College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning until practice tips off.

Maryland Penn St.

Penn State forward Lamar Stevens (11) tries to get past Maryland forward Ricky Lindo Jr., (14) during the first half of a Big Ten game Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in State College, Pa.

The daily preseason tour through Big Ten country heads back east. Penn State beat writer Ben Jones from StateCollege.com breaks down the Nittany Lions.

Where would Penn State have been if Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins didn’t return?

Penn State would be a much different team without Lamar Stevens in particular. His ability to score and his improved defense — not to mention general experience — makes him the rudder that steers this team. Lamar Stevens is an All-Big Ten caliber player, and Penn State would be in trouble without him. Mike Watkins had a bit of a down year last season for a lot of different reasons, but appears to be on track for his best season yet. Penn State has never really had an interior defender like him before, and his skills on the offensive end make him a pretty balanced player. The question with Mike is always where his head is at, but between the two of them, you have a pretty dynamic duo that will help drive Penn State’s season.

Which of the sophomores needs to take on a bigger role?

The biggest thing for Penn State in this area is Myles Dread taking the next step. He was great from beyond the arc, but really just having him develop into an even more consistent player on both ends will go a long way for Penn State. Without Rasir Bolton, it’ll be on Dread to be the younger guy who turns into a veteran.

Does Pat Chambers have to get this team to the NCAA tournament?

I think the answer is really another question. If they miss the tournament, why did they miss it? If they go to the NIT as a bubble team that had the resume but had bad luck with other teams in conference tournaments around the country, that’s one thing. Or maybe they miss it because of injuries. So I think there are ways that Penn State can miss the tournament and keep Chambers, but if they start slow and don’t get in because of bad losses or can’t close out Big Ten games they should have won, that’s a situation where you start to talk about moving forward. So I don’t think the answer is a hard and fast yes, but if they don’t make the tournament because of reasons they had control over, that’s something else entirely.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).