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Penn State Basketball: Program In Transition, But Tuesday Night An Opportunity

by on December 08, 2015 1:50 PM

There's not a particularly good way to summarize the opening seven games of Penn State basketball's season. At 5-2 it has been a mixture of good individual play, solid team play late in games and bad luck mixed with often suspect defense.

So 5-2 is probably a fair mark for a team that doesn't have an obvious go-to scorer and younger players needing to step into large roles. Even if it wasn't fair, 5-2 is what it is. 

Chances are at the end of the day that this edition of Penn State basketball isn't going to be particularly good. Maybe a bit unkind assessment just seven games in, but it's hard to see all of the required pieces coming together enough times on the big stage for 2015 to be the year things take a step forward.

Then again I've been wrong before.

That's not to say the season is without meaning, far from it. The maturation of Josh Reaves, Shep Garner, Julian Moore and Payton Banks will help shape the future of the program. With a highly touted recruiting class headed to town in 2016, the 2015 season is as much a transitional year as it is the opportunity to give the likes of Brandon Taylor, Devin Foster and Donovon Jack one last go around with the Big Ten.

Despite the fact Penn Sate is probably not going to be a world-beater this season, the Nittany Lions are, to their credit, doing a handful of things pretty well. Taylor just three points last time out from back-to-back games with different 30 point scorers, a stat that has either not happened in a very long time for Penn State or simply at all. The Nittany Lions are playing end of game situations with a fair amount of confidence and are getting contributions from across the roster. For all the struggles, there are plenty of positives.

If the lack of a DJ Newbill or Tim Frazier has done anything it's force Penn State to play like a team rather than a collection of role players around a single scoring focus. Assists are up and truly any number of players could lead the Nittany Lions in scoring on any given night.

On some level that's a dangerous way to live, but if nothing else it has made the early season entertaining to watch despite the somewhat predictable scoring droughts along the way.

So in spite of itself Penn State faces a game on Tuesday night that is an opportunity to improve not only to 6-2 on paper but to hit a reset button with a marquee win.

Walking into Washington, DC to face George Washington as double-digit underdog is the perfect storm for putting everything together in this new age of Penn State hoops. The Colonials are 7-1 on the year with a win over No. 6 ranked UVA, just about all you really need to know about GW this season. If there was a game to prove that 2015 could go beyond transition, it's this one.

"Next year" is a phrase uttered around the Penn State basketball program enough to give fans heartburn, but short of a win, it will be the performances of young talent in a high pressure situation that is what will prove to be the most interesting.

Can Reaves play his lockdown defense against the best team he has seen, possibly in his career? Can Garner find consistent offense yet again? It's not fair to write off Taylor's exceptional early season as irrelevant, because it clearly isn't, but ultimately his days in the Blue and White are numbered. The future of the program sits on the shoulders of other players. That won't slow the 6-foot-6 forward down any, but Penn State gains more in the long term for other players maturing and playing well in this game.

That, in the end, is what makes this season a confusing one for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have parts to two different puzzles, one a collection of the past and the future that makes up the 2015 roster, and a second puzzle, the future of the program that will shape 2016 and 2017. 

So beyond the general benefits of winning the 2015 season --barring something unexpected-- already feels as of mid-December like a place holder between what Penn State basketball is and what it can be. 

it's not an excuse for any given issue or any mismanaged coaching situation, but it is a reality. The roster will look so significantly different in the next two years with a much higher level of expectations to go with it.

There's no reason to write off a season seven games in, and a win on Tuesday night would be a marquee one for the program and the 2015 campaign.

But with the luxury of being able to look ahead to the future, that's what I'm doing.

Then again, if Penn State finds a way to win on Tuesday that will be hard to ignore.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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