Penn State Proving It’s More Than a Two-Man ShowPosted by Brendan Brody on November 29th, 2013
With its win Tuesday night, Penn State upped its record on the young season to 5-1. As they head into their weekend mini-tournament in Brooklyn tonight, they will be tested by the likes of St. John’s and either Ole Miss or Georgia Tech. These are all “power conference” teams, but they are all beatable. If the Nittany Lions want to continue the roll that they’ve gotten on this season, they will need to continue to get contributions from their starting frontcourt. Players like Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor, and Donovon Jack are not household names outside of State College, but they have all been huge factors in the team’s play as of late.
In its victory over La Salle, Penn State had all five starters in double figures. With a pass-first type of point guard getting them great looks with his dishing prowess, Taylor, Jack, and Travis have shown they can take advantage and hit shots. While none of these three is very physically imposing, they all have certain useful skill sets that they’ve displayed in the early going. Travis is a banger and a slasher, leading the team in rebounds at a 7.3 RPG clip. He has a nice mid-range game and can get to the basket, but his main role is that of someone to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the boards. Taylor went for 25 points in the team’s lopsided win against Longwood, mostly on the strength of his 5-of-9 shooting from deep. He too showed in that game and in others that he can knock down an open shot from mid-range, and displays athleticism and length defensively. Taylor is 11th in the B1G in block rate (5.78%) going into Brooklyn, and has a high of four in one game. Jack has a season high of 18 points, and while he tends to get pushed around a some in the low block, he works well in a high pick-and-roll situation with Frazier. Jack has also become a big fan of taking three-pointers from the top of the key, which will at times bring a center or power forward away from the basket and allow the others to crash the offensive boards.
None of these three starters are going to get the headlines that Frazier or D.J. Newbill will get if Penn State keeps winning, but the way they work together as a unit has been impressive so far. They’ve all stepped up and had big games. The La Salle game in particular was a case study in offensive balance, with all the starters taking between nine and 13 field goal attempts, and each player scoring at least 13 points.This will lead to many more victories, and defensively, in a conference with only one legitimate dominant center (Adreian Payne), the Lions can get by with a lack of height. Alex Olah, Adam Woodbury and even Noah Vonleh are not yet at the point in their development where they are going to punish anyone down low. If the unheralded three keep playing their roles and picking their spots, taking advantage of Frazier being an elite distributor and converting when given the opportunity, they’ll continue to win some games.