Moving on with the offseason basketball retrospective/preview series, today I'll take a look at the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Big Ten's 10-place finishers in 2013-14.
So, what happened this season?
As mentioned, the Nittany Lions finished 10th in the Big Ten, with a 14-19 (6-12) record. They fell in the CBI quarterfinals to Siena, 54-52.
However, they did improve upon their 2012-13 Big Ten mark of 2-16 -- of course, it should be noted that they were without Tim Frazier for essentially that entire year. Nonetheless, PSU certainly trended upward, scoring some fairly solid wins along the way.
PSU swept Ohio State, with the tilt in Columbus ending on a buzzer beater by D.J. Newbill over Aaron Craft's outstretched, one of many upset wins in a whirlwind of a conference season. PSU also knocked off Indiana on the road (still a laudable accomplishment, even if the Hoosiers were down this year), beat future top-4 Nebraska at home and completely throttled a pesky Northwestern squad, 59-32.
While Pat Chambers and everyone else in the program probably isn't jumping for joy at that final record, PSU showed that it had a little Nebrasketball in them at times this season; the duo of D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier was a formidable one, even if they sometimes didn't get the help they needed elsewhere.
NB: All numbers are from conference play only.
- PSU finished 5th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage (30.5 percent) but 11th at the other end (68.1 percent).
- They weren't much in the giving mood--PSU finished 9th in assist percentage. On the other hand, they took care of the ball better than everyone in the league save Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, with a turnover percentage of just 16.7 percent. In opponent turnover percentage, they were 6th, at 17.2 percent.
- Defensively, it was a block party for PSU. They finished second in the league with a block percentage of 8.7 percent.
- From beyond the arc, though, it was brick city. Penn State finished dead last in the league, shooting 29.1 percent from three as a team.
- Despite the offensive punch of Newbill and Frazier, PSU was just 8th in points per possession at 1.0 flat. They were also 8th in points per possession allowed (1.06).
- D.J. Newbill finished first in the league in field goal attempts; needless to say, with Frazier gone next season, his usage rate will probably get even more ridiculous in 2014-15. He was just 28th in eFG%, but when you throw it up as much as he does, that's to be expected. Considering he was just 24th in free throw rate -- which seems pretty low for a guy as important to an offense as Newbill is -- his production last year looks even more impressive.
- Do-everything point guard Tim Frazier finished 4th in assist percentage and 8th in steals per game. His efficiency numbers don't look great either, but, again, the offense was so contingent upon Newbill and Frazier making things happen that it often came at efficiency's expense.
Frazier is gone and backup point guard Graham Woodward transferred to Drake (the second Big Ten player to do so this offseason, the other being Northwestern's Kale Abrahamson), leaving a bit of a hole in the ball handling department.
However, Newbill returns with his playmaking ability, and forwards Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor also return, who averaged 9.4 and 8.2 ppg last season, respectively.
Chambers signed three players in the 2014 class, all listed as shooting guards on Rivals. Three-star Shep Garner is the only one of the triumvirate given a star rating. Hailing from Philly, Garner received offers from Arizona, Florida, Maryland and Texas, among others. As someone who doesn't follow basketball recruiting much these days, these seems like somewhat of a coup for the Chambers program.
Can Garner help in that aforementioned ball handling department? That's unclear, and as a shooting guard, how will he mesh with Newbill's freewheeling style? In any case, more offense is always a good thing.
Like Northwestern with Drew Crawford, replacing a guy like Tim Frazier, who had been around for so long and doing so many things for PSU, will prove difficult. With that said, there are many teams that would kill to have a scorer like D.J. Newbill, who, as he showed against the Buckeyes, can beat you if you're not careful.
As suggested in the other two preview thus far, perhaps a slightly weaker Big Ten will benefit teams like Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State. For a team that finished 6-12 in the league last season, maybe it will be the difference that nudges them toward a .500 record. Assuming the Nittany Lions take care of business in the nonconference portion of the schedule (i.e. avoid "bad" losses), and, probably, steal a game in the Big Ten tourney...well, maybe this could be a tournament team. But, those are quite a few assumptions and hopes stacked on top of each other, asking to topple like a Jenga tower.
But again, you could simply say "If Nebraska could do it, why not _________?" Much of PSU's fate will depend on if they can tread water at the point guard position (or if Newbill can take on some of those duties without expending too much energy needed to simply make plays).
In any case, it should be another exciting year for the Nittany Lions. Whether that means their first tournament berth since 2011 remains to be seen. However, odds are D.J. Newbill is going to upset some opponents at some point--you just have to hope it won't be you.