Penn State Hoops Already in Big Trouble

Three games into conference play, a lack of frontcourt production has stymied the Nittany Lions.

Don't bother breaking down the play-by-play of Penn State's 73-64 loss to Michigan at the Jordan Center Tuesday night, because you won't find the real reason for the program's third straight defeat to open the Big Ten schedule there.

And don't bother re-watching the battle between two of the conference's most talented players -- PSU's D.J. Newbill and U-M's Caris LeVert -- because the answer is not there, either. Sure, LeVert made some huge plays when it mattered most, while Newbill had a couple of late-game miscues, but it never should have come to that.

If you really want to know why Pat Chambers' squad dropped another game it needed to win to maintain serious hope for an NCAA Tournament bid -- and why the outlook for the Lions in the Big Ten is now very poor even after a record 12 wins in the non-con -- one need only review the top of PSU's part of the box score.

It features the starting frontcourt of junior Brandon Taylor, senior Ross Travis and junior Jordan Dickerson. But don't glare too long, because it may damage the eyes.

As you can see, the trio combined to shoot 2 of 17 from the field, 0 of 3 from the arc, and among them attempted just two free throws, making only one. They had a collective five points.

Only three of the shots -- all triple attempts by Taylor -- were from any sort of distance. And one of the two makes was an alley-oop dunk that the 7-foot-1 Dickerson could have stuffed home with his elbows.

The three men combined for seven rebounds, two offensive rebounds and one assist.

While it would be nice to be able to blame it on foul trouble, well, they only had a total of five of those, meaning the issues were not a product of over-aggressive play. Speaking of which…

They logged a total of 71 man minutes. The team as a whole plays 200 man minutes in a regulation game (40 minutes multiplied by five men on the floor at once), meaning Taylor, Travis and Dickerson accounted for 36 percent of the team's minutes.

And -- we're talking three guys combined now -- they averaged one point every 14.2 minutes and one rebound every 10 minutes they were on the floor.

All of this against a Michigan team that starts four guards, played one guy over 6-7 more than one minute, and ranks 11th in the Big Ten in blocked shots. The lone true post player was freshman grinder Ricky Doyle, who outscored PSU's starting frontcourt (with eight points) by himself.

In a postgame press conference where he attempted to stay positive in the face of another season falling apart, fourth-year coach Pat Chambers admitted of his frontcourt, “We need production from those guys, there's no doubt.”

But there is doubt, and there always has been with Taylor and Travis.

In Dickerson and platoon-mate Donovan Jack, you know what you are going to get. Dickerson blocks a lot of shots, impacts even more and usually grabs a few rebounds, but has no offensive skills. Jack is playing over his head, but shows occasional flashes (he actually scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting Tuesday).

Taylor and Travis came into the season with reputations for being extremely inconsistent, and everyone knew that would have to change for PSU to raise its game. It did not in the non-con, but it didn't matter because the competition was not all that stiff.

Against Big Ten opponents, though, the same-old, same-old from the veterans has been killer.

In three games, Taylor is 5 of 28 from the field and 2 of 15 from the arc. He entered this season a career 27 percent shooter from 3 in Big Ten play, and is now 42 of 163 in his career (25.7 percent). Which led to this amusing quote from U-M coach John Beilein Tuesday:

“We were prepared for him to post up. But at the same time, he's taken a high volume of 3s, so he must be making them in practice. He must be making them.”

Chambers has suggested as much, too. Which is great. Sooner or later, though, someone is going to realize Taylor has now played 81 games and his body of work there has proven he's a lousy 3-point shooter when the lights are on.

At least Taylor is what he's always been. By any realistic measure, Travis has regressed this season. His 4.4 points and 6.5 rebounds are both the lowest since his rookie campaign, and we're only a week into Big Ten play.

In three conference games this year, Travis has five points, 12 rebounds and two free throws attempted (which is probably just as well considering he is 5 of 24 from the stripe). He has attempted only nine shots from the field in the league, making only two.

Asked how he intends to shake Taylor and Travis out of their Big Ten funks, Chambers said, “Keep shooting. I want my guys to play with great confidence on the offensive end. They need to keep shooting. They have to keep taking their open shots.”

Since there is nobody better on the bench to replace them, they will keep shooting, especially the quick-triggered Taylor. Yet unless patterns that have been set the last few years suddenly change, they'll keep missing, too.

Oh, they may tease you now and then, and go on a little hot streak that leads to some good things. But that always seems to more than balance itself out on the negative side of the ledger later on.

And it all adds up to one thing for Penn State hoops this season.

Big trouble.

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