Season In Review: Penn State Nittany Lions

Posted by jnowak on April 18th, 2013

Penn State may be the most interesting case study of all teams in the Big Ten this year. Just based purely on numbers and record, they were by and large the worst team in the conference. They nearly went winless in conference play, and after Tim Frazier went down with a season-ending injury early in the year, it was unclear how this team would function at all. While it was indeed a really steep and slow learning curve, a couple really talented players emerged and kept the Nittany Lions’ season interesting. For that reason, there are few teams in the conference with as much intrigue surrounding them heading into next year. Let’s take a look back at Penn State’s season:

What happens to Penn State when Tim Frazier returns next season? (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com)

What happens to Penn State when Tim Frazier returns next season? (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com)

  • The good: In some ways, we’re really grasping at straws here. We’re talking about what looked like it would be the first team to go 0-18 in the Big Ten before it pulled off an incredible upset against Michigan on February 27, and then put away Northwestern on March 7 to finish with two wins in their last five games. That Michigan win, all things considered, could have been the biggest upset of the college basketball season (apologies to TCU). But on a larger scale, the emergence of Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill gave fans a great deal to be excited about next year. Believe it or not, they will represent the conference’s top two returning scorers after the departures of the likes of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Deshaun Thomas. Granted, their production came largely because there was little to no supporting cast around them, but scorers are scorers and Penn State will have a few of them next year. It also bears mentioning that the Nittany Lions put together a nice four-game winning streak through much of December. It was against some pretty bad teams, sure, but it’s still something.
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Some Way-Too-Early Big Ten Predictions for the 2013-14 Season

Posted by jnowak on April 15th, 2013

The 2012-13 season has just been put to bed, so what do we do now? Look ahead to next year, of course! It’s never too early to look to the future, so I’ve taken a few stabs at some (semi-outlandish) too-early predictions for the next Big Ten season. Take a look:

  • The conference will be deeper, but not as top-heavy — What made the Big Ten so great this year was a combination of the heavyweights at the top — Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all hovered in or around the Top 10 for much of the season — complemented by some excellent and dangerous middle-of-the-pack teams like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. You can expect Michigan State and Ohio State to be in that Top 10 mix again (and perhaps Michigan, depending on who stays and leaves) but it will not be as top-heavy as it was this year. Instead, expect Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State to all be improved. If you thought there was no such thing as a gimme in the conference this year, the top-to-bottom slate next season will be even tougher.
Mitch McGary is poised to be an All-Big Ten player next year … if he returns. (Getty Images).

Mitch McGary is poised to be an All-Big Ten player next year… if he returns. (Getty Images).

  • The Big Ten will not have two Final Four teams – If what was regarded as the best conference in the country this year couldn’t pull it off, I doubt it will be able to send two next year. Michigan State figures to be the best bet with Ohio State trailing close behind. Indiana doesn’t have the pieces and, again, it depends on what Michigan brings back. But given Tom Izzo’s track record (he will need to guide the Spartans to the Final Four to continue his streak of each four-year player at least reaching one Final Four in their careers) and his pieces, the Spartans are the best shot. Again, the conference may be deeper, but without nearly as many national title contenders.
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Mitch McGary Impressive, More Thoughts on Michigan’s Win Over Penn State

Posted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013

Kevin Trahan writes for the Big Ten Microsite and covers Northwestern sports for InsideNU.com. Follow him on Twitter at @k_trahan for Big Ten Tournament updates.

Michigan is off to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament for a date with Wisconsin after an 83-66 win over Penn State in the first round. The Wolverines’ struggles this season with the Nittany Lions continued in the first half, as they led by just two at halftime, but they pulled away in the second half for an easy win. Five UM players scored in double figures, led by Trey Burke with 21.

Here are three thoughts from courtside:

  1. Mitch McGary is going to be special: Big men typically take longer to develop as freshmen than guards to, so it’s no surprise that Mitch McGary wasn’t the most “fab” of Michigan’s star freshmen in the early going. However, over the past month, McGary has shown vast improvements and has arguably been the Wolverines’ best young player over that time span. McGary continued that dominance in the first half on Thursday afternoon, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 13 minutes of action. He had just one more rebound and no points in the second half, but the game broke open quickly and he wasn’t needed. McGary’s improvement is a great sign for a Michigan frontcourt that will need someone to step up next year. He’ll be helpful in this year’s UM postseason run, but next year is when he’ll ultimately be able to become a star, rather than just a role player. He has all the tools for stardom — he’s aggressive on the boards and has a great knack for the basket on second-chance opportunities — and as he gains experience, he’ll become even more of a threat.

    Michigan head coach John Beilein reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten tournament against Penn State. (AP)

    Michigan head coach John Beilein reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten tournament against Penn State. (AP)

  2. A good tune-up for Michigan: It’s kind of hard to believe that just a month ago, Michigan was the #1 team in the nation. Now, the Wolverines couldn’t even get a bye on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. John Beilein’s team has struggled through a number of tough losses this season, none tougher than last Sunday’s home loss to Illinois, when a bad roll on the rim cost them a big win and a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That can really mess with your psyche. In a way, Thursday’s result at United Center was the perfect one for the Wolverines as they enter postseason play. It offered some adversity — Penn State began the game up 14-3 — but once things settled down, it helped the Wolverines build their confidence. They were effective from beyond the arc and got the ball inside, the latter of which they’ve struggled to do down the stretch. Friday’s game against Wisconsin will be a much bigger test, but Thursday’s game against Michigan couldn’t have gone much better for Beilein and company.
  3. Penn State’s future is bright: Penn State just might be the best 2-16 conference team in history. Being the best at being the worst isn’t exactly encouraging in itself, but the Nittany Lions are vastly improved since the beginning of the year, and that’s without first team All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier. They own recent wins against Michigan and Northwestern and also nearly took down Wisconsin and Iowa. They’re starting to get more confident, and next year could be the year they put it all together. Penn State could potentially have the best backcourt in the Big Ten in 2013-14. Frazier will be back, along with D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, who are both much better now than they were in January. The frontcourt, which has been a weakness all season, has started to improve. Forward Ross Travis has really started to come into his own, and he posted 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Wolverines. Four of those rebounds came in the early going, when he was arguably the best player on the floor for a stretch. As the pieces start to come together and players continue to improve, look out for Pat Chambers’ squad. Things are definitely looking up, even coming off a year with just two conference wins.
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Big Ten M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 26th, 2012

morning5_bigten

  1. It’s been hard to convince anyone who has watched or covered Hawkeye basketball for much of the past decade to jump onto the “Iowa is back” bandwagon just yet, and for good reason; the Hawkeyes have been inconsistent at best. But this year, after an 11-2 start, Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette is ready to jump on the bandwagon. The Hawkeyes have a very young team and have been inconsistent at times, but they have impressive wins against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and they’ll be a tough out at home this year. The Big Ten slate starts off against Indiana at home and then with two on the road against Michigan and Michigan State, so it certainly won’t be an easy task to get to March. Still, with a Big Ten slate that is easier than most teams’ schedules in the conference, this may finally be the year Iowa returns to the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Non-conference basketball means cupcake season for the most part, and that has led to criticism of top teams like Indiana that play so many guarantee games in November and December. However, Terry Hutchins of the Indianapolis Star said that the criticism is misguided, because much of the reason for the easy schedule is revenue-driven. The Hoosiers need to make sure that they have 18 to 20 home games per year, and an easy way to do that is to pay teams a fee to come to Assembly Hall for a beatdown. That leads to more home games and more ticket sales, which is what non-conference games are all about. The Hoosiers always go to some early season non-conference tournament, play an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, and, this year, will have a very difficult Big Ten schedule. Playing a few cupcakes in the first two months of the season certainly isn’t something to get up in arms about.
  3. Minnesota has a history of starting fast in the non-conference season and then slumping at the start of Big Ten play, but this year’s Gophers have put together an impressive resume and look like the real deal. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently handed out a report card on Minnesota’s non-conference schedule, and a lot of the focus is on Trevor Mbakwe, a player who is starting to look like he did before last year’s ACL injury. He is gaining strength and could potentially re-enter the starting lineup which already features stars Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams. The Gophers have so much depth that this certainly looks like Tubby Smith’s best team yet in Minnesota. Now, with conference play about to start, we’ll get some more answers about a team that has a lot of potential but still also some unknowns.
  4. When eight-year-old Mackenzie Kelley found out that her favorite player, Penn State star Tim Frazier, might not be able to play next year if he isn’t granted a medical hardship waiver, she decided to take the matter up with Santa by asking him to put a good word in with the NCAA. Kelley is a diehard Penn State fan and has met Frazier a couple of times. After she met him initially at a preseason event, she met him again and was excited to find out that “out of all the people he meets he remembered me.” Frazier got a hold of the letter and thanked Mackenzie on Facebook; luckily for Mackenzie — and Frazier — the injury happened early enough in the season that Frazier should be back on the court next year, a gift from old St. Nick indeed.
  5. Derrick Nix has been asked to take on more of a leadership role for Michigan State this year after the departure of Draymond Green, and he’s still improving, as exhibited by a career high 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds in a win on Saturday against Texas. However, the area in which Nix has improved the most isn’t something you would expect from a man his size — free throws. Nix was a bad free throw shooter when he first got to MSU, but endless hours of practice has helped him become much better, improving from a 27 percent free throw shooter as a freshman to a 70 percent free throw shooter this season. Nix said that coach Tom Izzo would rather he was moving around more before practice, but he’s always at the free throw line practicing his shot, and it’s paid off for the Spartans in the long run.
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Big Ten M5: 11.27.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on November 27th, 2012

  1. With another big non-conference game looming with Michigan State’s trip to play at Miami on Wednesday, Tom Izzo said Monday that there’s a chance sophomore guard Travis Trice and possibly even freshman wing Gary Harris could get some minutes. The Spartans have missed the two badly — Harris is nursing a sprained shoulder and Trice has had concussion symptoms since the season opener — in their recent games. MSU snuck by Boise State and Louisiana-Lafayette at home and it’s been clear that the team is fatigued and more turnover-prone without two of its best run-and-gun players. Harris, also the team’s leading scorer, was expected to miss 2-3 weeks, but Izzo says his healing has progressed well.
  2. With this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge — the conference’s premier early-season event — on the horizon this week, BigTenNetwork.com is ranking the best games from this year’s Challenge. The ACC handled the Big Ten in the first 10 renditions of the Challenge before the Big Ten came storming back to take the crown the last three years. It seems as if the Big Ten is poised for an excellent all-around season, with Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan making a case for early Final Four picks, and depth is at an all-time high. Which games are you most looking forward to this week?
  3. Many didn’t know what to expect from Illinois this season under first-year head coach John Groce, but the early returns have been stellar. The Illini are undefeated after winning the always-prestigious Maui Invitational and, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Herb Gould points out, every Maui Invitational champion since 1986 has gone on to the NCAA Tournament. Groce said he’s seen a lot of character in his young team, particularly in coming from behind in a few games. “Is [Maui] the end-all, be-all? No,” Groce told the Sun-Times. “We still have work to do. We have to rebound better. We have to foul less. We have to execute some things better offensively. By no means have we arrived. At the same time, we feel blessed to have had a chance to play for that trophy and to have won it.”
  4. It’s hard to imagine any single player means more to one team in the Big Ten than Tim Frazier does to Penn State. And now that he’s out for the season with a ruptured Achilles, the Nittany Lions are learning how to move on without him for the time being. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” coach Patrick Chambers said Monday, according to StateCollege.com. “The text messages I received when he went down, the text messages I still receive, I went to the football game the other day and everybody is like, ‘I’m so sorry.'” Chambers says the team needs to find ways to work through it, and that starts with the flow of the offense finding its way without its natural point guard and senior leader.
  5. Purdue is certainly rebuilding this year, and the team’s long-term future may have taken a bit of a hit with an injury to recruit Kendall Stephens, a 6’5″ senior guard at St. Charles (IL) East High School. The Indianapolis Star‘s Jeff Washburn reported Monday that Stephens, who scored 30 points and was named MVP of a recent holiday tournament, is playing with a torn labrum in his right shoulder that is expected to require surgery. If so, he’s likely to miss summer workouts before his senior year, which can be a critical time in a freshman’s development if he is to contribute early.
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Worst-Case Scenario at Penn State: Tim Frazier Out For The Season

Posted by jnowak on November 21st, 2012

Things went from bad to worse at Penn State this week. With Tim Frazier done for the season with a ruptured Achilles, the Nittany Lions lost basically their only source of consistent offense early in a season that had already turned ugly. Even after he was injured and played just six minutes in the Nittany Lions’ blowout loss at the hands of Akron (preseason selection to finish second in the MAC East Division), Frazier was still leading the club with 16.3 PPG. The Nittany Lions — with losses already to N.C. State and Akron, and close wins against St. Francis (Pa.) and Providence — are dead-last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, with 58.8 PPG. Take away Frazier’s average (he was second in the conference last year with 18.8 PPG) and that number into scary territory.

Without Tim Frazier, Penn State would be averaging 42.5 PPG this season. Now they’ll see what life without him is like. (Andy Lyons)

The Nittany Lions were already far too dependent on Frazier before the injury occurred. He played all but one minute in the Penn State’s first three games combined, totaling 65 points, which was 34 percent of the team’s total scoring output. It’s natural for a team — especially a lackluster one — to rely heavily on its best player, particularly when he’s an upperclassman. And with Frazier being a point guard, the offense is going through his hands anyhow. But with the Nittany Lions relying so heavily on the All-Big Ten player, it could potentially become a huge problem if, say, that player fouls out late in a game or endures an injury. What happens then? Well, we’re about to find out.

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Big Ten M5: 11.21.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on November 21st, 2012

  1. Penn State was never on anyone’s short list to be a Big Ten Tournament contender, but it has one of the best players in the conference in guard Tim Frazier. The Nittany Lions’ prospects got even worse on Monday, as Frazier went down with an Achilles injury. Coach Pat Chambers confirmed on Tuesday that Frazier would miss the remainder of the season. Frazier should be able to get a medical redshirt to play next season, so that’s good news for Chambers’ rebuilding squad. However, this year will likely be rough without Frazier, who was Penn State’s leader last year in every major statistical category. Now, D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis and Jermaine Marshall all need to step up. If they all show improvement and take on bigger roles, the Nittany Lions could have a decent team next year when Frazier returns.
  2. On the subject of injuries, Michigan State may have taken a major hit when star freshman guard Gary Harris left the game with a left shoulder injury. Coach Tom Izzo did not sound optimistic about the situation, saying at best case Harris would be out with a sprain, and at worst would be out “a lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot, lot longer.” Harris will get an MRI on Wednesday, but it’s a bad situation no matter what. Harris is the team’s leading scorer and has broken out early this year for the Spartans. He went out at the beginning of Tuesday’s game and MSU struggled without him, beating Boise State 74-70. If Harris is out for an extended period of time, MSU will need Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine to step up and provide more consistent scoring.
  3. It’s not often that you see a 6-foot-1 guard atop a list of rebounding leaders, but that’s exactly what Ben Brust has done at Wisconsin. In fact, he was tied for third in the Big Ten in rebounding before Tuesday’s games, behind Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Indiana’s Cody Zeller. Brust has put together a phenomenal start for the Badgers. He’s second on the team in points per game, and leads in both rebounds per game and assists per game. He recorded a double-double in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana and did the same against Cornell. Tuesday, he had another double-double, this time leading the team in both points and rebounds with 20 and 12. Wisconsin needed someone to step up at guard in place of injured Josh Gasser, and it looks like the Badgers have found their guy.
  4. Ohio State’s team is full of young talent as it is, but the Buckeyes will be adding even more young stars in the coming years. This week, OSU got the commitments of 2014 forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Kieta Bates-Diop, both four-star recruits. Tate chose the Buckeyes over Michigan, while Bates-Diop chose them over Illinois, Michigan and Purdue. OSU just signed four-star forward Marc Loving and four-star guard Kameron Williams for the 2013 class, and are still on the board for some top 2014 prospects. It’s tough to judge recruits just based off their star ratings, but considering the other offers Tate and Bates-Diop had, this was a big win for OSU. The Buckeyes will have no shortage of talent in the years to come.
  5. Michigan has climbed to No. 4 in the rankings without playing anyone of not this year, but that changes when the Wolverines head to Madison Square Garden to face Pittsburgh in the 2K Sports Classic. After the matchup with the Panthers, Michigan will face either Kansas State or Delaware. This will be a chance for coach John Beilein to see how his young team performs on the big stage. He said that he hopes his team is ready after a week of fixing the “holes” they’ve had. There haven’t been too many holes for the Wolverines, who have dominated lesser competition behind star sophomore point guard Trey Burke, senior Tim Hardaway and freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskas. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary have been impressive, as well, which is a tribute to this team’s outstanding depth. Now the Wolverines have to prove they can replicate that success on the big stage and against quality opponents. They’ll get that chance against Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
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Morning Five: 11.21.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 21st, 2012

  1. With Maryland having already committed to play for the Big Ten, the announcement that Rutgers would be following them was merely a formality. Yesterday, Rutgers made it official that it would be leaving the Big East for the Big Ten and the riches of its upcoming college football contract. With both schools brushing aside exit fees that were in the not too distant past considered exorbitant it raises the question of how high these fees will have to get to become a legitimate deterrent to schools considering an exit from their conference. Clearly $50 million isn’t enough — so with the size of these television contracts continuing to grow, fees may need to approach $100 million to keep future schools from leaving.
  2. Now that he has finished informing the nation on which candidate would be our president for the next four years, Nate Silver is back to deal with the important stuff — sports. Yesterday, Silver looked at the potential impact of Maryland and Rutgers entering the Big Ten. Utilizing Google search traffic data for the search term “college football,” Silver looked at 210 major media markets and determined that Rutgers may actually be a more valuable commodity than Maryland, but not by as much as many are claiming due to its location within the New York market. Our issue with this analysis, which we think we have mentioned in this space before, is that hardcore fans aren’t searching for such generic terms, but he at least makes the effort.
  3. Penn State struggled through much of last season, but the Nittany Lions were usually worth checking out on occasion because of Tim Frazier, one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten. This year promised to be a better one for PSU, but now that Frazier is done for the year after rupturing his Achilles tendon the Nittany Lions may be in for another long season. Frazier, a first-team All-Big Ten guard last season, plans to apply for a medical redshirt. While we didn’t expect much from Penn State this season, the injury is a tremendous setback for Frazier’s chances of playing professionally. We wish Frazier the best of luck in his rehab and look forward to seeing him back in a Nittany Lion uniform soon.
  4. It took a while for the national college basketball writers assembled in Brooklyn last night to realize it, but the biggest news of the evening had nothing to do with #1 Indiana’s overtime win versus Georgetown (and, seriously, how many different Georgetown columns can this group write?). Rather, it had everything to do with a 5’10” sophomore named Jack Taylor from Division III Grinnell College in Iowa. Playing in a wild offensive system (unimaginatively called “The System”) developed by head coach David Arseneault, Taylor hoisted 108 shots on his way to an NCAA record 138-point evening, going 52-for-108 from the field including a ridiculous 27 threes (on 71 attempts). Let’s hope that this kid is ready for the whirlwind because he’s already been on Sportscenter and all of the morning and late night talk shows surely can’t be far behind.
  5. On Monday, we mentioned how ridiculous it was that North Carolina was essentially getting a free pass from much of the media surrounding its growing academic scandal. It seems like someone was listening. The only thing is that it was not someone at the NCAA, but instead a North Carolina state senator who is calling for a criminal probe into the situation. While we think that this merits a formal inquiry at the state level, we doubt that there will ever be any criminal proceedings as a result of it. Still, given the apparent breadth and reach of this sham, we would not be opposed to seeing a few heads roll at what is supposed to be an institution of higher learning.
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Some Predictions for Individual Big Ten Awards This Season

Posted by jnowak on November 12th, 2012

With the season getting under way, the Big Ten Microsite writers put their heads together and predicted who will come away with some conference hardware this season. Take a look:

  • Big Ten Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana — A pretty easy choice, all things considered. Zeller is the best player returning to the consensus No.1 team in the country, and a near unanimous selection to be an Associated Press preseason All-American. The sophomore center has it all — good hands, smarts, a nose for the ball around the basket, and runs the floor well. This is his award to lose.
  • All-Big Ten First Team: Cody Zeller, Indiana – see above; Trey Burke, Michigan – the conference’s best point guard who had a breakout season as a freshman and flirted with the NBA; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State — another AP preseason All-American poised to be a star with the departure of Jared Sullinger; Tim Frazier, Penn State – the conference’s most dangerous scorer, but with plenty of pressure on his shoulders; Drew Crawford, Northwestern — Crawford should be the go-to guy in Evanston this season, with the perimeter all to himself to do what he does best.

No surprise here: Indiana’s Cody Zeller is our preseason Big Ten Player of the Year (Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

  • All-Big Ten Second Team: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota – a constant double-double threat on the mend from ACL surgery; Aaron Craft, Ohio State — perhaps the best floor general and defensive player in the league; Keith Appling, Michigan State – a true scorer who can find his groove in Michigan State’s fast-paced offense; Brandon Paul, Illinois – the best player on an Illinois team trying to find itself; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa – a big part of the resurgence in Iowa City. (Others considered: Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin; Derrick Nix, Michigan State; Terone Johnson, Purdue)
  • Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State – A predictable choice for a guy who has already won the award once and has been on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team each of his first two seasons in Columbus. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Team Previews: Penn State Nittany Lions

Posted by KTrahan on November 9th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Where we left off: A year removed from an NCAA Tournament berth, Penn State went into rebuilding mode and struggled to return to relevancy. The Nittany Lions featured one of the best players in the Big Ten in Tim Frazier, but had no consistency elsewhere, especially in the frontcourt. Forwards Jon Graham and Sasa Borovnjak struggled mightily and guards Jermaine Marshall and Cammeron Woodyard weren’t consistent enough to complement Frazier. The Nittany Lions ended up finishing 12-20 and 4-14 in the Big Ten. This year, there will be a lot of new faces, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as Patrick Chambers and his team try to regroup.

Tim Frazier Carries the Penn State Hoops Baton (CDC Photos/Christopher Weddle)

Positives: Obviously, the biggest positive for Penn State is Tim Frazier, who led the Nittany Lions in points, assists and rebounds last year and figures to be a first team All-Big Ten contender. Additionally, the Nittany Lions add D.J. Newbill, a redshirt sophomore who sat out a year after transferring from Southern Mississippi. He was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team two years ago, and he and Frazier should form an impressive backcourt duo. The frontcourt won’t be great, but Graham and Borovnjak should be improved this year, and Ross Travis has shown promise at forward.

Negatives: After Frazier, there are a lot of unknowns. Newbill certainly has talent, but will he be rusty after a year off and can he compete in the toughest conference in the country? The frontcourt still lacks talent and there’s no guarantee that Graham or Borovnjak will improve. The depth is there, but it’s not very talented depth, especially in the frontcourt. The Nittany Lions will be a very small team, and in a league full of talented big men, that could be a very big disadvantage.

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Big Ten M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 8th, 2012

  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has iterated multiple times during the offseason about the need to push the tempo in Champaign. He wants his guards to increase the pace of the game but limit their turnovers. Illinois is loaded with guards such as Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams but what about the big guys? Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu returns after playing only 10 MPG last season. Meyers Leonard is now a key part of the Portland Trailblazers so Egwu will need to do his best to provide that inside presence to Illinois. He does not have the offensive skills yet but he brings a bunch of energy in his minutes and will fit in fairly well with a fast-paced system because he runs the floor very well. The Daily Illini discusses Egwu’s role for the Illini and what the Orange Krush can expect from him in Groce’s offense.
  2. Speaking of forwards, Wisconsin has an excellent trio returning for their senior seasons. Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will provide valuable on-court experience for Bo Ryan this season. All three of these players understand the swing offense very well and know the particulars of the Wisconsin system. Berggren shoots the deep ball very well for a big man (38% 3FG) and Bruesewitz is a jack of all trades, especially on defense. Evans averaged 6.8 RPG last season but can score from several positions on the floor. If all of these players are healthy (a big if right now), they will provide a great foundation for Ryan despite a largely unproven backcourt of Ben Brust and George Marshall.
  3. Transitioning from experienced forwards to a freshman version, Michigan’s Mitch McGary is working hard to slim down before the regular season. The top-25 recruit is currently 6’10” and weighs 262 lbs. but is trying to get leaner and improve his conditioning in preparation for a season that could result in a potential Final Four. McGary is specifically focused on staying near the rim and defending the post which will be extremely important against the other top big men in the league such as Cody Zeller and Trevor Mbakwe. John Beilein should be happy about McGary’s work ethic and his keen understanding of his defensive role for the Wolverines.
  4. Penn State’s Tim Frazier will be one of the best players in the Big Ten this season. Every team in the league will focus their defensive sets to send multiple defenders at Frazier but that strategy might not work because of two other wings on the Penn State roster. Guards D.J.Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have improved over the offseason and should be poised to take advantage of any double-teams drawn by Frazier this season. Marshall averaged 10.8 PPG last season while Newbill transferred from Southern Miss after averaging 9.2 PPG as a freshman. Newbill in particular will provide some depth on the perimeter and could match up well against the second- or third-best defenders on opposing teams if he plays alongside Frazier and Marshall.
  5.  Michigan State’s Branden Dawson has been watching a lot of film of some of the great guards that have passed through East Lansing over the years. Dawson is still recovering from an ACL injury suffered last March and has used the time off to improve his game outside of the gym by focusing on game film. Tom Izzo’s staff has been showing the sophomore tapes of other legendary Spartans such as Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell. Dawson has the right mixture of athleticism and size to eventually be as good as any of those names if he can stay healthy. He proved that he was a very cerebral player last season when he assumed the role of a defensive stopper which is very impressive for a freshman to become in a competitive conference.
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Big Ten M5: 10.23.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on October 23rd, 2012

  1. The news coming out of Minnesota hasn’t been great recently, first with Trevor Mbakwe’s DUI and then assistant coach Saul Smith’s arrest on suspicion of DUI. Needless to say, the Golden Gophers are ready for the season to begin to put their offseason troubles behind them. However, to lighten the mood, here’s something everyone in America undoubtedly wants to see: Tubby Smith doing “Gangnam Style”. Tubby actually isn’t too bad, though he messes up the parts of the dance a couple of times. Women’s coach Pam Borton clearly had practiced for her routine. The dance was part of the Gophers’ “All Star Friday Night,” which included a dunk contest and a scrimmage to go along with the awful dancing.
  2. Iowa also held its kickoff event — the Black and Gold Blowout — this week, including a dunk contest and a scrimmage. Senior Eric May won the dunk contest with an alley-oop off a header. However, the highlight of the night might have been coach Fran McCaffery entering in a yellow Corvette. Scott Dochterman of The Cedar Rapids Gazette has some good stuff on the Blowout, including this nugget: The Hawkeyes had roughly 5,000 fans show up for the event, but the school averaged only 5,500 fans per game in May’s freshman season. This telling statistic shows that the Hawkeyes have certainly come a long way in two short years under McCaffery, both on and off the court.
  3. Last year, Purdue was one of the smaller teams in the Big Ten, sometimes relying on forward Robbie Hummel to take on a “center” role. That team was successful because of its experience and deadly perimeter shooting, but while this year’s team will be inexperienced, it will allow the Boilermakers to sport a more traditional-looking lineup. In fact, Matt Painter hasn’t had this much depth in the frontcourt in his eight years as coach at Purdue, writes Jeff Washburn of the Journal and Courier. The Boilermakers have added four-star, seven-foot center AJ Hammons, as well as four-star forward Jay Simpson to their frontcourt. Overall, Purdue will have six players who are at least 6’8″ or taller this season. It may be a young team in West Lafayette, but it will certainly be a talented one, as well.
  4. This doesn’t have much of a bearing on current news, but a friend pointed it out the other day and it’s an interesting point. This year, Northwestern will open its season against Texas Southern, and while that’s a game that typically wouldn’t have many storylines, it’s actually quite intriguing for several off-court reasons. Northwestern is one of only 17 schools to have never had a major NCAA violation. Texas Southern, however, is a walking NCAA violation. As pointed out by ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan, “Texas Southern is awful at following rules.” The Tigers were cited for “lack of institutional control” and the report on their transgressions is mind-boggling, as “the university allowed 129 student-athletes in 13 sports during seven academic years to compete and receive financial aid and travel expenses when they were ineligible.” There’s plenty more in the report, but the most hilarious thing is that Texas Southern is considered a “double repeat violator.” So this November, the goody-two-shoes of the NCAA will take on the double repeat violator. It should make for an interesting storyline, regardless of the yawner that is likely to occur on the court.
  5. CBS Sports put out its list of the 50 best point guards in college basketball, and the Big Ten was well-represented with two players in the top four and five overall. Michigan’s Trey Burke was the top-ranked point guard in the conference at No. 3, while Ohio State’s Aaron Craft came in right behind him at No. 4. Penn State’s Tim Frazier was No. 15, Michigan State’s Keith Appling was No. 28, and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell round’s out the Big Ten’s representation at No. 33. Ferrell made the list on speculation alone, but the first four are proven and all obvious choices for the list. The only two point guards better than Burke, according to CBS?  Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan and Missouri’s Phil Pressey, who check in at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
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