After its most recent loss to Iowa, Penn State’s NCAA Tournament hopes have been all but crushed.
The team has just four games left on its schedule, all of which are against unranked teams — making a last-minute run at a tournament qualification that much more difficult.
Therefore, many fans may now be looking toward the future of the basketball program in hopes of finally qualifying for the “Big Dance” for the first time since 2011.
However, Penn State’s future is more murky than most programs and has a number of questions left to be answered.
The most prominent issues at hand are the Nittany Lions head coaching vacancy and a recruitless 2021 recruiting class.
Both of these question marks will likely be answered over the offseason, as the university will either decide to make interim coach Jim Ferry’s job a permanent one, or it will bring in a new coach. That coach will then be left to piece together a recruiting class after all of Penn State’s former recruits decommitted.
The Nittany Lions’ roster should once again look very different following the end of the season, as they stand to lose a number of impact seniors to graduation. This, however, might not end up being the case.
Because of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA preemptively issued an extra year of eligibility to all winter sports athletes.
This means that seniors such as forwards John Harrar and Trent Buttrick or guard Jamari Wheeler could potentially return to the program for another year.
Penn State has a deep lineup of guards, as well as several young freshmen waiting for their turn to take up the mantle from upperclassmen, so the future of the Nittany Lion’s backcourt is in a relatively safe situation.
On the other hand, Penn State’s front court has several question marks. The team currently has just three true forwards on the roster, two of which are seniors Harrar and Buttrick.
It remains unclear whether either of the aforementioned players will be back next year, but if they are not, the blue and white will be left with only freshman Abdou Tsimbila to run the five.
Entering Sunday’s game against the Hawkeyes, fans most likely would have had several concerns about the future of the Nittany Lions’ big men.
But what came as a surprise to many was the number of minutes Tsimbila played in the game and the success he had out on the court.
In his few appearances this season, Tsimbila has looked lost at times but has also shown flashes of potential in games such as the team’s Dec. 30 matchup against Illinois.
Against the Illini, Tsimbila helped put another body on one of the top interior players in the country — Kofi Cockburn. The freshman from Cameroon earned himself 14 minutes in the matchup and tallied seven rebounds alongside four points.
Since that game, Tsimbila has seen his minutes decrease until once again getting his opportunity to help the Nittany Lions defend one of the top bigs in the country — Iowa forward Luka Garza.
Against Iowa, the 6-foot-8 freshman played eight minutes and recorded three points to go along with two rebounds and an assist.
“I'm really proud of his effort tonight, we knew we were going to need bodies to run at Garza. He fouled a little bit, but it’s hard not to do against Garza,” Ferry said. “He did a pretty good job with it, it was good to see him step in and play the way that he did.”
Tsimbila’s high volume of fouls committed in the minutes he has played this season are a concern, but are not all that surprising given the majority of his playing time this season has come against some of the premier forwards in the country.
The freshman’s ability to replicate some of his success from earlier in the year is a good sign heading into the next season and will help ease some fears of what the team could be like going forward.
Tsimbila visibly still has a long way to go before he’s set to tally starting minutes in the Big Ten, but with some development, he has shown Ferry and the rest of the Nittany Lion coaching staff intangible qualities while guarding some of the top forwards in the country.
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