So 40 days until the Lions head back onto the court and look to improve on 27-11 record and a NIT Championship. After what many would call the best season in the history of the program the bar has been set at a height that makes anything short of an NCAA berth seem like a failure. But is that really a fair goal? Surely a program that has a history of a sub .500 records could find success in making the NIT again. When it comes down to it, even if the Lions are headed to the NIT it is consistency that the program desperately needs. That is just my two cents; don’t sell short another 18-25 win season.
So for those of you that don’t follow the team in the offseason lets take a look at everything that has gone down in an exciting offseason. We’ll start with the most important and move on from there:
- Taran Buie-Commits to Penn State- Talor’s half brother and ESPN Top 100 recruit gives his verbal commitment to Penn State after their Championship win in the NIT. He’ll be playing his senior season in high school here in State College with the defending District 6 AAAA Champs. He spent this summer at the LeBron James Nike Camp.
- The Incoming Freshman- One of the best, if not the best class in the Penn State basketball program’s history. Four talented players all in the Top 100 of their positional rankings and all with an ESPN Grade in the 85-90 range.
- Media Attention- From winning the NIT, getting recruits, sending Talor Battle overseas to play for Team USA (in which he led the team in PPG), to Talor’s name being put on the National Player of The Year watch list, this offseason has been quite busy in the media. Which can only help the program looking to make a name for itself in one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Ed DeChellis also received a 3 year extension this past week so the news isn’t over yet.
So you’ve got a lot of guys on your team, who’s going to be your starting five? This will change throughout the season; some of it will have to do with who the Lions are playing and who is playing well at the time. But for the most part the starting lineup will be more or less the same throughout the season. Here is your starting five:
(G) Talor Battle-There isn’t much more to say about this kid that hasn’t already been said. He led the Big Ten in PPG with 16.7 and had the ability to go off in any game no matter how the last 20 shots had fallen for him.
A proven leader on and off the floor the seasons success will fall greatly on Battle’s ability to steer the ship (yes yes..Battle ship). Word is that after his tour in Europe with Team USA that he is playing better than before and with more confidence. In the past season his point total has doubled from 317 points to 635 points, and his rebounds doubled from 107 rebounds to 202 rebounds. Now it isn’t reasonable to expect his numbers to increase at that rate again, but don’t be surprised if his numbers do increase into the realm of 18-20PPG and his rebounding and assist averages to reach the 7 RPG and 7 APG.
All in all the Lions need Battle to be his usual self as the fate of the Lions season will rely heavily on his performance.
Positive–Playmaker, Strong shooter, Rebounds, Floor leader
Can work on- In the lane passing
(F) Andrew Jones- Drew had a coming out party during the NIT averaging 10 points a game over the five game stretch. This offseason he has been hitting the weight room and is looking to go all out during his Junior season. Drew will need to keep up the production in order to fill the shoes of Jamelle Cornley but seems to have had the offseason drive to start the season off on the right foot.
He will undoubtedly share time with Andrew Ott, but Drew gets the starting nod for his work ethic and his scoring potential. His on the court emotion will be important for the squad after losing the heart of Jamelle Cornley to graduation.
Positive-Size, Work ethic, Post moves, Rebounding, Leadership
Can work On-Mid Range Shooting, Ball skills
(G) Chris Babb- His stats may not lead you to think that he would be a starter, but Babb is a streaky shooter with a pure 3 point shot and can shoot the lights out when he is on fire. He has good court vision and had two steals last season that resulted in momentum changing plays. That sort of thing may not make the scorecard, but it can pay dividends in team chemistry and important moments in a game.
Although he saw limited action in games last year only averaging 10 mins a game, his production is expected to increase as a starter. On average it isn’t unreasonable to expect 9-12 points a game. If his game in the lane and outside shooting becomes more consistent he could have a few games in the 15-19 point range. That will depend on a few things but it shouldn’t be surprising if Babb becomes the #2 or #3 scorer on the team.
Positive- 3 Point Shooting, Court Vision
Can Work On- Mid Range game
(F) David Jackson-Jackson is a player known for his timely scoring. Not known for dropping 10-15 points on a team he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Shots often seemed to fall away for him and he always seemed plagued with an unfortunate bounce. Either way Jackson has the tools and skill set to be a solid starter. Apparently he has spent the summer lifting and putting on weight so we might be looking at a bigger frame once the season comes around.
Jackson will need to increase his production by about six points a game in order to be effective. He will undoubtedly be used in a utility role, ball movement and free throw shooting (led the team last year with a .790% average). Don’t expect Jackson to put a lot of points on the board every game, but do expect him to be there when he is needed to make a pass or make a timely shot. Jackson gets the starting nod because of his work ethic and senior status on the team.
Positive-Free throw shooting
Can Work On- Shot consistency, Three point shooting
(F) Jeff Brooks- Brooks’ name often times brings mixed reactions from Lions fans, he has the ability to make great plays and at other times he will take shots that have everybody scratching their heads. Brooks always played his best when Cornley wasn’t in the game, so the general consensus is that Brooks should improve his game greatly with Jamelle out of the picture.
If this isn’t the case however and Brooks’ decision making doesn’t improve, look for Brooks to hit the bench and see a young freshman face to take his place.
Positive- Passing ability, Shot blocking
Can Work On- Decision making, shot selection
So those five guys look like the best choices for the starting jobs, but that's not to say they will be the only names you’ll need to know this year. Lets take a look at two guys who you’ll know by the end of the season.
(G) Tim Frazier- An amazingly athletic player, Fraizer has heard nothing but praise over the offseason and looks to be the first guy off the bench to give Battle a break. If Frazier plays as well as he can, don't be surprised to see Battle and Fraizer both in the back court.
Depending on how his season starts out he could have an outside shot at Freshman of the year in the Big Ten. That’s a tall order with recruiting classes like the Buckeyes have, but it isn’t unreasonable for him to possibly be in the conversation.
(F) Andrew Ott- The Villanova transfer had a few chances last season to prove his worth but with so many guys in the mix he really never had his chance to shine. With a surprisingly good mid-range shot for a guy his size, Ott is the sort of player that could have a big game at any given moment.
In the 10 minutes he played against Michigan he scored 10 points before heading back to the bench. Giving Ott more time in the game can only help the Lions as he has good court vision and a good skill set to be a solid bench player. If Ott plays well enough or the match up is needed it wouldn’t be too suprising to see Ott get the starting nod for a game or two.
Finally, the time has come to look and see how the Big Ten basketball season might pan out. After waiting for…well..forever, it’s finally been released. A first glance leads to some interesting observations, but before we get to that, this is how the Lions look to play out the Big Ten season:
Penn State’s nine guaranteed non-conference opponents will bring an average RPI of 134, that is better than 80 RPI points lower than the average of last seasons 13 non-conference opponents entering the season.
2009-10 BIG TEN MEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE (Conference Only) (Home games in bold)
29 Penn State at Minnesota 9 p.m. ESPN2
3 Wisconsin at Penn State 2 p.m. Big Ten Network
7 Michigan at Penn State 7 p.m. ESPN2
12 Penn State at Illinois 9 p.m. Big Ten Network
16 Penn State at Iowa 1 p.m. Big Ten Network
21 Indiana at Penn State 7 p.m. ESPN/ESPN2
24 Penn State at Wisconsin 2:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
27 Illinois at Penn State 6:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
Penn State at Purdue 3 p.m. Big Ten Network
3 Penn State at Ohio State 6:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
6 Minnesota at Penn State 2 p.m. Big Ten Network
13 Michigan State at Penn State Noon ESPN
17 Penn State at Northwestern 8:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
20 Penn State at Michigan 6 p.m. Big Ten Network
24 Ohio State at Penn State 6:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
28 Northwestern at Penn State Noon Big Ten Network
3 Penn State at Michigan State 6:30 p.m./8:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
6/7 Purdue at Penn State 2:30 p.m./Noon/4 p.m. Big Ten Network/ESPN/CBS Sports
When it comes down to it there are nine home games and nine road games as always. This does end up working in the Lions favor towards the end of the season when they will be playing five of eight games at home including three of the last four games at home.
All in all the schedule seems to favor the Lions who will have to learn the ropes quickly with a Big Ten opener at The Barn in Minny. They might however not have the benefit of very many students in town to see them play Wisconsin as well as Michigan in what could be two key games in the early going. Students wont be back until the 11th of January but the Lions will have those two home games not 4 days before the students get back, on national tv (espn2) (three of the first six Big Ten games for the Nittany Lions are on ESPN2)
Two road trips to Illinois and Iowa are up next, and both games should be a good chance to see if this Lions squad is for real or back to the realm of 14-16 wins. Iowa shouldn’t be as tough this year seeing how after the last season ended what seemed like half the team left….mainly Jake Kelly,the bubble burster himself.
After that comes Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, in series of Home, Away, Home. Indiana should be much better this year so that game isn’t a easy W like it may seem. Illinois will be a fun game as always, and Wisconsin could be a good chance to set up a 4 game win-streak.
A tough patch then comes up when they’ll have to travel to Purdue and then play at Ohio State, however both teams (OSU and Purdue) will be reloading with some new players so there is a slight chance these games wont look as daunting as they may have last season.
Then things could get interesting Minny and MSU both come to the BJC at the midpoint of the season in what could be two pivotal games for the Nittany Lions. Wins in these two games means keeping the race in the Big Ten open, and gives the Lions a big boost when it’s needed most.
Northwestern is up next, and even though the Lions usually have the Cats number, this isn’t a game to overlook. As we are all aware of, anybody can beat anybody in the Big Ten, so never overlook a game. After that its a trip out to Michigan in another important game and another chance for a big road win. Win this game, and you can feel pretty good about closing out the rest of the season well.
Ohio State and Northwestern make the trip into town in a series that at worst is a 1-1 split. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lions get their first win over OSU in what seems like forever. After that, its back out to Michigan to play MSU, depending on how this season has gone for these teams it could be a pretty important game.
The nice part about playing @ MSU so late is that by the time the game comes around, you’ll know what to expect. The Lions are however 2-2 against the Spartans over the past two years so it’s always a good game. They’re also 11-3 in what the NCAA considers “close games”. Purdue comes to Happy Valley in what figures to be a crowd much larger than the last time these two teams played at the BJC.
Even if the Lions post season is more or less known by this point, it could be a fun chance to mess with the Boilermakers seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.
At a first glance this years schedule looks easier to make it through than last years did. Big road tests come later in the season and there are nice patches of home stands to keep your footing on in a really tough conference. The Lions at worst lose three OOC games and are 9-3. Add a Big Ten season on that and say at worst that the Lions only win 9 games (all at home) that brings the total to 18-13.
Chances are that without a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament the Lions wont be going dancing, but win a few on the road and you could be looking at a 21-10 regular season. It’s too early to tell what that gets you in regards to the post season, but with a much better OOC, I like our chances.
**The Lions will be playing in 24 nationally televised games, including five games on ESPN/ESPN 2**