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Penn State Basketball Report: Could the Lions Bubble for 2020 Season?

Penn State men's basketball faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, as SI's preseason power rankings attest.

Penn State men's basketball is in an intriguing spot entering this season, should one happen.

The Lions seek to build on a 21-win season that included 11 Big Ten victories, their second-highest conference total in school history. But the Lions also face an uphill climb in a stacked Big Ten.

After the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic derailed its certain NCAA tournament bid, Penn State turned toward creating new momentum in 2020. The Lions will have to do that without Lamar Stevens, the second-leading scorer in program history, and forward Mike Watkins.

Penn State does return two All-Big Ten players in Jamari Wheeler and Myreon Jones and brings in five promising freshmen. In addition, Penn State announced in July that 6-8 forward Abtou Tsimbila had signed his grant-in-aid and will be eligible for the upcoming season.

Further, the Lions have some recruiting energy, having received its third commitment recently for the class of 2021. Center Elijah Hutchins-Everett, a four-star prospect according to ESPN, became the third player to join the recruiting class.

Hutchins-Everett, a New Jersey native who plays at Putnam (Ct.) Science Academy, also had offers from Villanova, Miami and DePaul and adds size to a Penn State roster that needs it. ESPN ranks Hutchins-Everett as the nation's No. 17 center.

That said, Penn State is looking up at plenty of Big Ten teams. Sports Illustrated's Molly Geary placed Penn State 12th in the

Big Ten preseason power rankings

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, a spot reflective more of the conference's depth than Penn State's roster. Writes Geary...

12. Penn State: This ranking feels a bit unfair to the Nittany Lions, but such is life in a conference as good as the Big Ten. The graduation of Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins leaves a concerning size void down low, and the returning core will need to prove it has a lead guy or two among it for this team to make noise. Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection Jamari Wheeler is back in what should be another athletic and defensively stingy PSU backcourt, but keep an eye on junior guard Myreon Jones, who shot 40.3% from three last season and has definite breakout potential.

More important, though, is whether a season can get underway. According to CBS Sports, the NCAA is modeling four options for a 2020-21 season, with a start date as late as December. The NCAA even could move basketball into January if necessary.

Some in college basketball also have floated the idea of creating a modified bubble for teams, sequestering them either separately or in pods. Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said recently that the NCAA has met with NBA officials to discuss the league's bubble format in Orlando.

But Barbour is wary of transferring that format to college basketball.

"The NCAA has looked at it potentially for the tournament," Barbour said. "I think that potentially could be something that might be viable. But again [regarding a full-season bubble], we're trying to have an in-residence [experience] for all of our students, and our student-athletes are part of that, so that includes being in State College."

What are your expectations for Penn State men's basketball this season? Let us know in the comments.

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