Things could have been much different for Penn State last season had it avoided what happened on December 31. In its first conference game of the season at home against Michigan State, the Nittany Lions had the #5 team in the country squarely on the ropes. They were up 12 points with 1:14 to go in the first half when the wheels fell completely off. From that point on, they were outscored 46-18 and went on to lose not only that game but their next five as well. Would Penn State have had a better season if it had held on against the Spartans’ New Year’s Eve onslaught? We’ll never know. But despite a 6-12 conference mark, last season’s team was probably closer to contention than most people realize. Many of the key pieces are back. Can Penn State be the next surprise Big Ten team to move into the top half of the league and contend for an NCAA Tournament berth in the process?
Even without the services of all-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier this season, one positive that should help this squad is having John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson fully available. Johnson sat out the first 12 games last year after transferring over from Pitt. He is a knock-down shooter, but he struggled with some rust and finding his role in the rotation. As a result, on fewer attempts, his three-point numbers dropped from 38.4 percent as a freshman to 31.8 percent last season. He should find his way on the court for better than the 20.4 MPG he averaged last year, and thus should have a greater impact scoring the ball for a team with few reliable shooters (no regular hit more than 40 percent from deep). Dickerson is a bit of a project, but he seemed to get more comfortable as a defensive presence as the season progressed. The 7-footer gives the team more flexibility in lineup options, allowing the Nittany Lions to play Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor in the high post more often, where they are both competent shooters. Dickerson allows head coach Pat Chambers to run a four-man rotation of frontcourt bodies should anyone get into foul trouble, and his 11.8 block percentage would have ranked second in the league had he played enough minutes to qualify. He’s a legitimate rim-protector, and any offense he also happens to provide will be a bonus. Read the rest of this entry »