I think the Big Ten owes Penn State an apology. The Nittany Lions were 22-11 (10-8 in conference play) last year come Selection Sunday, and the Committee left them at home. And I have little doubt that a perception of the league (much of it deserved) played into that. Whether it was years of mediocrity, slow play, or heck, even some revenge for Jim Delany's constant meddling with the BCS, Penn State was a team that probably would have gone dancing had they been in some other power conference. It seems crazy to think about now, but pundits were calling the Lions' road win at the Breslin Center a "bad win." That's right - beating the National Runner Up at their own place is somehow less deserving than squeaking out a one point victory over a Wyoming team that went 7-9 in the Mountain West. Consider it punishment for the league as a whole.
Give Penn State credit, however. After receiving the disappointment that they were headed for the NIT, all the Nittany Lions did was go out and win the whole thing. And frankly, most of the games weren't that close, with the exception of the opening victory over George Mason. After the title game, senior Jamelle Cornley lifted his tournament MVP trophy and waved to the fans, creating a scene that summed up his entire career. Cornley was too short for his position, but he always outworked most guys on the floor. From a statistical perspective, he was a capable if unspectacular rebounder, and very good scoring inside the arc. In his senior year, he even developed an outside shot, making 38% of his 50 three point attempts.
That display was nothing compared to the barrage library enthusiast Stanley Pringle unloaded on opponents last season. Pringle shot 45% on his 160 attempts from downtown. Inside the arc was a different story as Pringle shot just 38% on his 2s in conference play.
The final member of Penn State's Big Three is the only one that returns from last season. When most people think of Talor Battle, they probably think of a guy that takes (and makes) a lot of big shots. That's definitely true. Also true is the fact that Battle really isn't that great of a shooter. He shot 36% from the field in conference play (30% on his 3s), down from a 37.2% effort in his freshman season. Battle makes up for this by creating opportunities for others without turning the ball over, and he also gets to the line at a pretty decent clip.
Beyond those three, everyone else was pretty much a role player. But that's going to have to change for next season. One thing that probably won't change with Battle's steady hand is Penn State's distaste for turnovers.
Off. TO% + Def. TO%
Only 3 major conference teams' games featured less turnovers per possession than Penn State's (and yes, Notre Dame led the nation in preventing turnovers on both ends of the floor). As you can imagine, this aspect of Penn State's play has dramatic effects. On offense, it means Penn State was able to score much better than they shot. But it also helped opponents score (and they did, to the tune of 1.04 points per possession in conference play). The Nittany Lions were an elite defensive rebounding team, and they weren't bad at defending shots either. But their real strength was limiting free throw opportunities for opponents (they ranked 2nd nationally in defensive free throw rate). Of course, that's part of the problem - teams that don't foul also tend not to create turnover opportunities. With a tall, slowfooted team that makes shooting in the paint a nightmare (without sacrificing rebounds), it works great (Connecticut is one example here). But for a short team like Penn State? Probably not the best utilization of personnel. PSU figures to get a little taller next season, as guys like Andrew Ott and Jeff Brooks play more, but this is still a short team. Seems like they would do well to pressure the ball more. However they attack it, the defense is going to have to improve to offset the losses of Cornley and Pringle. We'll pick that subject up on Monday.