STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The whirlwind has slowed down a bit for Micah Shrewsberry as he enters his second season at Penn State.
“I know my way around campus,” Shrewsberry said with a laugh. “May not know the street names around campus but I can get there when I need to. I know the places I like to eat and everything else.”
Professionally, Shrewsberry sped up the process of reviving the Nittany Lions, bringing in an influx of talent to join a core that went a somewhat surprising 14-17 last winter and captured a pair of games in the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Purdue in the quarterfinals.
“We’ve grown from year one to year two,” Shrewsberry said. “Having continuity is huge in this time. Even though we have eight new players on our roster, having the other guys, the other five guys that were with us last year, it makes it easy.”
Particularly with Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy already in the fold. Pickett, a senior point guard, did a little bit of everything last year while averaging 13.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Lundy averaged 11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Yet the numbers tell only a small portion of the story. Both players were lockdown defenders willing to put in dirty work on the other end of the floor for a team that allowed just 65 points per game, the fewest in the conference and held opponents to 41% shooting, fourth behind Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State.
“I don’t think (Pickett and Lundy) got just due for what they did on the defensive end of the court,” Shrewsberry said. “People talk about how we play, talk about our pace, but it was really hard to score on us. These two guys were a big reason for that.”
That rugged approach helped Penn State stay competitive in Shrewsberry's first go-round in one of the best conferences in the country. Yet he understands it will take more than solid defense for the Nittany Lions to take a step forward.
Enter a spate of new arrivals from the transfer portal and perhaps one of the better incoming recruiting classes in recent memory at a program that has made just three NCAA tournament appearances since joining the Big Ten three decades ago.
Guard Camryn Wynter scored more than 1,600 points in four seasons at Drexel before coming to Happy Valley. Guard Andrew Funk averaged 17.6 points during his final season at Bucknell last winter.
“We have a little more firepower in terms of what we’ll be able to do offensively," Shrewsberry said.
That doesn't mean Shrewsberry believes his team has to sacrifice anything on defense.
“We’re still going to play the same exact way,” he said. "We’re still going to challenge people defensively and make it as hard as possible. But I think we’ll be able to score the ball a little bit better."
Shrewsberry gave his guard-heavy lineup a needed dose of size by bringing in 6-foot-10 freshmen power forwards Kebba Njie — the second-highest-rated signee in program history — and Demetrius Lilley, who played at Lower Merion High in Philadelphia, where he was the player at the school to average a double-double in three consecutive seasons since Kobe Bryant.
“I’m happy with our group,” Shrewsberry said. “We’re going to fight every single night. We’re going to make it as hard as possible. We’re going to do what we can each and every day to become one of the best teams in the Big Ten.”
Penn State's defensive-first style is designed to have the team in a lot of tight games. For the Nittany Lions to reach the upper half of the Big Ten, they'll have to find a way to be on the right side of close contests more frequently. Penn State was 4-9 in games decided by six points or less last year.
“How do we flip those to wins this year?” Shrewsberry said. “How do I change practice to make us better in those late-game situations so we change those to wins? That’s always a process that I’m trying to learn.”
The Nittany Lions open the season at home against Winthrop on Nov. 7. Penn State also hosts Butler — where Shrewsberry was an assistant coach during the Bulldogs' run to back-to-back NCAA championship appearances in 2010 and 2011 — on Nov. 14.
It won't take long for the Nittany Lions to see where they fit in the Big Ten. The schedule includes a three-game stretch in January against Michigan, Purdue and Indiana.
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