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NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Penn State

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone buying John Harrar’s stock after last week’s column did well. We are going to have to come up with a name for his supporters. Harrar’s Harassers? Nah, we can do better.

Penn State moved up to No. 19 in the NET Rankings with the win against Minnesota on Saturday and now sits in a share of second place in the best conference in the country. It was a sell-out crowd in the Bryce Jordan Center and the 15,000+ fans in the stadium got the entertainment that they anticipated.

It’s the second week of February and Penn State is getting national attention for their success on the basketball court. A season that began with some people doubting whether the team would make the NCAA Tournament now has those fans discussing the possible seeding that the Lions will get once they gain an invitation to the big dance.

It has been a great ride but one thing is for sure, it’s not worth stressing the small stuff when it comes to the current team. The Lions are in a position that is unfamiliar but the success is undeniable. Supporters should soak in the glory of each win, knowing this is possibly the best season they will ever experience as a Penn State basketball fan.

It will likely be the most successful season, by the time all the games are played, that most fans have witnessed. There will be ups and downs along the way. The next game is on the road against a Purdue team that plays great at home. We’ll hope the Lions win the final 8 games of the regular season, but in reality, a .500 finish would be great. Anything more than 4 wins would be a new Big Ten record for the program.

Harrar The Heralded

It wasn’t too long ago that some fans had to be convinced that John Harrar was a solid basketball player for coach Pat Chambers. When Harrar arrived on campus two and a half years ago as a project that had more offers as a football player than basketball coming out of high school, there was good reason to believe he might not pan out.

Following his play late during his freshman season, people began to take note that Harrar could be used as a serviceable role player. The team had won the NIT Championship with him as their primary center, with Mike Watkins out with an injury. Last season Harrar started more games than Watkins and proved to be a solid backup Big Ten center.

His statistics are what throw people off. Harrar has not shown much of a scoring ability to this point, though his effectiveness has increased recently. He may never score enough to grab much attention, or get more than ten rebounds in a game, but he has made a major impact on several wins this season.

For every win that the team has had in which Mike Watkins was not at his best, which includes Saturday, John Harrar deserves the credit that the primary center for the team should get. He has been on the floor during the tough minutes when Watkins was in foul trouble or just not effective, for one of the best teams in Penn State history.

On Saturday he showed his abilities to a sold-out crowd and national television audience. Sure, his offensive production and rebounds doubled as did his minutes played, but the little things that he does were there for everyone to see. It was impossible to ignore the impact that he was having on two of the best players in the Big Ten.

Marcus Carr is among the national leaders in assists and we saw what he can do when he gets going on Saturday. He can become a force that is impossible to stop. Jamari Wheeler did a good job on him for most of the night, but it was help from Harrar and others that made it possible.

Watch as Harrar waits for Carr to come across the screen and then sticks with him, moving his feet like a guard alongside one of the best guards in the conference. He’s a center, and has a huge body, but he is able to stay clean and avoid being put in a position that favors Carr. Wheeler came back and provided a double-team that got the ball out of Carr’s hands.

Then Harrar went back down into the lane, he was after all covering one of the best centers in the country while he was doubling Carr. Harrar put his big body between Daniel Oturu and the rebound as it was in the air, boxing him out well enough to keep him off the boards.

Technically Harrar didn’t do much than provide a ladder for Oturu to climb up with his left arm but he got in the way. Keeping his big body in the right location is also a subtle skill that Harrar has mastered that sometimes is not appreciated.

It was the type of defense that Harrar provided all game, while also doing some of the things that show up in the box score.

While we’re singing Harrar’s praises, notice freshman Seth Lundy . He was initially on the ball handler then he settled into the lane to provide backup on Oturu while Harrar was away. Once Harrar returned, he went out to get a hand in the face of a 3-point shot, then chased the shooter to the rim and blocked the shot, then got the rebound.

If that is what we can expect from Lundy, he will be able to provide some of the skills needed to replace Lamar Stevens next year, both on offense and defense.

Here is a look at a play with Harrar doubling with Wheeler. This time it paid off with a steal, which Harrar quickly used to start a break to Izaiah Brockington . That’s Daniel Oturu in the poster shot watching Brockington soar in for the dunk.

A Look At The Numbers

  • The game against Minnesota provided some large numbers, including Lamar Stevens’ career-high 33 points. There was also the first sell-out crowd in the Bryce Jordan Center since 2011, officially 15,261 in attendance, another gaudy stat that we can all appreciate.
  • One thing missing is the stat line of Myreon Jones . We will be happy to get him back on the court, but with him too ill to play, the team showed that it is deep enough to replace his production. Stevens’ put roughly Jones’ missing scoring total on top of his own average, so that helped.
  • Supporting players such as Seth Lundy, Curtis Jones , Izaiah Brockington , Jamari Wheeler and Myles Dread stepped up to fill the void left by Myreon Jones. No one player matched Jones’ typical stat line, but they all chipped in with their specific skills.
  • No one is going to hold their breath in hopes that Jamari Wheeler will become a volume 3-point scorer next year. However, there is reason to believe that he may be improving enough to keep defenses honest, and not allow them to sag off him and double other players. Wheeler was 3 of 4 to start the season through 3 games then went 12 games only attempting a total of 5, missing them all. Since then, over the past 8 games, Wheeler is 5 of 9 from behind the arc. His shot is okay in terms of form. He has attempted 18 deep balls and made 44.4% of them this year. If he can continue to improve, he may be able to stretch defenses a little, just to make them play him honest. Were he to shoot 35% or so with 40 attempts next year, it would be enough.
  • While Mike Watkins put on his uniform, he did not appear to be much better off than Jones in terms of being able to bring production to the court. It made me wonder during the game whether Watkins was not at his best with his struggles that he has shared publicly. If so, would it be like if we had pulled Myreon Jones out of bed and put a uniform on him? It’s hard to tell why Watkins wasn’t at his best and it’s not fair to issue a reason when only he and those close to him know. It is likely that he has played many games during his career when his energy level and motivation were similar to someone that is bedridden with a severe flu. That is what his condition can do at times, though he puts on the uniform and gives it a go. People familiar with his situation may see his down days as a type of courage; he is sick and still shows up for the team. Others sometimes lose patience with him, as though he were perfectly healthy and simply choosing to not play the game he has built his life around to the best of his ability.

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