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Big Ten Basketball Preview: Penn State

With the college basketball season quickly approaching, Maize n Brew is kicking off its preview coverage with the start of a mini-series looking around the Big Ten and each team's prospects for the upcoming season. Today, it's Penn State, a team that finished at the bottom of the conference last year, but has a bonafide star in senior guard Tim Frazier, an interesting mix of talent in the rest of the backcourt, and a promising coach who is starting to build a solid foundation in Happy Valley.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Penn State

Last season

12-20 (4-14), T-11th in the Big Ten

0-2 vs. Michigan (71-53 L in Ann Arbor, 71-65 L in Happy Valley)

Much like Nebraska, Penn State faced an uphill battle from the start. On the heels of an NCAA Tournament bid, coach Ed DeChellis decided to leave for Navy, and do-everything star Talor Battle and the underrated Jeff Brooks saw their eligibility expire. New coach Pat Chambers inherited a burgeoning go-to option in guard Tim Frazier, but otherwise, he stepped into a pretty poor situation -- outside of Frazier the Nittany Lions were largely bereft of talent, and they were also one of the most inexperienced teams in the Big Ten. Credit goes to Chambers for infecting the program with his tireless work ethic, upbeat attitude, and no-nonsense approach, but it was still a tough year.

The team predictably struggled through the season: Penn State failed to win a conference game on the road and outside of an incredibly surprising 20-point win over Purdue (and an early-season win over South Florida that looks much better in retrospect), they didn't beat anyone of note. Penn State developed a bit of a reputation for playing tough, regardless of the opponent, but they were too frequently overmatched to win many games. Frazier was the lone consistent bright spot: much like Battle before him, Frazier had an absurdly high usage rate -- he used the tenth-most possessions of any player nationally -- and despite his size, he was an adept scorer, rebounder, and passer. He received his fair share of postseason accolades, mostly in appreciation for his remarkable play on a pretty poor team.

Conference-Only Four Factors


B1G Rank
B1G Rank
Effective FG % 44.5 12 54.9 11
Turnover % 18.1 5 20.0 2
Offensive Rebounding % 32.1 6 27.8 3
FT Attempts / FG Attempts 30.2 10 49.6 12

Significant Departures

Notable Returnees
  • G Tim Frazier -- 18.8 PPG, 6,2 APG, 4.7 RPG
  • G Jermaine Marshall -- 10.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG

Key Newcomer
  • G D.J. Newbill (transfer from Southern Miss, 9.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG two years ago)

Games vs. Michigan

Feb. 17 (in Ann Arbor), Feb. 27 (in Happy Valley)


Even though he's only been at Penn State for a year, it's hard not to like the general identity of the program that Pat Chambers has forged thus far. Penn State was largely overmatched in most of their games last year, but they played pretty impressive defense, forced turnovers, and generally rebounded very well. With Frazier returning, as well as the projected improvement in terms of consistency for Jermaine Marshall and the interesting addition of guard D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions quickly find themselves with a relatively loaded backcourt. Aside from Frazier, the Penn State offense really struggled, so if Marshall and Newbill can develop into reasonably dangerous scoring options, a lot of those offensive issues -- namely the over-reliance on Frazier -- can be rectified.

Still, a lot of Penn State's other problems may be insurmountable. The Nittany Lions were the worst shooting team in the conference a year ago, and they largely have the same set of contributors on the offensive end. Despite forcing turnovers and rebounding well, Penn State's defense was among the worst in the conference because opponents shot at a very high percentage against Penn State and they fouled a lot and provided a lot of free throw attempts to their opponents. Those issues are probably correctable and Penn State will get better with experience, but an immediate, significant improvement in those categories will be extremely difficult. The front line for Penn State is in flux as well, and teams will be able to exploit that weakness by putting pressure on the Penn State guards. The program is trending upwards and Chambers has had some very solid recruiting coups, but outside of Frazier and Marshall, there is still a ton of youth on this team and they're probably a few years from possibly breaking into the conference's upper half and back into the NCAA Tournament.