It's year two of the Patrick Chambers era in Happy Valley and year one saw this team build a very solid foundation despite a last place finish in the Big Ten. That foundation is on the back of one of the best players in the conference, Tim Frazier.
Expecting miracles and a year in and year out contender in just two years at Penn State is asking a bit much, but if you believe the hype that Chambers has been putting out this team could surprise a few and be a very real contender.
The question is can this team get anything out of it's frontcourt to help what is a very good backcourt? If they can do that then Chambers may look like a genius, but if not this team will be stuck in neutral for another season.
Let's explore how we see things shaping up as the season approaches, shall we?
2011-12 Record: 12-20 (4-14)
Head Coach: Patrick Chambers, 2nd year at Penn State (12-20, 4th season overall, 54-48)
Returning Starters (games started): 4
F Ross Travis (16), G Jermaine Marshall (17), F Jon Graham (17), G Tim Frazier (32)
- Donovan Jack: 6-9, 205lbs., Forward ( Freshman, Reading, PA/Berks Catholic)
- D.J. Newbill: 6-4, 210lbs., Guard (Sophomore, Philadelphia, PA/Southern Miss)
- Akosa Maduegbunam: 6-3, 200lbs., Guard (Freshman, Boston, MA/Winchendon School)
- Brandon Taylor: 6-8, 235bls., Forward (Freshman, Tabernacle, NJ/Trenton Catholic)
Check here for a full roster.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G - Tim Frazier (Sr.)
G - Jermaine Marshall (Jr.)
G - D.J. Newbill (So.)
F - Ross Travis (So.)
F - Sasa Borovnjak (Jr.)
This is the area that needs the most work coming into the season and they will miss perhaps their most promising player from last year in Billy Oliver. His career came to a close because of recurring concussion symptoms and his 3.3rpg will leave a big time hole on this team.
So, who is going to step up? Well Chambers is looking directly at Ross Travis and Sasa Borovnjak as the first guys up. Travis is the only forward to average more than 4 rebounds a game (4.4rpg) and to sophomore did start 17 games in his freshman year. If he can make a jump in year two expect Travis to be the most likely candidate to take some of the pressure off of Tim Frazier in the backcourt.
Borovnjak is an interesting player because he should finally be completely healthy and that should allow him to be a better force on the inside. However, expect a battle for the starting spot from Jon Graham who could well end up starting when push comes to shove in the Big Ten season. Graham is a big bodied player at 6'8" and 240lbs. and could be the exact presence this thin frontcourt needs. He's got some good footwork and some nice moves offensively, but he needs to show he can stay consistent after a stellar end to his redshirt freshman season where he averaged 5.3ppg and 4.1rpg in the final ten games of the year.
The issue for this team up front once again is a lack of experience and depth as they may only have three players ready to contribute at the Big Ten level this season. However, expect freshman Brandon Taylor and Donovan Jack to see some minutes to help build up that depth this season.
If the Nittany Lions are going to have any amount of success it's going to come because of this part of their game. Tim Frazier is perhaps the most underrated player in the conference and clearly the main focal point for opposing teams as he was last year when he put up 18.8ppg, 4.7rpg, and 6.2apg (all team bests).
Frazier is simply a do anything for the team point guard and you can win games with just him, but it sure would be nice to have some help so teams aren't totally focused on him, right?
Luckily for Frazier and for Pat Chambers' health he has another backcourt player that can help take some of the pressure off of him in Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill. Before sitting out last year Newbill was a Conference-USA all-freshman selection while averaging 9.2ppg and 6.2rpg.
More than anything having Newbill around gives Frazier a chance to be even more of a scorer as Newbill can also handle the rock some himself. That pairing is good enough to allow the Nittany Lions to at least stay competitive on a nearly night in and night out basis, but the question is is it enough?
Also seeing starting minutes should be Jermaine Marshall, a junior that started 17 games and played over 27 minutes per game last year and he will counted on to be a sharpshooter for a team that did struggle shooting the 3 last season. Marshall led the team shooting just 32.6% from beyond the arc.
If Marshall improves his 3 point shooting and gets some help in that area from Newbill then this team can be dangerous in the backcourt to say the least.
Strength of Schedule: 7
- For a rebuilding team I like the schedule Pat Chambers has put together. While it isn't full of huge names they at least are challenging themselves with some good competition from the A-10, ACC, and the CAA - all quality conferences.
Swing Games (non-conf.): vs. Boston College, @ La Salle, vs. Dusquesne
- PSU plays a pretty decent non-conference schedule but games against BC, the Explorers, and the Dukes are must wins if the Nittany Lions want to get anything going. Yes, NC State is on the docket, but asking a team at the bottom of the Big Ten to compete with top of the conference in the ACC is a bit much for a swing game. If PSU drops a game to the likes of La Salle or Dusquesne don't be surprised as both could be very quality teams this season.
Swing Games (conf.): vs. Northwestern, vs. Purdue, @ Nebraska
- Things don't exactly start off easy with a visit to Wisconsin and home to conference favorite Indiana, but winning at home in their 3rd game against Northwestern would help towards at least stunting downward momentum. However, the biggest swing games are back-to-back versus Purdue and at Nebraska. If Penn State wants to avoid the cellar I think they need to win both of those games, but it could be a tall task for a team that's simple not deep enough to be competitive every night in the B1G.
Record: 11-19 (2-16)
Big Ten Finish: 12th
Beer Pairing: Boddington's
This team and beer a perfect for each other. The beer can be a bit of a bland flavor and that's what the Nittany Lion's offer. Sure, everyone knows the names of Tim Frazier and of Boddington's, but besides the name of Frazier and the cool looking can of the English Ale do you really want to see what's inside? Both the beer and the team could be satisfying, but more likely than not they'll leave more to be desired than actually produced.