4 things to watch in Gavitt Tipoff Games

Penn State’s men’s basketball team has one of its highest-profile non-conference games of the season on deck Monday night when Butler visits the Bryce Jordan Center as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.

The Nittany Lions are 2-0 with a pair of lopsided wins that showcased an exciting, paced attacking style that depended on veterans while allowing key young players to gain valuable experience. The Bulldogs were dominant in their only win to start the season.

In college basketball, November is a month of small sample sizes, and Monday night’s game – which starts at 8:30 p.m. and will be nationally televised on FS1 – will provide a great learning opportunity for both. parts.

Here are four things I’ll be watching at the Bryce Jordan Center on Monday night.

Read more: How to watch: Penn State basketball vs. Butler in Gavitt Tipoff on FS1

1. How does the role of Kebba Njie continue to develop for the Nittany Lions against another big man?

During the summer and pre-season, the front Kebba Njie became one of the most intriguing — and potentially one of the most important — players on Penn State’s roster. Part of that is down to a thin front yard, but a lot of it also has to do with Njie’s development before and when he arrived. Coach Micah Shrewsberry said the player signed by Penn State in November 2021 was very different from the one on the court in November 2022.

The 6-foot-10, 237-pound Njie came off the bench behind the starter Caleb Dorsey through the first two games of this season, and he will face a tough task in Butler big man Manny Bates In Monday. The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Bates, a transfer from NC State, had 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the Bulldogs’ season opener. It’s an older, veteran presence for the Green Njie – who turned 18 on the first day of classes – to contend with.

Njie scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in nearly 16½ minutes of action against Loyola (Md.) last week, but he was still three fouls in that span after being called for four fouls in 10 minutes in the opening of the season.

“I just gotta be smarter [with] how to use my body, especially at this level,” Njie said last week. “They’ll call it easy fouls, but sometimes you’ll let it go. So just my playing experience, I have to keep playing, know what referees like to whistle.

Njie’s talent was clear early in his career at Penn State, and with the 6-foot-7 Dorsey serving as Penn State’s top options downstairs – the 6-foot-8 Michael Henn has played less than 7 minutes in two games, while the 6-foot-10 rookie Demetrius Lilley hasn’t played yet – Njie could get a big test on Monday night.

Read more: Penn State Basketball Recruiting: Top 60 wing among trio of 25 Saturday visitors (VIP)

2. Whose turn will it be on Monday night?

Guards Jalen Pickett and Andrew Funk were the stars against Winthrop in the season opener with a total of 45 points. Against Loyola, Pickett and Funk combined eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. Camren Wynter scored 18, while the guard Myles Dread and Njie each had 12 on the bench. guard/forward Seth Lundy also scored 10 points.

Penn State has more options offensively this season, and even though they weren’t scoring, Pickett and Funk were still heavily involved offensively. Pickett had 11 assists. Funk served as a decoy, Shrewsberry said, after his hot shooting performance in Game 1 and due to Loyola’s familiarity with Funk since his time at Bucknell in the Patriot League.

“There are a lot of capable guys out there, and I tell them all the time, I believe in all of you.” said Shrewsberry.

Wynter, the fifth-year senior who transferred from Drexel, took the star turn against Loyola as he continued to settle in with his new team. Wynter is one of three active players in college basketball with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists – Pickett is one of the other two – and he’s learning to play more without the ball in his hands, and he put in the effort behind the scenes to adjust to his new role.

“I would say it’s been a bit more of an adjustment than I thought it would be, but I mean, I had fun through it all,” Wynter said. “I think tonight I’m kind of complimenting the work that I’ve tried to put in, just the extra time in the gym, just shooting with the coaches, knowing that I’m going to play with the ball a bit more. ”

So who could be next for Penn State to step in? Lundy has been quiet offensively to start the season. Junior Dallion Johnson showed can do outside shots. First-year student Jameel Brown came to Penn State with an offensive pedigree. Shrewsberry has more offensive players to work with.

Read more: Top Takes: Wynter arrives as Penn State overtakes Loyola

3. How will the Nittany Lions react to adversity?

In the season opener, Penn State deftly held Winthrop within reach before retiring in the second half. Loyola, however, made things a little interesting by cutting a double-digit Nittany Lions lead to two points just after halftime in the first half. Penn State, however, was able to regain its lead to 11 points at halftime, and Loyola was never in the single digits again.

“We knew fake shots, we were smearing people, we weren’t solid, and then we weren’t playing with the pace,” Shrewsberry said. “And that’s what upset me the most is that our attack got slow and we were struggling to score. They were doing a good job of taking it away. So we corrected it during that timeout and then we came back and played really well. That’s when you see the maturity of this team coming out. You have a bunch of older guys coming out of the squad and they’re talking about what they need to do. They know when they’re not at their peak and they can correct that themselves pretty quickly, so they were doing that and I thought that stretch at the end of the first half was pretty important.

In some non-conference games, like Monday’s, and in Big Ten play, Penn State will face similar situations, including playing from behind. In Shrewsberry’s first season, he credited his team’s veteran nature with helping them stay in games. This season, these vets are tasked with helping keep Penn State ahead. The roster includes five players using extra eligibility, plus another fourth-year senior. He’s a resource for Penn State, and he’s one he might have to rely on against Butler.

“I would say we’re a mature team,” Wynter said. “Obviously we have a lot of older guys, a lot of seniors. I mean, people race college basketball, so just being able to [stop] the race and do your own race and not get too low on those races and know that after the timeout when we have to go out and just pay attention to the details and lock in. I think that’s what we did at the end of the first half, and we just tried to make them a little uncomfortable.

Read more: PHOTOS: Penn State Hoops slam Loyola with another offensive outburst

4. Will the 3 points continue to fall?

Penn State is off to a deep start. In two games, Penn State has made 34 of 68 3-pointers it has attempted, which is good for a 50% clip. As mentioned above, November college basketball is the king of small sample size, but Penn State currently ranks No. 3 nationally with 17 3-pointers per game and No. 10 in three point percentage. Entering the weekend, Penn State was the only team in the nation to shoot 50 percent or better when attempting more than 30 3-pointers.

Shrewsberry wants to keep shooting, and he thinks the Nittany Lions will keep hitting deep.

“Three is more than two,” Shrewsberry said Thursday. “We have guys who can really shoot, like really shoot. A bunch of them, not just one. So we’re going to get as much out of it – if people want to leave us open, we’re going to get out of as much as we can.

Penn State’s program record for 3-pointers entering the season was 15. The Nittany Lions hit 18 against Winthrop and 16 against Loyola.

The deep shot, however, did more than just allow Penn State to score 90 points in consecutive games. He softened opposing defenses to allow players to get to the basket and attack the rim with relative ease.

Shrewsberry also praised his players for finding their teammates. Penn State has 45 assists on 66 field goals this season, and the Nittany Lions rank 16th in assists-to-rotation ratio (2.37) and 17th in assists per game (22.5). These are some of the traits that give Shrewsberry confidence that this kind of offensive success will continue.

“I remember two or three possessions we missed, it was just a nice ball movement,” Shrewsberry said. “Guys just throw the ball all over the court, and it happens to an open guy, he just misses it. I agree with that. I agree with that. It means we are connected. That means we’re locked in offensively. It means we are playing the right way. We share it. I’m okay with that because we have guys who can put it on deck too. So now once they start running we can attack and reach the edge more, which we did. I think we had 10 lay-ups in the second half. I don’t know if we had 10 lay-ups all last season.

Read more: Andrew Funk shows what he can bring to Penn State in Nittany Lions debut

Daniel Gallen covers Penn State for Lions247 and 247Sports. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow Daniel on Twitter at @danieljtgallen.

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