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The Only Questions: Q&A with Penn State

The Spartans look to continue their good fortunes at home this year

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans look like they are officially out of their rut. Since losing to Michigan at home (their only home loss of the year) they’ve won four games in a row.

During that time they outscored their opponents 322-260. In three of the four games they shot above 50% from the field and on Sunday overcame a 13 point halftime deficit against Maryland.

Michigan State’s next opponent is Penn State, who at the moment, is playing some high level basketball. Aaron Yorke, from the Black Shoe Diaries is here to give us the inside scoop on the Nittany Lions before they tip off later on tonight.

What were your predictions for this Penn State team before the season began?

Before the season began, I was thinking that Penn State would get to around .500 in conference play and qualify for the NIT. I was hoping for an NCAA Tournament bid, but that is an awfully big leap to make from last year, when this same core group finished 6-12 in the Big Ten and 15-18 overall. The good news in 2018 is that the Lions have already equaled last year’s win total, but due to a lack of quality wins during the non-conference slate, there’s still a lot of work to do if this team wants to go dancing in March. A big upset in East Lansing would go a long way towards that goal.

Last year the Nittany Lions finished the season 15-18 (6-12 B1G). This year, ten games into their conference schedule they are 5-5. Where do you see Pat Chambers taking this team in the future? Is he the right man for the job? How does the fan base feel about him?

Not many fans are confident that Chambers is the guy who will turn Penn State into a program that consistently competes for NCAA Tournament bids, but there’s also no indication that the administration is willing to spend on a high-profile coach who is a proven winner at a major program. The feeling is that if Chambers gets let go, he will just be replaced by another mid-major coach who will have his work cut out for him. Does that make Chambers the right guy for the job? That will probably be decided over the course of the next two years. If he hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament by the end of 2019, it’s probably time to say goodbye.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State recently handed the Ohio State Buckeyes their first B1G loss of the season. Not only winning but knocking OSU off at the buzzer. Walk us though that game / moment and how it must have felt for the man who made it possible, Tony Carr.

Carr loves having the ball in his hands with the game on the line, but against Minnesota on January 15, he was unable to lead the Lions to victory despite taking 30 shots in the overtime loss. 10 days later against Ohio State, Carr took just 14 shots, but he scored 28 points thanks to better decision-making and a smoother mid-range game. The win felt so great for fans because it seemed like the type of close game that Penn State has been losing this year. The Lions jumped out to an early lead thanks to hot three-point shooting, but then saw the advantage evaporate by halftime. In the second half, Penn State reestablished a lead only to see Keita Bates-Diop get hot and tie the game with five seconds left. Carr’s heroic heave at the buzzer gives the program the signature win it needs to build an NCAA Tournament resume.

Who will be the X-factor for the Nittany Lions come tip off?

I’d like to see Lamar Stevens get more involved in the offense. He got off to such a great start in conference play, but lately he has been less aggressive with 10 or fewer field goal attempts in each of his last three games. Stevens is a versatile scorer who has seen his mid-range jumper improve this season, and he ought to be important to Penn State’s effort in East Lansing if the Spartans focus on stopping Carr.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Is Tony Carr the next great guard to come through Penn State? After 21 games he is averaging 19.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 4.8 APG. On top of all that he’s shooting just above 45% from deep. This kid can clearly play, what should Spartan fans expect out of him?

The strange thing about Carr this year is that, while he continues to be Penn State’s best and most important player, he hasn’t improved his two-point shooting to match the huge leap that he’s made with his deep shot. Just like he did as a freshman last year, Carr is making just 40 percent of his shots from inside the arc. He relies a little too much on isolation at times, and getting to the basket hasn’t been easy against tough defenses. In this upcoming game, I’d like to see Carr try to replicate his Ohio State performance with lots of pick-and-roll that leads to either a pass to Mike Watkins or a good mid-range look. Unless he’s being guarded by Tum Tum Nairn, Carr should avoid his post-up game.

Who is someone Michigan State should worry about defensively? Why?

As the only player in the Big Ten averaging more than two steals per game, Josh Reaves is one of the best players in the country at creating havoc on defense and jumping into passing lanes. Penn State lost three out of four games when he recently sat out due to academic issues, but Reaves returned for the Ohio State game and helped the Lions earn two crucial wins last week. He’s going to be very important when it comes to making life difficult for Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford on Wednesday.

Prediction time: Final score? Who wins? Why?

Michigan State wins 82-72 because it’s the more talented team. I don’t think the Spartans will lose at home for the rest of the year, and Miles Bridges will cause major problems for a Penn State lineup that doesn’t have anyone who can guard him one on one. If the Lions go into a zone, it could be the Michigan State shooting that does them in. I’m also worried about Penn State keeping Nick Ward’s offensive rebounding under control. Yeah, there are a lot of ways this team can beat you.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to Aaron and everyone over at The Black Shoe Diaries for making this Q&A possible.

Go Green!