It was mid-February when Penn State had dropped their third straight game with a 47-61 defeat against Purdue. Talor Battle was held scoreless for the third time in his career. Jamelle Cornley had 16 points, but nobody else stepped up. Through much of the season Penn State was depending on Stanley Pringle, Talor Battle, and Jamelle Cornley to do the bulk of the scoring. If one or two of those three guys failed to score in double digits, it pretty much meant Penn State lost. Even during the thrill of the hunt for the NCAA tournament, I couldn't help thinking next year would be a major drop off when Cornley and Pringle are gone. But as the season wore on, some of the role players began to come around. Late season injuries to Battle and Cornley forced many role players to step up their games, and by the time the NIT came to an end, Andrew Jones, David Jackson, Jeff Brooks, and Chris Babb were playing their best basketball of the season, giving us hope that maybe next year won't be so bad after all. Let's look at each member of the team returning next year. We'll discuss what they need to focus on during the summer and take an overall look at what the team will look like.
The 2009-2010 Nittany Lions will undoubtedly be Talor Battle's team. Without the emotional Jamelle Cornley, the team will take their cues from the fiesty point guard.
It's hard to think of any way Battle could improve his game, but he's certainly not perfect. He was called on to share the load of carrying the team with Pringle and Cornley, but next year he's going to put even more weight on his shoulders. By the midway point in the season, he was visibly gassed and his scoring average dropped considerably. His jump shot also suffered as his legs went soft.
Summer Homework: Battle has to improve his strength and conditioning to better endure the rigors of the Big Ten season. He also needs to work on perfecting his jump shot and foul shooting.
After playing well in the first few games, Jackson went into a major sophomore slump. It got so bad that disaster struck nearly every time he touched the ball. He had simple passes go through his hands out of bounds. Or he would get the ball all alone under the basket and travel. At one point he scored only five points over a ten-game stretch, and against Ohio State he only logged three insignificant minutes of play. It was obvious he confidence was in complete shambles.
But once the Big Ten tournament started, Jackson became a new player. Showing improved confidence and aggressiveness, Jackson scored in double digits four times in seven games and became a lot more aggressive in his rebounding.
Summer Homework: Hit the gym and eat a lot of cheeseburgers. Jackson routinely gives up 30-40 lbs to the guys he's battling inside.
There probably isn't a player on the team as physically gifted as Jeff Brooks, but in two seasons he hasn't been able to put it all together. He shows flashes here and there, but so far he hasn't been able to put two consistent games together back-to-back. At times, he has looked downright horrible in turning the ball over and playing out of control.
Most disheartening with Jeff is his obvious lack of confidence. He beats himself up after every little mistake. At one point in the season the camera zoomed in on his face as he was about to attempt a foul shot. He had a look on his face like a gambler who had lost everything he owned and was betting his last chip on one last desperation spin at the roulette wheel. He knew he was going to miss it, and he did.
Brooks scored his first double digit game against George Mason with 13 points in 29 minutes. After hitting a few shots you could tell his confidence was sky high and his play reflected it. Penn State will need him to be a factor next year.
Summer Homework: Work on the ball handling and cut down on the turnovers. And, I dunno, see a psychologist?
Andrew Jones III
No player showed more improvement this season than Andrew Jones. Something happened midway through the year where his confidence went up and he became a lot more aggressive. At the same time he began playing with control allowing him to stay on the court instead of sitting on the bench in foul trouble. By the time the NIT came around Jones was playing his best basketball of the season. In seven games he scored in double digits four times and registered two double-doubles.
Jones has shown to be deadly with his mid range jumper, and he has developed a nice baby hook shot from the low post. If he can develop a little drop step move or a turnaround fade away shot with his back to the basket...lookout.
Summer Homework: Keep hitting the gym and putting on the muscle. Try to develop a second post up move to compliment the baby hook. Also work on his defense, playing under control to avoid silly fouls and work on becoming a shot blocker.
Babb played well for a kid in his true freshman year. He was obviously lost early in the year and didn't know what he was supposed to be doing on offense. But even then I could tell he was a good defender. He often got out of position as he adjusted to the speed of the game, but when he was asked to guard someone one-on-one, I liked his footwork and hands.
As the season wore on his play and numbers improved. He scored 11 points against George Mason and 13 points against Rhode Island in the NIT. With Stanley Pringle leaving, Babb will competing to be the guy starting with Battle in the backcourt.
Summer Homework: Babb already has a quick release and pretty jump shot. He has to work on his ball handling and defense if he hopes to claim Pringle's spot.
Woodyard showed confidence and aggressiveness from the moment he stepped on the court. Maybe too much so, as he often launched some ill-advised shots. Evidently, Ed became tired of his inability to play within the system, because his minutes diminished as the season wore on, and he didn't log a single minute during the NIT.
Summer Homework: Learn the system, and learn to play within that system. Maybe slim down a bit to pick up some quickness.
Ott had one good game where he scored eight points against Michigan. Other than that he was a disappointment. But Penn State didn't really need Ott to be a scorer. They just needed a big body that could pull down rebounds and provide a big defensive presence in the middle. At times he would show flashes with a key block ro rebound, but then he would give it back by losing his man or giving up position for an easy basket.
Summer Homework: Show up in Lewis Preston's office every day with a roll of tape. Then go out and battle Andrew Jones one-on-one for two hours. Bulk up, play some tough defense, and rebound.
The Other Guys
So let's look at what the team is losing this year. We lose a good inside presence in Cornley. We lose a terrific guard in Pringle who can play defense, shoot the long ball, and drive the hoop and finish. And we lose Morrissey, a non-athletic three-point shooter with poor ball handling skills.
What are we picking up? Tim Frazier supposedly possesses tremendous ball handling skills, so maybe he can replace Pringle's driving ability while Babb replaces his three-point shooting.
By all accounts, Sasa Borovanjak is an excellent low post scorer, so maybe he can eventually replace Cornley in that area. If he can rebound, that would be great.
Billy Oliver is somewhat of a mystery to me. From what I've read and heard about his high school career he likes to work the perimeter on offense which is not ideal in my mind for a guy who is 6'8" tall. But then he also blocked 144 shots his junior year, so maybe he can provide another interior defensive presence.
Jermaine Marshall, I know nothing about. Maybe he's good, or maybe he's not. But I expect he's at least as good as Danny Morrissey.
So overall we lose three bodies, but we pick up four. Sasa and Marshall may redshirt, but I would expect Frazier to play right away. Oliver will take off his redshirt. Babb and Woodyard should be better. Jones has been steadily improving. Jackson seems to be out of his slump. So we lose a lot, but it's not like the crappy years where we're holding tryouts for a walk-on to start at shooting guard in September. There will undoubtedly be a drop-off. You don't replace guys like Pringle and Cornley with freshmen without some decline, but I don't think we'll see a slip back into the basement of the conference.