season in Frazier’s absence as he became the go-to scorer and used 30.9 percent of Penn State’s possessions, the highest usage among Big Ten players. He’s the team’s leading returning scorer at 16.3 points per game and also drew 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes last season.
Penn State’s backcourt depth took a hit when Jermaine Marshall opted to leave the program, but transfer Allen Roberts should help soften some of the blow of losing Marshall. Roberts, who averaged 12.3 points last season at Miami (OH) and is eligible immediately, will battle John Johnson, a transfer from Pittsburgh who will be eligible the second semester, and freshmen Graham Woodward and Geno Thorpe for minutes.
The Hoosiers hit eight straight 3-pointers in Wednesday night’s 72-49 win against Penn State, which included two late in the first half and six straight to start the second. Will Sheehey, who’s offense game has struggled some of late, hit three in this stretch to help him get back in rhythm. Yogi Ferrell, who opposing defenses such as Wisconsin have sagged on of late, also contributed two during this stretch and hit 3-of-4 for the game.
A look at all three confidence-building 3-pointers from Sheehey and one from Ferrell in the latest edition of Film Session:
I. Here we see the Hoosiers with all five players out beyond the arc as the ball is swung from right to left:
But as the Hoosiers reverse it back right, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo have cut across and filled space:
As Oladipo curls back around, this leaves the Penn State zone imbalanced. There are four defenders on the strong side — leaving Sheehey open on the left wing:
I. When Indiana is making 3-pointers like it did on Wednesday night, few teams in the country, if any, are beating the Hoosiers. Especially at Assembly Hall. After connecting on 5-of-12 attempts from distance in the first half, Indiana came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. The Hoosiers hit their first six 3-point attempts and hit eight in a row in total if you go back to the first half.
The perimeter barrage came from a variety of sources. Will Sheehey was back in mid-season form. The junior from Stuart, Fla., led IU with eight first-half points. And after his first few looks went in, Sheehey looked like the guy capable of carrying this team in stretches with his scoring and energy off the bench.
Yogi Ferrell knocked in a few in what was perhaps his best shooting display this season. He finished with a career-high 15 points. Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls were on target, too. Oladipo’s improved perimeter game continues to blossom and he’s now shooting 55.1 percent on threes this season. He finished with a game-high 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
II. The defense was another storyline worth noting. Penn State, fresh off of totals of 71 in a loss to Michigan State and 64 in a loss to Nebraska, could only muster up 49 points against a defense that was ranked in the top 20 nationally in terms of efficiency entering the game. As the Big Ten schedule moves along and the Hoosiers enter a brutal stretch of games in February, defense is going to have to be the calling card, particularly on the road.
In total, the Nittany Lions shot 17-of-50 from the field and Indiana never really allowed them to establish any flow or momentum. After an 8-of-27 first-half shooting performance by Penn State, the Hoosiers kept the intensity dialed up for the second half and finished the game strong, which hasn’t always been the case in recent games. With a major battle looming Sunday at Assembly Hall with the Spartans, it was important for Indiana to put together a solid 40 minutes. For the most part, that happened.