Penn State men’s basketball midseason grades: Mike Rhoades Year 1

Penn State still has 10 games left in the regular season, but so far the Nittany Lions are near the bottom of the Big Ten in the first year under Mike Rhoades.
Wisconsin v Penn State Nittany
Wisconsin v Penn State Nittany / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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Mike Rhoades. . Coaching. Coaching. B-

Roster construction is a big piece of coaching and it’s overtly clear that Rhoades failed to prioritize shooting in a way that has crippled his team offensively. However, that’s not the biggest fault of his season. 

Rhoades seems to have abandoned his identity from his time at VCU. It’s a great strength for a coach to be malleable enough to highlight the strengths of his roster, but that should be with tweaks, not contortions. 

VCU was successful because of defense and played at a moderate offensive pace allowing guards to dissect the opposition. In 2022, the Rams made the tournament as a 12-seed and were 15th in adjusted defense and 142nd in adjusted tempo. This year the Nittany Lions are 106th in adjusted defense, more a product of talent than philosophy, but 43rd in adjusted tempo. 

Penn State is averaging 73.3 possessions per game because Rhoades is amenable to the style that Kanye Clary prefers, but with Clary out the Nittany Lions played a much slower pace against Rutgers and the suffocating defense appears in the 61-46 win. 

Rutgers is not a good team, but without Clary, neither is Penn State. Rhoades leaned on his identity, with his team forcing 19 turnovers and holding Rutgers to 1/17 from three. Yes, he was playing bigger lineups out of necessity, but that created a +9 rebound advantage which was the difference in a low-scoring game. 

Rhoades has found different ways to win with a roster that has very obvious limitations. He even beat the top team in the conference, which will undoubtedly be the peak of the season. However, during Clary’s absence, he’s learning to lean back into his identity, and when his star scoring guard returns, he must heed those lessons.

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