In 2010, Penn State was the thinnest team in the Big Ten – their five starters all averaged over thirty minutes per game, and only a sixth player made an appearance in each game – this team was more reliant on it’s starting five than any in the conference. The problem, of course, is that most of them were seniors. Between all-conference selections Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks, third scorer David Jackson, and offensive-rebounding force Andrew Jones, Penn State loses 49 points per game and 21 rebounds with virtually nobody with experience ready to fill in the blanks. In the off-season, Penn State also replaced Ed DeChellis – figuring that losing most of your roster is the best time to change schemes.
So what returns? Most importantly, the Nittany Lions return point-guard Tim Frazier. As a sophomore, Frazier was not much of a scorer (his eFG% a paltry 46%), but he was an effective game manager, with his assists nearly doubling his turnovers. He also was Penn State’s most effective ball-hawk. They also return sophomore Billy Oliver – their all-purpose front-court substitute. Oliver was the one player who got consistent minutes off the bench, but failed to distinguish himself in any meaningful way – he was a poor shooter, a mediocre rebounder, and a forgettable defender. He is also, likely, the starting power forward.
The next most used players from last year’s teams are a pair of guards – Cameron Woodyard and Jermaine Marshall, who were pressed into service during foul-trouble, disciplinary benchings, or injury. Woodyard, a rising senior, largely did nothing but miss a ton of shots when he was on the floor, he’s likely not a starter. Jermaine Marshall, a rising sophomore, didn’t really distinguish himself, but the bar here is low – he’s your likely starting shooting guard.
This being Penn State, their recruiting class doesn’t offer a bounty of riches. Small Forward Ross Travis was the only recruit ranked by all four major scouting bureaus, meriting a unanimous 3-star ranking. Center Pat Ackerman warranted a 3-star ranking from one service, but was un-noted by anybody else. There are two players who red-shirted last year with a bit more hype to them, however. Jonathan Graham is a red-shirt freshman power-forward who was a unanimous three-star recruit noted for his effort levels, while sophomore Sasa Borovnjak played sparingly as a true-freshman, then spent last year sidelined with a knee injury. These two will likely join Oliver in the front-court, with Travis and Ackerman being the primary replacements.
Unsurprisingly, the Lions have leaned on Tim Frazier heavily out of the gates. Formerly a guard tasked with protecting the ball and defense, Frazier is the leading scorer (19.5 points per game), passer (7.1 assists), rebounder (5.7 rebounds), and stopper (2.3 steals). It’s really something of a heroic effort – he’s turned the ball over a fair amount, but his assist rate still nearly doubles that value, and he’s really doing it by himself. His shooting has improved by two points from the floor and seven from three-point in significantly higher usage – at this rate, his statistical profile is that of a better Talor Battle. Yes, you read that correctly. Moreover, he’s not just doing it against lightweights, scoring 22 against Mississippi and 19 at Boston College. The problem is that, as predicted, there’s nothing else here – Frazier and sophomore Sasa Borovjnak are the only players shooting over 40% from the floor, and Borovjnak only takes three shots a game. It’s a mystery who is scoring enough for Frazier to get seven assists a game.
There’s no way to sugar-court the prospects of the Nittany Lions – this is the worst roster in the conference by a fairly wide margin. There is no proven scorer on the team, inside or out, or a proven rebounder, or interior defender. The one thing this team does have is a point guard – but there’s nobody to whom he can pass the ball. This team is going to have to cross their fingers and hope they can knock Iowa off when they come to Happy Valley, because, while I’m sure they’ll win a game or two, I can’t see them being a favorite once during the conference slate.