What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Chad from Roar Lions Roar, the best damn Penn State blog around.
1) It seems like Penn State has been amassing talent and building 'til next year for the last few seasons -- is this finally the proverbial next year? What are the expectations for this Penn State team?
CHAD: This was certainly billed as “The Year” among fans who’ve been tracking Pat Chambers’ build. They returned their five best players from last year and and best of that bunch are sophomores this time around. A lackluster non-conference schedule tempered those expectations a bit, but an NIT bid should still be the floor for this talented bunch.
2) So far the results have about as expected: Penn State has beaten the teams they were supposed to beat and mainly lost to the only team better than them, Texas A&M. The only exception to that was your game against NC State earlier this week -- what went awry in that game?
CHAD: It certainly didn’t help that N.C. State decided to forget that they were shooting 27.5 percent coming into the game and subsequently lit PSU up from behind the arc, but it was a very disappointing result nonetheless. Especially considering the Nittany Lions started the game on an 11-0 run. Kevin Keatts went to a press to slow Penn State down after that run and it was very effective in putting the offense out of sync. Chambers didn’t do anything to counter that and the Wolfpack slowly choked the life out of the game until a too little too late comeback effort by the Lions.
3) So far it doesn't look like Tony Carr is experiencing any sort of sophomore slump. What are his strengths and what does Iowa need to do to slow him down?
CHAD: He’s really come into his own from an efficiency standpoint - as of right now he’s the third most efficient player in the country with a usage rate greater than 28%. It’s a big step up from his freshman season, where he struggled with turnovers and converting at the rim. I’m very interested to see how Iowa deals with Carr’s half-court post-ups, because they have the team size to do so - will they stick Isaiah Moss on him and let Jordan Bohannon guard the far-less-active Shep Garner?
4) On offense, Penn State looks pretty balanced after Carr -- what should Iowa fans know about Lamar Stevens, Josh Reaves, Shep Garner, and Mike Watkins? Which PSU player is most likely to have Iowa fans cursing his name on Saturday?
CHAD: Garner is going to have to have a big game from the perimeter to keep pace with Iowa’s impending three-point barrage. The senior has struggled to find consistency from behind the arc for his entire Penn State career. This weekend would be a great time to start knocking down shots. Watkins and Stevens will also need to come up big on the defensive end against Luka Garza and Tyler Cook. The pair struggled to contain A&M’s Tyler Davis and Robert Williams in Brooklyn, and this challenge will be on a similar level for Penn State’s post defenders. Watkins is capable of being very disruptive on that end but hasn’t played up to his potential yet this season against high major competition.
Offensively, Stevens is the secondary option behind Carr. He was dreadful against N.C. State but showcases his scoring ability against A&M with 25 points on 13 shots. If his mid-range jumper is falling and drawing Cook away from the basket, Iowa could be in some trouble.
5) Penn State ranks 21st in KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings, which is very solid. What are the strengths of PSU's defense this year?
CHAD: Penn State had a good defense last season but they’ve really hit their stride as a havoc-creating unit in 2017-18. They’re fourth in the nation in steal percentage (per KenPom) and swat shots on 15.5 percent of possessions as well, good for 26th in the nation. Watkins has done his fair share as mentioned, but Reaves is the heart and soul of the defense. His aggressiveness can get the best of him sometimes but when he’s focused Reaves is the best perimeter defender in the conference. He’ll get switched onto whichever Hawkeye finds a hot hand. Jamari Wheeler is just a freshman but he’s already building a reputation as a similarly disruptive defender. He’ll relish the chance to chase Bohannon around the arc.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
CHAD: Both teams have their backs against the wall here. I pegged this game as a Penn State loss when the schedule was announced and Wednesday’s loss didn’t convince me to change my mind. PSU has struggled defending against size and Iowa certainly has that going for them. Unless this game turns into a turnover fest for the Iowa backcourt I like the Hawkeyes to win a tight one 81-77.
Thanks for being a good sport, Chad, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped by Iowa on Saturday. You can check out Chad and the rest of the RLR crew at Roar Lions Roar. You can also follow Chad on Twitter at @Chad_RLR and Roar Lions Roar on Twitter at @RLRblog. The Iowa-Penn State game is in Iowa City, IA on Saturday, December 2, and is scheduled to start at approximately 4:00 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.