As the Penn State Nittany Lions kick off year two of the Pat Chambers era, there are actually a few reasons for optimism in Happy Valley, most notably in the backcourt, as All-Big Ten Second Team PG Tim Frazier and transfer D.J. Newbill give the Lions one of the conference's better one-two punches at guard.
Here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for Penn State Basketball for the upcoming season.
Size: 6'3", 200 lbs.
Best Case: Maduegbunam, who comes in hyped as a a very good athlete and shooter, is the first man off the bench for either Frazier or Newbill. In some games where Chambers looks to go small, Maduegbunam can either start at the 2 or 3. His shooting is consistently good through the entire year, and he develops enough as a defender to handle any assignment.
Worst Case: Due to competition with Nick Colella and Kevin Montminy as the team's three-point specialist, Maduegbunam never really gets into a rhythm behind the arc. He has a few nice games, but he is rarely consistent, and struggles to find his niche on the team. His defense never really develops due to a lack of playing time, and by the end of the season, he's buried on the depth chart.
Size: 6'9", 205 lbs.
Best Case: Jack, being one of the team's taller players, gets playing time just based on his size. With playing time comes some development, and Jack becomes a consistent post scorer. His leaping ability, which Chambers has described as "tremendous," leads to at least one highlight dunk during the season that causes the Bryce Jordan Center to go as crazy as the Bryce Jordan Center can possibly go.
Worst Case: Being only 205 lbs kills Jack, and his playing time is limited because he isn't able to compete physically with other big men in the conference. In an attempt to have him bulk up this season with eyes on the future, Jack is redshirted.
Size: 6'7", 235 lbs.
Best Case: Taylor has the unique ability to play inside or outside, and he uses that to his advantage. Against smaller guards, Taylor camps out down low and punishes them using his large frame. Against big men, Taylor can take them out onto the perimeter, knock down jumpers and take guys off the bounce. Due to his size, he could possibly lead the team in rebounding if he gets enough playing time.
Worst Case: Taylor becomes a matchup nightmare...for Penn State. His lack of a defined position leads to him getting abused down low by more polished big men, and he frequently gets beaten by quicker guards. Taylor also struggles adjusting to his recent weight loss, as Penn State's strength program helped him shed 30 pounds.
Size: 6'6", 225 lbs.
Best Case: Travis, one of three returning Lions to play in every game last season, takes over as the team's defensive specialist on the perimeter, guarding 1's through 4's, and continues to be one of Penn State's top guys on the glass (he led the team last year in offensive rebounding). On offense, Travis evolves into a slasher/finisher at the rim, and most importantly improves on the horrendous 44.9 percent he shot from the free-throw line last season.
Worst Case: Travis's struggles from the free-throw line keep him from ever getting onto the court during crunch time. Because of his struggles from the perimeter (shot 4-of-24 from deep last season), Travis is forced to camp out down low, where his lack of size prevents him from doing much of anything on offense. On defense against more conventional big men, Travis's strength, hustle and athleticism will help, but again, his height hurts him in some games.
Size: 6'11", 220 lbs.
Best Case: Because he is the tallest guy on the team, Ackerman gets plenty of time at center and makes use of his chances. At 6'11", Ackerman is able to protect the rim and leads the team in blocks. He also uses his ability to stretch the floor out to 15 feet to create chances for Frazier, Newbill and Jermaine Marshall to get to the rim, and knocks down shots whenever he gets the chance.
Worst Case: Ackerman's 220-pound frame kills him against more physical big men, and he frequently gets pushed around down low. Ackerman loses time to fellow big men Jon Graham and Sasa Borovnjak, and he never really gets a chance to establish himself on this year's team as anything more than a guy who gets playing time during blowouts.
Size: 6'3", 185 lbs.
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Best Case: Montminy beats out Colella and becomes the team's three-point specialist. With his fast, accurate stroke, Montminy becomes one of the Big Ten's leaders in three-point attempts, makes and percentage. His shooting leads the Lions to at least one upset during the season.
Worst Case: Montminy loses time to Colella, but still gets some time because of his shooting ability. Unfortunately, due to his inconsistent playing time, Montminy never gets into any kind of rhythm, and his shooting ultimately suffers.
Size: 6'4", 205 lbs.
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Best Case: All of the hype surrounding the Southern Miss transfer is completely warranted, as Newbill becomes the perfect backcourt mate for Frazier and becomes second on the Lions in scoring. After averaging 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his one year of college ball, Newbill picks up right where he left off. His scoring, rebounding and ability to get to the free-throw line (fifth among freshman) opens things up for the other four guys on the court, and Newbill is named the Big Ten Newcomer of the Year.
Worst Case: Taking a year off due to NCAA restrictions kills Newbill, and he is never able to find his form due to rust. He still finds ways to score and grab rebounds, but not at the pace that some Penn Staters are projecting. As he struggles to become the team's second option, he loses time to Marshall, Colella and Maduegbunam in the backcourt.
Size: 6'8", 225 lbs.
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Best Case: Graham becomes a better version of what he was last year, a bruising big man who can grab boards, block shots and set ferocious picks on pick-and-rolls. Starting from day one as the team's power forward/center, Graham sees improvement in his offensive game every time he steps out on the floor, and eventually becomes somewhat of a reliable low post scorer. Graham clears out plenty space for Frazier and Newbill to get to the hoop, and provides toughness down low.
Worst Case: Graham will be a tough, strong player no matter what, but that's all he is. His offensive game never really develops into anything other than put-backs, his putrid free-throw shooting (39.4 percent last year) keeps him off the floor in critical situations and some defenses even employ a "Hack-a-Graham" to slow down the Penn State offense. As he's only 6'8", taller post players take advantage of him frequently and consistently outscore and outrebound him.
Size: 6'1", 175 lbs.
Best Case: Cooper, a walk-on from Gulf Coast State in Florida, has a few nice moments for the team, but doesn't exactly become a superstar. He gets some time in blowouts, and maybe even knocks down a shot or two. But don't count on him becoming the next Talor Battle.
Worst Case: Cooper doesn't get on the floor at all this season and rides the bench. On a more positive note, he does get front row seats for every game and a ton of PSU Hoops gear.
Size: 6'9", 230 lbs.
Best Case: Wisniewski gets time in the frontcourt due to his size, and he makes the most of the limited opportunities he receives. He blocks a few shots, grabs a few rebounds and ends up being one of the team's surprise players.
Worst Case: Like past years, Wisniewski rarely sees the court aside from blowouts, and in the time that he gets, he doesn't do much of anything.
Size: 6'4", 205 lbs.
Class: Redshirt Junior
Best Case: Marshall starts at small forward from day one and is an impact player on offense. While defenses focus on stopping Frazier and Newbill, Marshall knocks down open shots from the perimeter with ease. As the season progresses, he evolves into the team's primary offensive threat when Frazier is off the floor. He continues to rebound well as a guard, plays solid defense and ends the season as Penn State's second-best player.
Worst Case: Marshall doesn't build on the success he had last season and struggles. Playing with Frazier and Newbill actually ends up hurting him, as those two dominate the ball offensively and leave Marshall as an afterthought. He never gets the chance to prove how valuable he can be to the team, and starts losing time to guys like Travis, Taylor and Maduegbunam.
Size: 6'9", 240 lbs.
Class: Redshirt Junior
Best Case: As the team's starting center, Borovnjak becomes an important piece to Penn State's offense. He defends the paint and grabs rebounds, and now that he has 100 percent recovered from the torn ACL that forced him to miss the 2010-11 year, he is much quicker and more mobile.
As the team's primary big man, Borovnjak leads the team in blocks, rebounds and improves on last year's team-leading 56.6 percent shooting from the field. His passing from the post opens things up for the team's guards, and Borovnjak trails only Frazier on the team's assist total. Borovnjak shows his potential as a scorer by knocking down jumpers from out to 15 feet and shows off some nice moves in the post.
Worst Case: As he battles Jon Graham for minutes, Borovnjak never really finds a rhythm and his play suffers. He still is a capable passer and rebounder, but never elevates his game due to the constantly rotating guys in the frontcourt. Like Graham, Borovnjak's struggles from the free throw line (48.6 percent last season) keep him off the court during crunch time.
Size: 6'3", 195 lbs.
Best Case: Colella does exactly what he received a scholarship to do: shoot the basketball. He makes everyone who said Montminy and Maduegbunam could possibly take over the role of the team's three-point specialist look silly, as he frequently puts on shooting clinics whenever he gets the chance.
He also is on the floor at the end of every game because of his ability to make free throws. As an 83.3 percent shooter from the stripe last year, Colella has the ball in his hands at the end of ever game to put the nail in the opponent's coffin.
Worst Case: Just like last year, Colella struggles to make shots from downtown. While he does improve on the 25.9 percent he shot from deep last season, he doesn't improve enough, and he loses time to Montminy and Maduegbunam. He remains a solid free-throw shooter, but doesn't offer much else to help the team on the court.
Size: 6'1", 170 lbs.
Best Case: To quote CBS Sports: Damn, Tim Frazier is good. For the second straight year, he is the man on Penn State's team. For the second straight year, Frazier also improves, except this time it's hard to ignore the Houston native. With a running mate like Newbill, Frazier gets more opportunities to score, but not at the expense of his assist numbers.
His defense, rebounding and all-around game get better and better, and by the end of the year Penn State has an All-American level guard. Frazier's name gets mentioned in the discussion of best Nittany Lions ever and caps his year off winning the Big Ten's player of the year.
Worst Case: To quote Spider Man's Uncle Ben: With great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, with the expectations of carrying another lower level team, Frazier doesn't get any better. He's still a really good basketball player, but never becomes a great one.
He still scores, he still assists, and he still probably gets named All-Big Ten as a second- or third-teamer, but he is nowhere near the stud that people hype him to be. He is still considered a really good Nittany Lion, but is never mentioned in the discussion of greatest Penn State basketball players.
Best Case: Penn State is this year's "nobody believes in us" team, wins more games than they probably should and fights for the last NCAA tournament spot before ultimately being relegated to the NIT. The team starts out 9-1 with its only non-conference loss coming against NC State.
In conference, the team has the benefit of having the best player on the court in almost every game, leading it to win three or four games that it probably shouldn't have won. The Nittany Lions manage to beat non-elite teams like Northwestern and Iowa, win a few against solid teams like Minnesota and Illinois and maybe even win one against an elite team like Indiana or Ohio State. The team wins a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament, wins a few games in the NIT and exceeds everyone's expectations.
Worst Case: The team relies too much on Frazier, and by the end of the year, it is the conference cellar dwellers. At no point does it show signs of being a potentially dangerous team to anyone due to little frontcourt depth. The team enters conference play with a 6-4 record, then all hell breaks lose.
The Nittany Lions only manage three or four wins in conference, are never competitive in the games they lose and limp their way to the 12th seed in the Big Ten Tournament, where they promptly lose. The best basketball team is the women's team, the best player is Maggie Lucas and Pat Chambers is now on the hot seat.
Follow Bill DiFilippo on Twitter @bflip33, where he tweets way too often about Penn State Football and the NBA.