Penn State Basketball: Could the Lions become the next K-State?

Mar 16, 2023; Albany, NY, USA; VCU Rams head coach Mike Rhoades speaks during a press conference at MVP Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2023; Albany, NY, USA; VCU Rams head coach Mike Rhoades speaks during a press conference at MVP Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

Like many Penn State basketball fans, I was very disappointed when Micah Shrewsberry left for the faux gold of Notre Dame and much of the incoming talent with him. I already knew the cupboard was going to be depleted from our magical season this year, but the future looked promising for a bit.

Then, when Penn State named Mike Rhoades as their next head coach, things started to trend in the right direction. We got a coach that ran a successful program in a competitive mid-major conference. He was able to bring most of his staff with him, providing some continuity in a turbulent time. Bringing in former Penn State legend Joe Crispin should be huge dividends in the development of offensive production.

In case you missed it, Coach Rhoades has been quietly amassing some potential star talent on his squad. First, the talent that followed him from VCU is solid. The A-10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year (2022-23) Ace Baldwin will fit in perfectly with a team that is devoid of veteran leadership. His teammate Nick Kern is a former 4-star recruit with tremendous upside.

Temple transfer Zach Hicks is a tough, Camden, New Jersey, kid who should bolster our interior presence. He started every game for a Temple squad that finished 5th in the American Athletic Conference.

Further strengthening that interior presence is the Georgetown transfer, Qudus Wahab. This 6’11” center has prior Big Ten experience having played for Maryland in the 2021-22 campaign. He also had the privilege of learning the inside-post game from one of the best big men ever, Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing.

In keeping with their tradition of adding sharpshooters from the Patriot League (Andrew Funk came from Bucknell), Rhoades brought in Leo O’Boyle from Lafayette. O’Boyle differs a little from Funk in that he’s a small forward as opposed to a larger shooting guard, but he is as good, if not better, long-range shooter as Funk was.

Then there was a transfer from a college basketball “blue blood”, forward Puff Johnson from North Carolina. He never quite fit in with the Tarheels but continually made slow, but not spectacular, progress. A former 4-star recruit out of Moon Township high school, he brings a world of unrealized potential that hopefully Coach Rhoades can tap into.

Finally, today, they landed another huge piece in 6’5″ guard Rayquawndis Mitchell. A journeyman in the truest sense (Penn State basketball will be the fourth program he’s played for), he becomes another scoring option for a team that doesn’t have an identity yet. VBR’s Keenan DiPasquale did a great piece on him so I won’t completely rehash him.

What does this mean for Penn State Basketball?

Anybody that continued to watch the tournament after Penn State lost in the second round (trust me, it was tough for me to do so) saw the amazing run that Kansas State made to the Elite Eight before they fell to a bigger Cinderella story, Florida Atlantic.

K-State was led by the inspiring play of the 5’7″ dynamo guard, Markquis Nowell. Watching him play reminded me of Timmy Frazier years ago, lightning-quick speed. I’ve also seen flashes of that same speed in our own guard Kanye Clary.

There were nine Kansas State players to take the court in that Elite Eight matchup against FAU. Every one of them started their career elsewhere. Of the five starters, only Nowell had been at Kansas State the previous season.

You had five guys, who the season prior to this one, were playing with completely different teammates. With the exception of Nowell, they were playing in completely different systems. They had a solid regular season, finishing in 3rd place in the Big 12, but nobody (myself included) had anticipated they would make the run that they did.

Penn State has the opportunity next season to do something very similar. There will be growing pains, to be sure, but I think that Coach Rhoades’s basketball philosophy will be well-suited to the physicality of Big Ten play. I’m a firm believer in the offensive prowess of coach Joe Crispin and think he’s the perfect compliment to the defensive-minded Rhoades.

I’m not naive enough to sit here and tell you that Penn State basketball is going to challenge for a Final Four spot next season. But the future may not be nearly as bleak as it seemed in the beginning of April.

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