Micah Shrewsberry arrived in State College one month ago today, and by every measure, he has he enjoyed one fantastic month as Penn State’s new basketball coach.
When Shrewsberry was hired, we were wondering about the possibility of the bottom falling out for the PSU program. Not because Shrewsberry was in any way a bad hire — quite the opposite, in fact, as he was a tremendous hire — but because of the vast amount of uncertainty surrounding the program.
Six of the team’s eight best players had already entered the transfer portal. That was going to mean, many believed, the Nittany Lions could be in for a very rough time in Shrewsberry’s first season.
UPDATE: In a puzzling move, Izaiah Brockington has re-entered the transfer portal, which certainly changes some of the dynamic for Shrewsberry
Just about everything that’s happened since then, however, can only be interpreted as positive signs that the program has a solid foundation that could grow even stronger.
I’ll even make a bold prediction here: If Shrewsberry can land two really good players in the transfer portal, Penn State could have about a 50-50 chance of making the NCAA Tournament next season.
That’s not a pie in the sky notion, either.
Let’s take a look back at the past month:
**I’ll start with the lone bit of bad news, and I actually don’t believe it’s really all that bad. Leading scorer Myreon Jones announced he’s transferring to Florida. OK, Jones had good production at Penn State, averaging 15.3 points last season, and he made a bunch of big buckets.
But honestly, Jones is replaceable. He was in a lot of ways a one-dimensional player — a good spot-up shooter — as opposed to a multi-faceted offensive threat who could score in a bunch of ways. He was not a great finisher at the bucket, which was costly at times for PSU’s offense.
There are 1,400 players in the transfer portal. A lot of them are shooters. Shrewsberry can find another shooter, and if he lands the right one, it could be someone who’s more valuable to the team than Jones.
**Penn State lost point guard Jamari Wheeler to Ohio State. He was an all-Big Ten defensive performer and in a lot of ways the heart and soul of the team. But I believe Sam Sessoms, the backup last year, has a very good chance to be a better player than Wheeler.
Sessoms will never be as good defensively as Wheeler. But Sessoms is a much better scorer. He averaged 19 a game at his previous stop, Binghamton. Last season, he averaged 8.2 points while playing 20 minutes a game, compared to Wheeler’s 6.8 points in 31 minutes.
If Sessoms plays 31 minutes a game, he’ll average 14-15 points and will give PSU a legitimate finisher late in games.
**John Harrar exited the transfer portal and decided to stay at PSU. This is absolutely MASSIVE. While Shrewsberry can replace a player like Jones, I don’t think he could have found an equal to Harrar in the transfer portal. It’s easier for a program like PSU to lure a guard who can shoot than a big who can compete in the Big Ten.
Harrar’s vast improvement has been remarkable to see, and he works harder than anyone. Him returning is the single biggest thing that has happened for the program since Shrewsberry’s arrival.
**Harrar wasn’t the only player who exited the portal. Second-leading scorer Izaiah Brockington and third-leading scorer Seth Lundy also decided to stay. Brockington is a dynamic playmaker who can score in a lot of ways, and Lundy has the ability to go off on any given night and pour in a bunch of points. He just needs to be more consistent.
**With Brockington, Lundy and Harrar sticking around, along with Sessoms and Myles Dread, Penn State will have five of its top six scorers back next season.
**AGAIN, I absolutely believe Shrewsberry will be able to find at least one or two very good players in the transfer portal. If he does, the Lions would have an exciting nucleus of players that can win in the Big Ten. I think shooting guard is the No. 1 priority, then a backup point guard. Reserve big man Abdou Tsimbila is expected back, and if he develops could be a good counter to go along with Harrar.
**Shrewsberry has made three outstanding hires as assistant coaches: Adam Fisher, Aki Collins and Mike Farrelly. Those three have great and varied experience as coaches and recruiters, so there is a lot to be excited about with this staff. Shrewsberry also made a shrewd hire bringing longtime recruiting analyst Brian Snow on board. All of these guys have a long list of contacts, as does Shrewsberry, which is why I’m supremely confident they’ll go out and land some good players in the transfer portal.
Look, the Big Ten is tough. It’s always going to be tough. We can’t judge Penn State basketball in a bubble based only on what it is doing. All of the traditional powerhouse programs in the league will be doing good things themselves, so winning will never come easily to PSU, no matter what it does.
But the bottom line is that many people were fearful Penn State basketball could be in really bad shape with a ton of players ticked off after what happened to Patrick Chambers and deciding to leave. There was the danger that PSU could be terrible for a couple of years, with Shrewsberry swimming upstream trying to rebuild.
There still are a number of questions and potential concerns for the program, but there’s no doubt that Penn State can feel very good about where things stand after Shrewsberry’s first month on the job.