Nebraska hosts the Penn State Nittany Lions on Tuesday night in a game that could determine each teams standing for the end of the season. Placing in the Big Ten Tournament and possibly post season play is on the line. We got together with Aaron Yorke of Black Shoe Diaries to get a better idea of what kind of team the Huskers will be taking on.
Corn Nation: What were the expectations of Penn State basketball going into this season?
Aaron Yorke: That depends on whom you ask. This team has been unpredictable all season because of the young roster, and the same was true before the season started. Back then, Penn State fans were unsure of how many minutes the talented incoming freshmen would get and how they would play together. I personally thought that the Lions would struggle to earn an NIT bid due to inexperience and the departure of last year’s senior leader Brandon Taylor. Others were more optimistic.
CN: Freshman Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens have been huge additions to the team this year and are major factors in the team’s success. Who else should Husker fans know about?
AY: Redshirt freshman Mike Watkins has also been a major factor this year due to his shot-blocking ability and athleticism down low. He’s a big threat to thrown down on the pick-and-roll and is also a terror on defense when he’s not getting into foul trouble. Another key player is Josh Reaves, one of the best defensive guards in the conference who is great at jumping into passing lanes and making his presence felt despite low scoring totals. Upperclassmen Shep Garner and Payton Banks are the team’s two best three-point shooters, although they disappear for stretches. Banks stands out because he just had one of the best games of his career against Illinois, so keep an eye out for him.
CN: Penn State’s season has kind of been up and down with some good wins and some losses they shouldn’t have had. What are your general thoughts on the season and how far can this team go with the year winding down?
AY: After two big wins against Maryland and Illinois, it’s easy for Penn State fans to play the “what if” game and wonder what the team’s NCAA Tournament chances would be like if close losses against Rutgers and Indiana had gone the other way. Nevertheless, the Lions may sneak into the big dance if they win four of their last five games and make noise in the Big Ten Tournament. Inexperience has hurt Penn State in close games, but lately the young players have overcome that inexperience with their talent. It gives one hope that a few more big wins are coming down the stretch.
CN: What does Penn State do well on the court and what do the Nittany Lions need to work on?
AY: Penn State’s strength is its tenacious defense with the ability to cause turnovers and block shots. Those turnovers lead to fast-break opportunities that lessen the need for a good half-court offense. If the tempo is slowed down, the Lions can become exposed as a team that struggles with jump shots. The Illinois game wasn’t a good indication because the Lions shot so well in that game, but generally Penn State has played better when it is attacking the basket and drawing fouls instead of settling for jumpers. If opponents avoid fouling, the young guards sometimes have trouble finishing their drives at the rim.
CN: Pat Chambers is in his 6th year. What are your thoughts on his tenure so far and what do you think the future is for him and Penn State?
AY: Chambers’s teams have always played very hard, and that’s led to some fun upsets during his tenure, but he’s yet to even put a team in the NIT field. That will likely change soon, as his last two recruiting classes have been two of the most talented in Penn State history. He’s used his Philadelphia roots to recruit players around the city that in the past would choose schools like Villanova, Temple, and St. Joseph’s over Penn State. Thanks to Chambers, Philly kids like Watkins, Carr, and Stevens are forming the core of what next season could be one of the best Penn State teams in a while.
CN: Last question. What will happen on Tuesday and what will the final score be?
AY: Penn State is really getting my hopes up, so I’ll say Nebraska wins 68-66 with a last-minute bucket from Glynn Watson.
Thanks again to Aaron for answering our questions. I hope his prediction is correct on Tuesday because at this point, it could go either way. It would be a good win for the Huskers at an important juncture in the season.
To find out more about this Penn State team check out www.blackshoediaries.com.