Penn State basketball: 3 players primed to level up in conference play

As conference play picks back up for Mike Rhoades' Nittany Lions he'll be leaning heavily on these three players who are about to step into expanded roles in 2024.

 Penn State Nittany Lions guard D'Marco Dunn (2)
Penn State Nittany Lions guard D'Marco Dunn (2) / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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. Senior. Puff Johnson. Puff Johnson. player. 491. . 6'8" 205 lbs. F. Puff Johnson

The western Pennsylvania native missed some time due to injury at the beginning of the year but is finally getting ramped up into a prominent role. Johnson, unlike his NBA older brother, is not an elite shooter, only making 34.7% of his shots from the field and 23.7% from three, but his value shows up elsewhere. 

Penn State’s biggest weakness this season is on the boards. Rhoades has constructed a guard-heavy roster and relies heavily on Qudus Wahab who is averaging 8.8 rebounds a game, but the Nittany Lions are still 312th in defensive rebound percentage and 318th in rebounds per game. 

At 6-foot-8 the senior forward is averaging 6.6 rebounds and 26.3 minutes per game over his last three. Rhoades has to hope the shooting improves, but Johnson is averaging 11.0 points and two steals over that stretch, so he’s turning into a two-way impact player just in time for the bulk of conference play. 

Penn State is desperate for functional size and if Johnson can provide rebounding and defense from the wing then the team can live with his shooting woes while the backcourt carries the offense. 

Since Johnson has begun to take up more front-court minutes, Zach Hicks has seen much less playing time, and considering he’s shooting 33% from the field and averaging 3.4 rebounds in 24.8 minutes despite his size at 6-foot-8, Johnson is a big upgrade.