Penn State Basketball: 2017 Offseason Primer

By Eric Gibson on March 13, 2017 at 11:00 am
Penn State Nittany Lions forward Mike Watkins (24) dunks the ball as Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Isaiah Roby (15) defends in the first half during the Big Ten Conference Tournament at Verizon Center.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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The end of the 2016-17 basketball season was simply a disappointment for Penn State. On February 12, the Nittany Lions sat at 6-7 in the Big Ten and had a real opportunity at an NIT bid. But Pat Chambers' team failed to close the deal in too many home games, instead stringing five straight losses together to finish the regular season. While they survived what could have been a brutal loss to Nebraska, they were humbled on day two of the Big Ten tournament by Michigan State and ended the year with two embarrassing technicals in the waning seconds of a 27-point whooping. 

Now begins the most crucial offseason yet for Chambers. With Sandy Barbour confirming his retention for a seventh season, we now turn our focus to the program's objectives for this offseason. Next year has long been considered the judgment year for Chambers' tenure in State College, so there could be some last-minute changes if the coach feels it will increase their chances for success.  

Carefrontation Season

This is 2017 and the basketball season just concluded for over half of Division I schools. The transfer announcements are sure to follow. Pat Chambers will conduct his own player meetings very soon, and they have resulted in departures in past years. While every scholarship player still has another year of eligibility, it's not a safe bet everyone returns in 2017-18.

There are three fifth-year players who could conceivably be eligible for the graduate-transfer rule that has become more prevalent each year. While there's been no public indication any those seniors are considering such a move, the benching of Terrence Samuel in February remains a complete mystery. 

The staff also has multiple scholarships tied up in players with indistinguishable abilities. Isaiah Washington and Davis Zemgulis have spent multiple years in the program, but each saw a drastic decrease in floor time. They both carried expectations of cracking the rotation, but neither contributed much outside of practice. Their absence from the floor was particularly discouraging due to the program's obvious need of reliable outside shooting. Both players could seek larger roles at other programs, since their opportunity appears to have shrunk in State College. 

Spring Signing Period

The program's recruiting efforts have mostly been quiet during this past season. Discovering Trent Buttrick in Naples, Florida has been the program's only addition, but if transfer season yields an additional scholarship to play with, the staff could pursue potential graduate transfers, junior college transfers, or high school seniors.

If Penn State does enter the market, they'll undoubtedly pursue a sharpshooting wing. With Buttrick and Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce joining the fray up front, the Lions can focus on filling their shooting needs. An addition like Akeem Springs at Minnesota this year would be a dream come true, but the grad-transfer route can be hit-or-miss. Allen Roberts is a perfect example of why they should proceed with caution. 

Buttrick can sign his letter-of-intent as early as April 12, but it remains to be seen if anyone will join him. 

Coaching Carousel

Penn State won't be making a coaching change this year, but many other schools have already done so. Currently there are jobs open at NC State, LSU, Missouri, and South Florida. The first Big Ten termination was just announced over the weekend as Illinois parted ways with John Groce. The coaching carousel in college basketball has always been fun to track because of the chain of events each transaction sets into motion. Don't forget that it was Billy Lange returning to Jay Wright's Villanova staff that allowed the door to open for Ed DeChellis to bolt to Navy in 2011. 

Pat Chambers' staff has maintained a high level of continuity over his six seasons. He has only made two changes to his immediate cabinet after former associate head coaches, Eugene Burroughs and Brian Daly, left for family reasons. This current outfit has been together for two consecutive years, but there have been calls for Chambers to add a more experienced assistant that could help with X's & O's. Could we see a staff change in the coming weeks? If so, it will likely happen sooner than later as the spring AAU periods are fast approaching. 

2018 Recruiting Class

We've now arrived to the summer portion of this offseason primer. Assuming the program's first order of business has been addressed, the Lions will look to capitalize on another huge recruiting haul in a critical year for the program. Currently, there are four seniors on next year's team - Shep Garner, Julian Moore, Payton Banks, and Terrence Samuel. The next class they put together will be the cavalry responsible for carrying the torch behind Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Mike Watkins.

We will have more on the team's recruiting efforts in the coming weeks, but so far the staff has followed the same blueprint that delivered its successful 2015 and 2016 classes. They've been recruiting some key targets for years now and have developed some tremendous early relationships. Myles Dread is the current lone commit who has shown tremendous "3-and-D" potential on the wing. He recently cracked Scout.com's top-100 and is a borderline four-star prospect. 

Offseason Foreign Tour

Word hasn't leaked from the program about any potential foreign tours this offseason, but they are eligible for the first time since 2013. College basketball allows programs to get a head start in the preseason with a foreign tour once every four years. The Lions last took advantage with a tour through Europe back in August 2013.

Some coaches prefer to use the experience to integrate a large group of freshmen or incoming transfers, but with how critical next season is to Chambers' career, it seems like a given that they'll take the extra ten days of practice and four days of competition over the summer. As long as everyone can stay healthy (a risk everyone has to assume), there's no reason not to accept the opportunity to get a head start on 2017-18.

Non-Conference & Big Ten Schedules

Throughout the offseason, various tidbits will steadily leak about games on the schedule. Since Penn State is under the gun to reach the postseason next year, the non-conference schedule will be extremely important. We already reported on the four games they'll receive from a respectable Legends Classic field at the Barclays Center. They're also expected to hit the road in ESPN's B1G/ACC annual challenge. Plus there are the return games from this season's home-and-home series, including rematches with George Washington at the BJC and George Mason in Washington, D.C. 

While the bulk of the non-conference schedule is already set, the selection of guarantee opponents will determine PSU's prospects for a favorable RPI rating. Scheduling low majors who have 20-win potential (like Wright State, Albany, and Grand Canyon this year) will do wonders for the ol' SOS and RPI. Hopefully PSU can round it out with some computer-friendly opponents (bring back Bucknell!). They also stand to benefit from more neutral site events, but nothing of the sort has been rumored as of yet. 

Scheduling dates in the fall semester could be at a higher premium this year thanks to Jim Delany's insistence on hosting the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden. Because the Big East also uses the same venue around the same time, the Big Ten's conference tournament will be a week earlier in March 2018. Therefore, there will be early December conference games that PSU must work around. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, each Big Ten team will play two conference games over a four-day stretch starting Dec. 1. 

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