What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Dan from Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Penn State.
1) So the last time we met, Iowa absolutely poleaxed you guys in Iowa City. But then you turned right around and toppled Indiana -- how'd you do that? What went so right for you guys in the IU win?
DAN: Penn State has been consistently competitive against Tom Crean's Indiana teams under Patrick Chambers. It was one of the better shooting nights for Penn State this season, and a season-low for the Hoosiers, so that certainly helped. Brandon Taylor had a big game, scoring 24 points while hitting four threes, and backup point guard Devin Foster had his best game of the season. They avoided their normal pitfall of getting into foul trouble, and got Thomas Bryant into foul trouble on the other end. They frustrated Yogi Ferrell, as he committed five turnovers and was just 3-12 from the field. Indiana was sloppy with the ball, especially in the first half, and even when they had the lead never looked comfortable. It was also one of the only true home games Penn State has had so far this year, and amazingly their only home Saturday game in Big Ten play. So they were aided by the best crowd they'll have this season.
2) Why is Penn State so bad at shooting three-pointers? Granted, that 1/20 showing against Iowa last time out was horrific by any standards, but for the season PSU is shooting 28.9% from 3-point range, which ranks 339th in the whole dang country.
DAN: The best three-point shooter on the team is Shep Garner. Unfortunately for Penn State, their roster construction is not conducive to setting him up like one. The team lacks a true point guard, and Garner is the closest thing they have to one as an undersized shooting guard with athleticism. So he is usually handling the ball, playing too many minutes every night, and has also been dealing with an ankle injury he suffered at Ohio State. Beyond that, they've simply been terrible. Taylor is a decent three-point shooter, but his shot selection has never been the greatest and he is one of the only threats on the inside so they prefer to keep him down in the post.
We have heard that sophomore Payton Banks and freshmen Davis Zemgulis and Isaiah Washington are good three-point shooters who light it up in practice, but none of the three have been able to bring that ability to gameplay. Freshman Josh Reaves clearly likes his three-point shot as well, and his form looks fine, but he's rimmed out nearly every attempt so far this season. The hope is that these players can build their shots as they spend more time in the program, but there has been little on the court to give fans hope that there will be a quick fix for this next season.
3) How much are you going to miss Brandon Taylor when he departs after this season? He's been filling up box scores in State College for years and years now. Who's going to replace him next season?
DAN: Taylor is an interesting case. He is the go-to guy on this year's team for sure. With Garner handling the point guard duties and little else on the team capable of consistently scoring, they've built the offense around Taylor. He's relatively new to playing the post-up game after hovering around the perimeter for three years, and it shows at times when he fails to adjust for double teams or forces up shots, but he's by far the most consistent offensive player even if he himself is inconsistent. He can be an extremely frustrating player at times when he settles for fadeaways or gets himself into foul trouble. The slow-it-down style of this year's team is torturous when they're missing shots.
Taylor's a great success story for this coaching staff considering where he was as a freshman, but I have a feeling his graduation will be a relief in the eyes of many. With a new recruiting class coming in, his departure will likely signal a complete re-working of the offense. Three of the four graduating seniors are forwards, and Penn State's recruits next year (plus this year's ineligibles Terrence Samuel and Mike Watkins) will provide a big boost in athleticism. It's very likely next year's team will want to push the ball more, allowing players like Reaves and recruit Lamar Stevens to drive to the basket and opening up things on the perimeter for Garner, who will be able to move off of the ball with the arrival of point guard Tony Carr. With six new players next year, it's hard to say who will replace him because it could be almost anyone.
4) Outside of Taylor, who are the main threats for Penn State hoops this year? Who should Iowa fans be leery of on Wednesday night?
DAN: When Garner is on, he looks like an all-Big Ten player. He has a great three-point shot, he can get to the basket, and he plays aggressive defense that disrupts opposing guards. Overuse and an ankle injury have really sapped him over the last few games, and his three-point shot has seemingly vanished, but if and when he gets back on track, he's dangerous. Small forward Payton Banks is decent at times as a catch-and-shoot three shooter, and he can hit some crazy shots driving to the basket. Big man Julian Moore shows flashes of a good offensive postgame, and 7-footer Jordan Dickerson is an elite shot blocker who has been more competent on the offensive end in recent weeks.
5) Related to that -- who's one guy who could come off the bench and make life miserable for Iowa fans in this game?
DAN: Freshman wing Josh Reaves missed six games with mono, and recently they've been opting for a big starting lineup of Garner-Banks-Taylor-Moore-Dickerson, even after Reaves returned two games ago in limited minutes. He is still re-acclimating to Big Ten play: he looked sharp in the first half against Nebraska but had nothing in the tank for the second half and played just two minutes. If he's feeling more healthy for this game, he can be a real nuisance. He's the most athletic player on Penn State's team and is crazy aggressive on defense (he's good for at least one steal and fastbreak dunk per game). He is also maybe the best player on the team at driving to the rim and had shown good touch before coming down with mono. His shot's not reliable yet, but he's a guy who can make some things happen off the bench.
6) A common refrain with Penn State hoops is "wait 'til next year." I know Pat Chambers has been landing some impressive gets on the recruiting trail over the past few years -- is next year gonna be the season when "wait 'til next year" finally pays off?
DAN: The problem for Chambers is that it took several years for the recruiting to finally pick up. He got hired late in the 2012 recruiting process, and the football scandal had some impact on that and the 2013 class. Penn State also just missed out on potential signature recruits, including Villanova star Josh Hart. So it's taken longer than some have liked, and fans are understandably afraid that the athletic department's perceived patience is really just the indifference they showed the program for many years. The lack of talent on the floor has also opened Chambers up to some criticisms about his ability to coach. Expectations for this season were not that high after the departure of star guard D.J. Newbill, and the transfer of shooting guard Geno Thorpe and late decision by the NCAA to deny power forward Mike Watkins eligibility for his freshman season made things even worse. Once Reaves went down with mono, it was essentially a lost season even on the developmental front.
But the 2016 class should be a gamechanger. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens look to be the real deal, and it's easy to see them fitting right into a lineup with Garner and Reaves. At the very least, Penn State should be in the NIT conversation next season, even with a team that will be extremely young (barring a graduate transfer in this upcoming offseason, there will be no seniors on next year's team). If they are able to make the NIT in 2016-17, it will set up a huge season in 2017-18 where there will be an expectation that the team can make the NCAA Tournament. I don't think fans are getting so far ahead of themselves as to believe they'll go from the bottom third of the conference to the NCAA Tournament in one year, but it is key for them to show that they're on the rise next season for it to be considered the payoff fans are looking for.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
DAN: Penn State did not compete with Iowa the first time around and I have a hard time believing they will this time around. The Hawkeyes are simply a better team across the board, and it really seems to be their year in the Big Ten. Penn State is still a bad shooting team facing a good defense, and Iowa still has way too many weapons on offense. Iowa 78, Penn State 63.
Thanks for being a good sport, Dan, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tonight. You can check out the BSD crew at Black Shoe Diaries. You can also follow BSD on Twitter at @BSDtweet and Dan on Twitter at @sharpalright. The Iowa-Penn State game is in State College, PA, on Wednesday, February 17, and is scheduled to start at approximately 5:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.