After a strong start to the season, Penn State men’s basketball lost three straight games at the ESPN Events Invitational over fall break. The Nittany Lions fell in order to then no. 12Texas A&M, ButlerAnd VCU.
After seven games, Penn State fans finally got a good look at their new team. There have been plenty of ups and downs throughout the season, so our men’s basketball editors took a look at some of the things fans are saying about the Nittany Lions.
Leo O’Boyle should not see court
Joe Lister: Leo O’Boyle has been absolutely brutal so far. In 84 minutes on the court, O’Boyle made 17 shots, including 14 from beyond the arc. He made four baskets and only two three-pointers. It’s been ugly. He’s good on defense, but he looks so bad on offense that it’s hard to get excited when he gets on the field.
CJ Gill: Remove it from the ground. The Lafayette transfer was brought to Happy Valley by Rhoades’ staff to shoot the three ball and shoot it very well. He did neither. O’Boyle has made two three-pointers in 14 attempts in seven games this year. Offensively, he was recruited to shoot better than 14% from behind the arc. Defensively, he is a liability: slow when the rest of the team chooses to play fast. He was sometimes called upon to play center, but being undersized it didn’t go well. In the Texas A&M game, offensive rebounds became a major problem, especially when O’Boyle was trying to hold up the paint. I just haven’t seen anything over the first few weeks of the season that would lead to believe he would provide anything more offensively that would make up for his poor defensive play.
Matte brown: Not seeing the court is a difficult task at the moment, but it doesn’t look great for the graduate student. O’Boyle only averages two points per game despite playing around 12 minutes per game. This is the lowest number on the team in terms of players having played in six or more games this season. To O’Boyle’s credit, Rhoades plays him at center, a spot he isn’t familiar with, so his defensive numbers shouldn’t be great.
The offensive numbers are not better. He is 2-14 from three, while last season he was a 40% three-point scorer. Even though the Nittany Lions need someone to play the backup center role, I don’t think O’Boyle should be the man to do it unless his play improves quickly.
Penn State can hang with the big boys, it just can’t close out games
Joe Lister: Penn State is a good team that just can’t get across the finish line. It hurt the Nittany Lions in Kissimmee, and it’s going to hurt them at the end of the season. Despite taking a very good Texas A&M team almost to the end, the Nittany Lions lost to the Aggies, then to increasingly bad teams in Butler and VCU. It wasn’t pretty.
The other thing to consider with these losses is how it can wear down the team. If you play enough close games and lose enough close games, your tank will probably be empty when the playoffs roll around. Penn State’s current losses could impact how it plays in February.
CJ Gill: I’m still undecided about this. In Orlando, Penn State proved it could do both, taking a very good Texas A&M team to the final minutes and failing to finish the game in almost all three contests. Where I’m undecided is that I just haven’t seen enough of a sample size to see if either is true. I think in the long run, Penn State has the talent to hang with anyone in the country, but also the inexperience to not get over the hump in the final minutes of close games.
Matte brown: Despite losing all three games last week at the ESPN Events Invitational, the Nittany Lions showed they are keeping pace with the best in college basketball. While they lost by 12 points to Texas A&M, Penn State had the Aggies within three points with just over six minutes left in this game. While losing three games in a row sucks, especially against teams you probably should have beaten, they showed signs they could compete, especially in the Big Ten.
Ace Baldwin Jr. is the team’s only consistent attacking option
Joe Lister: Against VCU, it was like that. Once Kanye Clary left the game – only to reappear later with a splint/cast on his arm – Ace Baldwin Jr. had to carry the team. Baldwin may be a very talented player, but he’s not good enough for Penn State to fall on him every game. Either Baldwin needs to improve or Mike Rhoades needs to give his group more offensive options.
CJ Gill: Despite the VCU game where he did not play the majority due to a hand injury, Clary was Penn State’s most consistent scorer. Baldwin has played better offensively in recent games, especially due to the increased load due to Clary’s absence. Other than those two and maybe Qudus Wahab, I haven’t seen very consistent scoring from the other players. Zach Hicks, Puff Johnson and Nick Kern Jr. all showed they could score. At least one of those three will need to step up before Big Ten play if the Nittany Lions want to finish the year with a respectable record.
Matte brown: While Baldwin’s recent performances have been great, especially his 27-point performance against his former team VCU, Kanye Clary has been the guy this year for Penn State. The team has two dominant playmakers in Clary and Baldwin, and while some see that as a problem, it’s a big problem to have. Clary continues to be Penn State’s leading scorer, and if not for a stinger in the VCU game, he could have been the leading scorer in all seven contests this season. Although Baldwin has been a consistent option, Clary is just as, if not more, consistent than him.
Coming home will be a good reset for the Nittany Lions
Joe Lister: In their defense, the Nittany Lions had a brutal schedule. They played three games in four days, which was a lot of work. Hopefully the bye week will do Penn State some good. It also helps that Bucknell is next on the schedule, which should make for a strong, yet winnable contest.
Sometimes a team just needs a break. This might be the answer here.
CJ Gill: I don’t think that’s how Mike Rhoades or anyone within the program saw the ESPN Events Invitational going. Penn State would have been happy to come home from Orlando with at least a win or two. Not winning changes the entire perspective of the first weeks of the Rhoades era. Against inferior opponents at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions looked like a much different team, especially on the defensive end. Coming home is the best thing this team can experience right now. They have a long break before facing Bucknell this Saturday. Time off and time at home can help get this team back on track and back on their winning ways.
Matte brown: Penn State is back on home court and has a few days off before its next game. The game against Bucknell should be a good bounce-back game for the Nittany Lions before heading into the first Big Ten matchups of the year.
Penn State is bad again
Joe Lister: This stance goes to one guy in particular in our comments section who made me laugh with this tweet.
-Sean (@capt_ramius) November 27, 2023
I think this Penn State team is exactly as advertised. Yes, the loss to VCU was tough, but it was still a brutal loss. If you are looking for a basketball team that will not disappoint you, go for the 2012 Miami Heat.
I still think this is a mid-table Big Ten team that either has a good run at the NIT or sneaks into the NCAA tournament like last year. Stay the course, friends.
CJ Gill: This is simply not the case. After three losses in four days against quality and distinguished basketball programs on the road – Penn State is doing just fine. Penn State is by no means bad again or back to the quality of play under Pat Chambers. It’s a team that has never played together, under the direction of a new coach, who is still looking for its identity. That will take time. It may take a full year for this program to become coherent. There weren’t many expectations for this team before the season, and people should avoid overreactions after three losses in an in-season tournament in November.
Matte brown: No it is not. Teams lose games, and it happens to everyone, especially in college basketball. The key is to end this losing streak and pick up where it left off before their recent tournament. There are still great players and coaches who can adapt and bounce back from adversity.