Big Ten Basketball Preview: Penn State

Story posted November 6, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Andy Madore

After a disappointing 10-21 campaign last year, Pat Chamber’s squad has one thing going for them this season – extremely low expectations.

Most experts are picking the Nittany Lions to finish dead last in a stellar Big Ten basketball conference, and all agree that they will surely finish in the bottom third. Playing in the premier basketball conference in the nation makes life on the hardwood difficult for Penn State. However, the team is set up to improve upon an abysmal 2-16 conference record from a year ago.

Key Returning Players

After tearing his ACL just four games into the season last year, redshirt senior Tim Frazier will return to the Penn State starting lineup. He will provide a spark to a scoring offense that was only able to average 61.6 points per game last season. The point guard’s quickness and ability to distribute the rock, he averaged 5.6 assists his junior year, should provide Penn State with more scoring opportunities.

Redshirt junior D.J. Newbill will return and play alongside Frazier, which should give Pat Chamber’s group a strong starting backcourt. Newbill emerged as an offensive force last season, averaging 16.3 points per game, while also proving he could be a formidable facilitator. It will be interesting to watch Newbill and Frazier develop a working relationship, as they both fill similar roles for this Penn State squad.

Hard-nosed junior forward Ross Travis returns to a Penn State frontcourt that lacks depth, which will prove costly in the long run. Despite being undersized for the position, Ross averaged 7.4 rebounds per game in his sophomore season, which ranked fourth best in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions will rely heavily on his toughness and hustle to make up for the team’s lack of big men.

Key Losses

The loss of guard Jermaine Marshall will hurt Penn State both offensively and defensively. Marshall, who opted to go pro after last season then changed his mind and decided to transfer to Arizona State, led the Nittany Lions in three-point field goals made last season as well as steals. His 1.5 steals per game will be taken away from a defense that surrendered 68.2 points per game last season, which was last in the Big Ten.

Non-Conference Schedule Analysis

The Nittany Lions tip their season off at home against Wagner College, which sets the stage for a particularly weak non-conference schedule. Eleven of Penn State’s thirteen non-conference games will be against teams from mid-major conferences, including a La Salle team that beat them early last year. It is very plausible that the Lions could match their season total of ten wins from a year ago just in non-conference play alone.

Penn State will face its toughest non-conference opponent on December 3rd, when it travels to Pittsburgh as part of the Big Ten/ACC challenge. Led by coach Jamie Dixon, the Panthers have created a winning tradition over the last decade, and are coming off a season where they reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Pittsburgh will be experiencing a large amount of roster turnover this year, but has a nice crop of young talent who will work to mature into their new roles. It will be difficult for the Nittany Lions to travel into the Peter Events Center and knock off an always-strong Pitt squad. However, if Penn State is able to play Pitt tough in a hard-fought contest, it could prove the hoops program is heading in the right direction.

Big Ten Schedule Analysis

Penn State’s schedule goes from fairly weak to extremely difficult with the beginning of Big Ten conference play on December 31st. Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State are all entering the season ranked in the top 10 in the preseason polls, and Indiana and Wisconsin are ranked in the top 25. Eight of the Nittany Lion’s eighteen conference games will come against these teams, which is sure to cause matchup nightmares for Pat Chamber’s unit.

Penn State will also have to deal with two games against an Illinois team that many believe is on the rise and two games against a Purdue squad that has three returning starters from a team that won eight conference games a year ago.

The most important stretch for the Nittany Lions takes place from January 4th to January 23rd. During this six game span, Penn State will go up against Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue and Nebraska. It is not very likely that Penn State will be able knock of the Wolverines or Hoosiers, barring any more insane upsets, but the other four games during this stretch could be considered somewhat “winnable.”

Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota were middle-of-the-road teams in the conference last year and Nebraska was just one spot above them in the final conference standings. If the Nittany Lions are able to go 3-3 or possibly 4-2 during this stretch, Penn State may start to garner some respect from other Big Ten schools.

Coach’s Hot Seat

For those who think head coach Pat Chambers is in trouble of losing his job due to his poor 22-41 record, think again. He is not going anywhere. Chambers was dealt a tough hand when he arrived in State College, inheriting very little from Ed DeChellis’s time at Penn State. With deep connections to basketball in Philadelphia, Chambers will be given time to try and build up the Nittany Lion basketball program. On a scale from 1-10, 10 being the hottest, Chambers’ seat is right around a 3 right now.

Prediction

Penn State will not turn any heads this year, but will be a more competitive team. With a weak non-conference schedule, I expect the Nittany Lions to enter conference play with a record of 10-3.

The return of Tim Frazier will help the team in conference play, as he and D.J. Newbill should be able to muster enough offense to win more than just two conference games. Penn State will finish with a 5-13 conference record, bringing their season total to 15-16, which would be Pat Chambers’ most successful season yet. They will finish 11th in the Big Ten, just above Nebraska.

Andy Madore is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email andymadore19@gmail.com.