Maryland men’s basketball is back to playing Big Ten opponents: On Tuesday night, the Terps will be hosting Penn State in their first matchup of the new year. To learn more about the Nittany Lions, we reached out to Eric Gibson of Roar Lions Roar to give the lowdown on Penn State.
Penn State’s defense is 22nd nationally in turnover rate and fourth in steal rate. What has the team been doing on defense to get takeaways so often?
There’s a few things. First, Pat Chambers does use a 1-2-2, three-quarters-court press at his discretion depending on matchups and game flow. However, Penn State played a really soft nonconference schedule, so many teams simply couldn’t handle their pressure. We’ll see how often Chambers goes to it in Big Ten play, because it couldn’t save the Nittany Lions against the better teams they’ve played. Secondly, Josh Reaves and Jamari Wheeler just have the natural ability to pick-pocket dribblers and wreak havoc in passing lanes. They’re both really aggressive on and off the ball, although that can get them into foul trouble at times.
In addition to forcing turnovers and steals, the Nittany Lions are 14th in block rate. How have they been so proficient at getting blocks?
They have Mike Watkins, who’s been able to stay on the floor for longer stretches in his sophomore season. Nicknamed ‘Swatkins’, the Philadelphia native can block shots from all over the court. He’s got a quick jump off the floor, along with great length at 6-foot-9. Watkins tends to get overshadowed by Reggie Lynch, Jaren Jackson and Matt Haarms in the Big Ten, but he’s just as good of a shot blocker as those guys.
Tony Carr is shooting over 50 percent on his threes after making 32 percent last year. What has led to the improved shooting?
Carr’s having a weird shooting season. He’s making 52 percent of his threes but only 41 percent of his twos. His three-point shooting has been remarkably consistent, and I’d credit his improved shot selection as the root cause. He’s a deadly shooter when he’s set and can step into his shot.
However, Carr’s struggling to finish at the rim and still takes a high percentage of tough mid-range shots. I’m expecting his three-point percentage to slowly decline as Big Ten play ramps up, but he’s gonna have to improve his efficiency inside the arc to compensate.
Mike Watkins is ninth in the country for defensive rebounding percentage. What does he do to clean up the defensive boards so well?
Watkins has physical gifts that allow him to be an effective rebounder as well as a great shot-blocker. He also does a solid job keeping blocked shots in play to add to his rebounding totals. I look forward to watching him go up against Bruno Fernando, whom I’ve been impressed with in what I’ve seen of Maryland this year. Both big men have similar athleticism, but whoever can get the other in foul trouble first will give their team an early advantage.