Of all the teams that finished 9-9 and middle of the road in the Big Ten, the only one that believed they were having a magical season was the Penn State Nittany Lions. That’s no slight on Penn State, quite the opposite in fact, for a team that regularly struggles in basketball. Unfortunately the struggles may continue unabated for some time to come.
At the end of the season, as Lions fans were already reeling about the prospect of losing production from four of their top five scorers to graduation, head coach Ed Dechellis bailed on Penn State to accept the head coaching job at Navy. Thus, not only did the team lose 1652 out of 2144 points scored last season (77.1%), they also lost the coach that made it all possible. To be honest, Dechellis probably saw the writing on the wall this coming season and decided to spare himself the trouble. It’s pretty hard to reload after those kinds of losses.
It’s all up to new head coach Patrick (Pat) Chambers, fresh from his shiny job at Boston University. Chambers coached for two years for the Terriers, netting a 42-28 overall record, and 23-9 record in the America East Conference. In his last year at Boston, the Terriers won their conference tournament and went to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. He will face a much steeper climb in the Big Ten with the Lions, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the task.
The Nittany Lions played lights out basketball behind senior guard Talor Battle. Battle led the Lions to a 19-15 overall record, 7-4 in the preseason, en route to an NCAA tournament berth and first round exit in a tough two point loss to Temple. During the course, Penn State managed upset wins over then #19 Michigan State, then #16 Illinois and a pair of wins over Wisconsin – including that 36-33 slap-fight in the Big Ten Tournament. The Lions also managed to close losses at Ohio State (69-66), at Purdue (63-63), and against Michigan (65-62).
At the end of the season, the Lions blitzed through the Big Ten tournament by beating Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan State before falling to the Buckeyes in the Championship game. It was an impressive display by a senior-laden team that was playing by sheer will and desire, with a healthy dose of experience and skill to make it all click.
There’s only one answer to this question for this Nittany Lion team. Tim Frazier, the only remaining member of the top five Lion’s scorers, will be one of the few upper classmen on this team. It is imperative that Frazier take over as the emotional leader for this young team, as well as taking over for Talor Battle’s departed production on the court.
If Frazier can be the go-to guy for the Nits this season, then things won’t be quite as bad as they seem at the moment. Unfortunately, one player does not make a team, and Penn State will need other players to step up and help out in a significant way if they want to continue their upward climb in the conference.
Hat-tip to Happy Valley Ball for the stats.
New Player to Keep an Eye on:
Sophomore shooting guard Matt Glover, a junior college transfer from California, is being looked upon as a potential starter for this team. He already possesses the physical strength to compete in the Big Ten, and at 6’4” and 200 pounds he will be a size mismatch for many players at the two position. In junior college, he shot a blistering 48% from the field. That kind of shooting will go a long way towards helping Penn State get over the loss of Talor Battle this year.
Big Games on the Schedule:
The Nits have a couple of excellent road battles planned for this season. One of those is against Atlantic 10 foe Saint Josephs, a typically talented basketball team. They also play at Boston College in this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge in a game that will certainly be worth watching.
The biggest game on the schedule, though, is a Neutral site game in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament against the Kentucky Wildcats. This is a fantastic learning experience for the young Nittany Lions, and certainly a game the players are excited about playing. Obviously Penn State will not be favored in that game, nor even be likely to pull off the upset against the talented Wildcats, but it will be a stepping stone on the path towards improving this team.
Outlook for this Season:
This will be a tough one for the Nittany Lions. They are unlikely to be favored often in the early season, and may, in fact, enter the Big Ten season with a losing record. Unfortunately, there are simply too many unknowns with this team. One of the biggest is the lack of experience in coach Pat Chambers. He has only been a head coach for two previous seasons at Boston, and while he’s clearly a very good coach, he hasn’t been often tested at the top levels of competition.
He also has to struggle with a team gutted from graduation. If he had come in last season things would have been much better for Penn State, but he basically has to put this team together from scratch. This entire season hinges on how well he can organize this team into fighting form.
Where They’ll Finish:
Even if Pat Chambers can put this team together, I can’t see them doing well in conference play. With so few established options, and so little returning production, the Nits will find themselves losing far more than they win this year, particularly in conference play. It seems almost unkind to state explicitly, but expect the Lions to end up at the very bottom of the conference this season.
That said, don’t be surprised if they pull off a big upset or two. If they manage that, it will be a good sign for the future of the program, and a great sign for Pat Chambers career with the Blue and White.