Coming into this year, your average fan had pretty high expectations for the Penn State basketball season.
After capturing a school-high 27 wins and the NIT Championship, it is pretty hard to imagine what sort of school wouldn’t have lofty expectations of a team returning a large portion of its starters and an All-American candidate.
True, they lost their heart and soul in Jamelle Cornley and two streaky three-ball shooters in Danny Morrissey and Stanley Pringle, but the likes of Chris Babb, Tim Frazier, and Talor Battle brought hope to the Lion faithful that those roles would soon be filled.
With expectations so high, every possession is critiqued, but what are sports without armchairs? With that in mind, you would think that people would have a pretty good idea of what to expect out of this team a whole six (seven) games into the season. The general response to that question is along the lines of, "We’ve got no idea what the hell to expect."
Let's take a look at what we do actually know, what we can expect in the future, and a few reasons not to lose hope after a 4-2 start.
* The team is shooting 43.3 percent from the field, only 0.6 percent from last year's average.
* Averaging 70.3 PPG.
* Shooting free throws at a 77.2 percent clip, 12 percent better than last season (15th in the nation).
* Six players averaging seven or more PPG, three of which average over 10 PPG (last year only three over seven PPG).
Positives in detail
Jeff Brooks, David Jackson are making a name for themselves
After three seasons of limited production, Brooks and Jackson are both showing great improvement and determination, averaging 10 and 11 points respectively. Both players are making great strides in their play.
Brooks has impressed the coaches especially with his athletic play and his decision-making ability. In the past Brooks' greatest weakness was his mental game; now that he is playing with a positive attitude and confidence, Brooks could have an explosive season.
Talor Battle is Talor Battle
Averaging 18 PPG, Battle is looking to improve on his amazing sophomore year with another solid season. Averaging six rebounds and three assists a game, Battle is a double-double threat any given night. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about Talor.
This year he has to focus on making the rest of the team better, and so far he is doing just that, guiding the offense that has had six different players score in double digits this season.
For the first time in the Ed DeChellis era, starters are going to be pushed by the bench players if they want to keep their starting spots. Already this season Bill Edwards has brought forth the speculation that he could start over David Jackson despite Jackson’s great improvement.
It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see this team average four to five players in double digits. As the Big Ten season gets here, the depth of the Lions will really help them out.
* The Lions' three-point defense is suffering as teams are shooting 36 percent against them.
* Inside game is in need of a leader; plenty of skilled players in the position, but somebody needs to take charge.
* Rebounding, especially on the offensive zone, is lacking.
Negatives in detail
If you can shoot the ball better than the other team and outrebound them, you’re almost guaranteed to get the W. So far the Lions are only taking care of the shooting side of things, and although the Lions are outrebounding teams by a +1.7 margin, it is the sort of thing that doesn’t really show on the court.
Plenty of the close games this season could have been much more in the Lions' favor if they had a few more timely rebounds. That aspect of the game should get better as the season goes along, but it still should be addressed.
All of the games the Lions have lost this year have been close within the last four minutes of the game. The biggest issue with the Lions has been finding the defense that can stop teams for a few possessions and get themselves back on track or long enough to hang on and win.
So far this season when the Lions focus on defending the lane, it has left the outside shots too wide open; when focusing on the outside, the inside becomes weak. The key for the Lions' success will be finding a balance on defense that works.
Andrew Jones ended last season with high hopes, averaging almost a double-double in the NIT. Jones was expected to keep that pace up and give the Lions an inside go-to. So far that position hasn’t really found its dominating player, and Jones hasn’t been what he was in the NIT.
In the two games Bill Edwards has played in, he has shown a great ability to get the ball to the glass, but he isn’t a pure big man, so that only sort of solves that problem. The sooner the inside game gets figured out, the better.
The nice part about the negatives of this season so far is that they are all related. The sooner a big man stakes his claim to the paint, the sooner the rebounds will go the Lions' way, and the better the defense will become.
Odds and Ends
This year has had an odd start. In both of the Lions' losses they had the chance to win, and personally I believe that they win both of those games if they had played those games at home.
On paper this team is better than the NIT Championship-winning team last year. The issue has been finding everybody a role and executing on both sides of the ball. At times this team has looked special, and at other times it has showed its youth.
It isn’t unreasonable to assume a lot of the Lions' basic issues will work themselves out as the season goes along; how much they are worked out will be the difference in how this season goes. It’s easy to look at the two losses and assume you know what will happen this year, but this team has serious potential and could find itself sooner than you might think.
The biggest key will be getting a tougher defense going and finding a place for all the talented players this team has. Bill Edwards and Tim Frazier are the real deal—it is only a matter of time before the rest of the Big Ten finds out.