After having a very senior-heavy team in 2022-23, the Penn State Nittany Lions completely rehauled its roster, full of talent from the transfer portal.
Penn State basketball had a magical season last year, thanks to star guard Jalen Pickett and the rest of an experienced group. This year, the Penn State Nittany Lions are built from the transfer portal. In fact, only one player in my projected nine-man rotation played for PSU last season.
While cohesion could be an issue, talent will not be. Former VCU head coach Mike Rhoades brought over a few Rams players, a pair of UNC Tar Heels, and a few other transfers that could keep Penn State in contention in the Big Ten.
The most notable transfers are Ace Baldwin and Qudus Wahab. Both were well sought after in the portal and opted to team up at Penn State. If they can get help from a talented supporting cast including Kansas City transfer Rayquawndis Mitchell and Temple transfer Zach Hicks, Penn State has a chance to return to March Madness.
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Head coach: Mike Rhoades (10th season, 1st at Penn State)
2022-23 record: 23-14 (10-10)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Texas, 71-66, in second round of NCAA Tournament
Notable departures: Jalen Pickett (NBA), Seth Lundy (NBA), Andrew Funk (NBA), Camren Wynter (Asst. Coach at Temple), Myles Dread (Graduated), Kebba Njie (Transferred to Notre Dame)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Texas A&M (Nov. 23), ESPN Events Invitational (Nov. 24 & 26)
PG: Ace Baldwin (6-1, 190, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 12.7 PPG, 5.8 APG, 2.9 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 34.2 3P% (VCU)
SG: Nick Kern Jr. (6-6, 190, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 5.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.8 APG, 62.0 FG% (VCU)
SF: RayQuawndis Mitchell (6-5, 205, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 17.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 34.5 FG% (Kansas City)
PF: Zach Hicks (6-8, 195, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 34.8 FG%, 35.6 3P% (Temple)
C: Qudus Wahab (6-11, 245, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 0.4 APG, 51.1 FG% (Georgetown)
6: Puff Johnson (6-8, 200, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 4.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.4 APG, 38.7 FG% (North Carolina)
7: Kanye Clary (5-11, 192, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.7 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.7 APG
8: Leo O’Boyle (6-7, 210, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 11.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 40.7 3P% (Lafayette)
9: D’Marco Dunn (6-5, 190, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 2.7 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.2 APG (North Carolina)
Penn State Nittany Lions MVP: Ace Baldwin
A star for Mike Rhoades’ VCU Rams, Baldwin followed his coach to Penn State, and will slot in as the team’s starting point guard.
Baldwin can do a bit of everything and has already had success in running the point for a VCU team that had back-to-back seasons of at least 22 wins.
This will easily be Baldwin’s best-supporting cast in his college career, so there’s no reason why he can’t improve his already good number of 5.8 assists per game last year. Having a talented post player like Wahab and a few other scoring threats in Mitchell and Hicks should free Baldwin up for more open shots.
Defensively, he doesn’t take a play off. Baldwin averaged over two takeaways per game with the Rams last season.
Also, he could potentially start alongside former Ram Nick Kern Jr., which would obviously help the overall familiarity of the backcourt.
Penn State Nittany Lions make-or-break player: RayQuawndis Mitchell
A lot will be made about Mitchell, a talented scorer from Kansas City. Last season, he averaged over 17 PPG and comes to this Penn State Nittany Lions as a potential scoring asset.
The downside? Mitchell had a dreadful FG% of 34.5% last season, which is even more concerning considering he’s moving up a level to a power conference.
While Mitchell won’t need to average close to 17 PPG on this team, it’ll be important for him to be efficient in his scoring role. There’s no doubt he can put the ball in the basket, but for Penn State, it’ll need to be from good shots. He had a tendency to play hero ball for the Roos, but that can’t be the same mindset on this team.
Key analytic: FG%
I singled out Mitchell because of how important his role could be, but he’s not the only player I worry about in terms of scoring efficiency.
Puff Johnson comes from UNC having shot under 39% last season. Zach Hicks is a talented three-point shooter but was under 35% overall from the field. To Hicks’ credit, most of his attempts are from outside.
Nick Kern Jr. somehow shot over 60% from the field as a guard last season, and Baldwin could help guys like Mitchell, Johnson, and Hicks to get better, more open shots. That’s what the Penn State Nittany Lions will need, because bad shots don’t usually translate to winning basketball.
Penn State Nittany Lions 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 10th in the Big Ten
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 32 Exit