I caught up with Austin Lederman who covers Penn State basketball for cityofbasketballlove.com. He asked me a few questions about the game today and I got him to enlighten us a little on Penn State basketball.
Austin: Akron has a size advantage down low, specifically 7-footer Zeke Marshall. How can we expect Keith Dambrot to utilize the big man against an undersized Penn State frontcourt?
Brandon: Zeke is a monster when he wants to be and when the refs allow him to be. Akron always has a size advantage with Zeke on the floor, but keeping him on the floor is a major problem. He got a little better last year, but seems to still commit way too many silly fouls. Last game against UNC-Asheville he had two fouls in the first two minutes. Zeke plays better against bigger named competition, so I look for him to have a pretty solid game against Penn State. He has a great hook shot and decent post game, but the guards have trouble getting him the ball sometimes. Dambrot needs to make sure that Zeke is catching the ball closer to the box down low and that the guards are making good entry passes. When he is able to get position down low, and when the guards get him the ball effectively, he will score 9/10 times. I look for Dambrot to run many plays through him, and if Penn State doubles the post he'll be able to kick out to one of the many three point shooters the Zips have.
Brandon: Abreu is getting better. He was limping a little near the end of the Asheville game, but I believe the day off will help him get close to 100%. He plays like a NFL running back, and gets knocked around a lot driving the lane. He's a tough kid, so playing through a little pain isn't too much of a concern for him. He's also still effective playing at 80% or so, he had 12 points and 9 assists against Asheville. He also likes going against high-quality competition, his best games have been against the Ohio Bobcats and their stellar guard D.J. Cooper. I really like Tim Frazier and think he'll be one of the best in the Big Ten this year. I think Frazier will get his, but Abreu will do well also. I think they may even cancel each other out.
Austin: Freshman Jake Kretzer is averaging almost 11 points and a little over five rebounds per game and fellow freshman Reggie McAdams is averaging a little over seven points. While Penn State isn’t the highest quality Big Ten Team, they play gritty, stingy and tough-nosed defense. How do you think the freshmen will play going against a physical team like Penn State?
Brandon: As naive as I was at the beginning of the season, I thought Kretzer and McAdams were both redshirt candidates. Their play early in the year has proven that they need to be on the court, and they both have been very effective so far. I think Kretzer is a little tougher than McAdams, as McAdams likes to stick around the three point line (and sometimes runs the point). They'll both need to step it up against a physical team, as whoever wins the rebounding war will likely also win the game. They are sure to be in for a surprise, facing their first real physical battle. It'll be interesting to see how they both respond.
Austin: Penn State is shooting an abysmal 35 percent from the floor. What can Keith Dambrot’s squad do to try and keep Penn State’s shooting at around that number?
Brandon: The Zips cannot allow second chance points. Rebounding (and specifically boxing out) has been something that makes me throw my remote at the TV when watching the game. I don't know if it's worked on in practice or not, but Akron seems to give up a lot of offensive rebounds and putbacks. Penn State needs to be able to crash to the basket after every shot, especially if they're missing 65% of them. Like I said in the question above, whoever has the rebounding advantage will likely win the game.
Austin: What is the key to this game and which team do you think comes out on top?
Brandon: Depth. Akron is able to go 10-11 deep on the bend, while Penn State seems (from looking at stats only) to be only 8 deep. The Zips like to wear teams down, and if they can get Penn State's frontcourt in foul trouble, it may be difficult to keep up. Akron also has the ability to employ an up-tempo offense, taking a missed shot, running down the court and turning it into points quickly. This makes Akron's depth even more important, as Dambrot can continue to sub in while Penn State's players get more and more winded. I think it'll be close, probably under 5 points. It may seem like a homer pick, but I like Akron, especially if they are able to win the rebounding battle.
Brandon: I know it's early, but what has been your impression of the Penn State team so far this year?
Austin: They get after it defensively but they really struggle shooting the ball. They're shooting 35 percent so far on the season and only 15.6 percent from beyond the three-point line. If the shooting doesn't improve, Penn State is going to be in for a long season.
Brandon: So, everyone knows about Tim Frazier. Who else should we look out for in the game today?
Austin: Tim Frazier finally has a backcourt teammate to run with in Southern Mississippi transfer D.J. Newbill. Newbill is a Philly native who has a strong build at 6-foot-4 and is really good at getting into the paint. He's averaging 12.7 points per game and also shares ball handling duties with Frazier, who had the ball in his hands constantly last season. Using Newbill allows Frazier to become more a scoring guard and Pat Chambers runs sets to get him open looks. Also, sophomore forward Ross Travis is an athletic freak who can defend multiple positions. Don't be surprised to see Frazier throw him a lob or two throughout the game.
Brandon: What are your impressions of Pat Chambers so far? I am a big fan of Big Ten basketball too, and he seems to be taking this team in the right direction. It's one of the toughest jobs in all of college basketball, but he seems to be the right guy.
Austin: Pat Chambers has done a phenomenal job so far. Penn State basketball is notorious for not getting a lot of fans in the seats but this guy has done just about anything you could ask and more to try to bring excitement and energy to the program. He preaches 'attitude' constantly and it reflects in his team's play. Everyone is willing to dive on the floor and get their knees dirty for Chambers. It may take awhile, but I think Chambers has this program moving forward in the right way.
Brandon: What are your thoughts about the game against Akron? How do you foresee the outcome of the game?
Austin: Zeke Marshall is going to be a problem for the Nittany Lions. Penn State's starting center Jon Graham is only 6-foot-8 and he hasn't fared well in the past going against skilled post players that are bigger than him. It would be nice to see Penn State actually put the ball in the basket so the game can be entertaining at least. Frazier's done a great job of getting to the free throw line so far this season, and he'll have to get Marshall in foul trouble for Penn State to have a good chance of winning, which I think they will.