Big Ten Summer Check In: Penn State Nittany LionsPosted by jnowak on July 24th, 2012
It certainly hasn’t been easy, but amid the messy scandal going on with the football program at Penn State, Patrick Chambers‘ team is moving forward on the hardwood this summer. After a disappointing Big Ten season — matched in unfulfillment only by newcomer Nebraska — Chambers is looking forward to the opportunity for the basketball program to carry the athletic department … “for once.” With the young roster Chambers is trying to mold this summer, he’s certainly got plenty to work with.
- Evaluating Last Year: It would only be fair to grade last season on a curve, given what Chambers inherited in both personnel and prestige at Penn State. Under Ed DeChellis, the Nittany Lions were perennial bottom-feeders in a top-tier conference, and it was hard to imagine that Chambers would be able to work any miracles in his first year. He had no veteran leadership and it wasn’t until Tim Frazier broke out as one of the conference’s most surprising and productive players did Penn State even have a go-to scorer. They had just four Big Ten wins — against Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue — to finish dead-last along with the newcomer Cornhuskers. Without much to choose from, it’s no question that Frazier’s emergence was the top storyline to draw from this club last year.
- State of the Program: Until further notice, Penn State will remain a gimme on the schedule of the best teams in the conference. They’re the easiest team in the Big Ten to key in on one player (Frazier) and traveling to State College doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing teams. Another problem, though, is that Chambers has likely found himself with another obstacle in terms of bringing top-notch players to State College. With the Joe Paterno football scandal headlines looming, he knows players may also be less inclined to play hoops at Penn State, even though the basketball program wasn’t affected by the Jerry Sandusky fallout. “I have deep trusting relationships and people know my character and where I came from,” Chambers told CBSSports.com. “I’m going to have to rely on those relationships.”
- Players Not Returning: The Nittany Lions only lose one senior from last year’s squad — Cammeron Woodyard — who was not much of a contributor in four years in the backcourt. He did see a significant spike in PPG last season, though, boosting his average to 8.7 as his minutes skyrocketed by more than 15 per game. Penn State also lost three players to transfer — sophomore Matt Glover (to San Francisco) and freshmen Trey Lewis (Cleveland State) and Peter Alexis (Philadelphia). Of that trio, Lewis — and his 18.7 minutes per game and 5.6 PPG — will be most missed.
- Immediate Needs: Scoring. Frazier, en route to becoming just the sixth player in Penn State history to be named to All-Big Ten First Team, averaged a team-high 18.8 PPG but no one else on the roster behind him averaged more than 10.8 (Jermaine Marshall). Since teams could key on Frazier and the Nittany Lions hardly had any other weapons, Penn State finished 11th in the conference in team offense, scoring just 61.8 PPG. The Big Ten is a conference that focuses heavily on defense, but the fact remains that the Nittany Lions don’t have enough players who can score when called upon to do so. Even in their four Big Ten wins, they never scored more than 69 points in any game. Their season-high was 82, which they reached twice.
- Key Players to Step Up: The team needs balance in its scoring more than anything else. Frazier can only do so much and teams will continue to double him until the Nittany Lions prove that someone else can score. Marshall demonstrated last season that he can help with the scoring load, and he’s got two years ahead of him. But if he’s also in the backcourt, it leaves the Nittany Lions unbalanced in their scoring attack. Look more for forward Billy Oliver to help bolster the inside game after ranking fourth on the team in points (10.8) and minutes (27.1) last season. His contribution skyrocketed from his freshman year to his sophomore season so if he can take another such step forward into his junior year, Penn State will have that inside-out game that’s so critical for winning.
- Conclusion: Well, Chambers hardly has the most enviable job in the Big Ten right now. He’s been saddled with hardship thanks to the football program’s improprieties and the black cloud that that will inevitably hang over the entire campus for years. But what he does have working in his favor is a young team that he began to mold in a disappointing first season, with a high-caliber scorer in Frazier leading the way. Chambers demonstrated at times last year that he knows the direction this program should be heading in. It’s just a matter of whether Penn State can get there, and how long it will take.