This is my first FanPost, but I'm really excited about the upcoming Shootyhoops season, and I wanted to get out my preliminary optimism for the team. To release some of this energy, I'm going to provide my general outlook for the upcoming season, followed by a short game-by-game analysis for the team's non-conference schedule. Enjoy.
I believe that having Tim Frazier with D.J. Newbill on the court together is going to create a dynamic that's going to catch a lot teams off guard. Jermaine Marshall and Newbill were the highest scoring duo in the B1G last season, despite many times having to just hoist up shots due to a lack of other options. With Frazier back to assume the 1, allowing Newbill to work off the ball more, I expect a much more natural flow to the offense. Factor in the additions of the experienced Roberts, the savvy Woodward, and the potential that Thorpe (and Johnson in the Spring) brings, it is not hard to imagine a backcourt in Happy Valley that rivals any others in the B1G.Frontcourt
Now traveling from letter G to F on the roster gets a little more interesting. However, I'm not nearly as pessimistic as many others are with the lack of expectations for the Lions' frontcourt. I'm a firm believer in the idea that players can show more growth between their freshmen and sophomore seasons than at any other point in their collegiate careers. Our primary frontcourt contributors are going to be rising sophomores: Brandon Taylor and Donovan Jack. Aside from being able to get their bodies in better shape, these guys will have a year of NCAA, and more importantly, B1G play under their belts. I expect Taylor to stay out of foul trouble now, where I chalked it up to being a freshman last season. I expect them to not throw the ball away, or find themselves out of position, and this will translate to better play on the court. The shooting ability of these two also will create matchup problems that some teams will not have an answer for. On nights when the longer shots from Taylor and Jack fall, it's hard to imagine teams being able to stop this offense.
Ross Travis had a somewhat disappointing level of growth heading into his sophomore season, but all reports suggest he is ready to assume the role of leader on this team this season. That bodes well, as what our frontcourt lacks in size, we CAN make up in that junkyard dog mentality that many other teams have utilized. I'll take pure hustle over pure size any day, and watching this team play, I truly believe that they hustle more than any other team in the conference. It's great to think that our talent might be catching up to our level of hustle. Any contributions from Julian Moore and/or Payton Banks will be welcome, but I do not see lofty expectations from them being necessary for us to compete night in and night out. The loss of Sasa Borovnjak hurts our depth, but he was never an elite B1G forward. He showed great growth over the run of last season, but there's no reason to believe that those same levels of growth can't be realized by the forwards growing up on the roster this season.Chambers
Apart from Frazier, this truly is Chambers' team. I'm sure he realizes this, and will have every incentive to earn the greatest results he possibly can. Any excuse that DeChellis players not matching with his system can no longer apply, and this added level of pressure I believe will create a passion and dedication that is truly inspiring.Game-by-Game Breakdown
Now we can look ahead to the actual games of the upcoming season. I'm no expert, but I've followed PSU hoops for a while, and while these projections are not the ideal course the beginning of the season could take, it is a realistic approach that I've adopted.Non-Conference
v. Wagner-This game is going to be tough. They finished runner-up in the NEC last season, and have very little roster turnover. They are almost the unanimous preseason selection to win the NEC this year. They don't often schedule high major opponents, but two years ago they knocked off Pitt on the road. Couple these factors with this being our first game, so there will probably be some kinks we need to work through. Our team has experience, but also a lot of players who have yet to face high levels of competition while on the court with one another. This is not an NAIA team, and I expect them to jump on us early. I envision us being down at the half, but making a nice push to end the first 20. That comeback will continue into the 2nd half and we'll manage to pull away late at the FT stripe. Result: W 65-59 1-0
v. Bucknell-Bucknell is coming off a fantastic season, that included a respectable showing against Butler in the NCAA tournament. Bucknell knocked off Purdue in their first game last season, and came up 3 points short in Happy Valley a few games later. They won the Patriot League, and won it handily. However, despite the return of Preseason All Patriot League guard Cameron Ayers, there is a fair amount of turnover on this season's team. This includes the loss of star forward, Mike Muscala, and these losses may be too much for the Bison to overcome. Only projected to finish fourth this season in the Patriot, I expect Penn State to meet a young team that is going to take a while to figure out how to gel and how to score, and as such PSU wins this one comfortably. Result: W 71-56 2-0
@ Penn-Looking at Penn's 9-22 record from last season, one might reasonably expect a cupcake type victory for the Nittany Lions in this game at the infamous Palestra. Not so fast. Last year's Quaker team had horrible luck with injuries. A number of freshmen were thrust into roles last season because of injuries that they might otherwise not have seen, and many rose to the occasion. Couple these experienced sophomores, with a solid, and now healthy returning core of starters, as well as a talented freshmen class, and this Quaker team is surely going to pose a threat to this year's tournament. Projected to finish 2nd in the Ivy League, UPenn is not a team to be taken lightly. That being said, I see PSU rising to the occasion of playing in the Palestra against a UPenn team that is going to take some time to develop a cohesiveness that they lost due to injuries last season. A close game at the half, Penn State gathers itself and runs away in the 2nd half. Result W 78-66 3-0
v. LaSalle-Alright, so the way I see it, is this game is going to represent gut-check time. Can we take a big old smack in the mouth and come back fighting? If any of you are like me, I enjoyed watching LaSalle make a deep run all the way to the Sweet 16 last year. Perhaps presenting a model to emulate, this team attacks and attacks and attacks, throwing up lots of points in the process with a guard heavy offense. They're returning 4 starters, including Preseason All A-10 first teamer Tyreek Duren. Losing leading scorer Ramon Galloway will hurt, but Tyrone Garland is sure to fill in capably, to go along with a deep bench. The Explorers are projected to finish third in the incredibly deep A-10 conference, but a conference championship would be a surprise to no one. This matchup is going to be our guards versus their guards, in an offensive slugfest. The question that remains is: Can we keep up? This team is a projected 8 seed in next year's tourney, and I think their explosiveness as well as experience is too much for the Nittany Lions to handle. We end up scoring some points, but not enough to keep it close in our first loss of the season. Result L 92-77 3-1
v. Longwood-Fortunately for Penn State, they have one of their easiest non-conference games after the showdown with LaSalle. There's not much to say about Longwood. They finished last season with an 8-25 record. They are projected to finish 11th in the 12 team Big South Conference, which is not known for producing much other than 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Barring a complete breakdown in confidence following the loss I see Penn State looking to get back on track and leading early, and winning big. Result W 82-50 4-1
v. Monmouth-More of the same here folks. Perhaps this is some heady scheduling by Chambers, trying to build the team's confidence both after a loss and leading up to the Barclay's Classic. Monmouth finished 10-21 last season in another sub-par mid major conference, the MAAC. That coupled with the fact that Monmouth is projected to finish dead last in this season's preseason MAAC poll, and there's not much reason to look any further than that. Perhaps there is a small danger of overlooking this team, as we plan ahead for the Johnnies, but I doubt it is possible to overlook them so greatly to threaten the outcome of this one. Result W 71-55 5-1
v. St. Johns*-Here we will see if the cupcake games leading up to this game will build our confidence or set us up to be overwhelmed by the undoubted increase in talent we'll face in St. Johns. Unfortunately for Penn State, we were probably unlucky in drawing St. Johns considering their talent coupled with it being a quasi-home game for them at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. This team underperformed greatly last season, and wound up in the NIT. Despite this, St. Johns is returning virtually everyone. This team was loaded with freshmen last season, and they're all back, including Big East Rookie of the Year, Jakarr Sampson. He's an All Big East First teamer along with playmaker D'Angelo Harrison. This team is projected to finish 5th in the preseason Big East poll, but they did receive two first place votes, as well as consideration for the preseason Top 25 poll. 5th I think is a gross underestimation for this team. Despite this, I expect Penn State to come to play in this game. What St. Johns undoubtedly possesses in talent, I believe they are lacking in maturity and leadership. I expect the bright lights of Barclays to get to the Johnnies, and them to come out disorganized and out of sorts. Contrarily, I expect the leadership of Frazier to rise to the forefront in this game, and for him to guide Penn State to an early lead that extends into the half. The entire second half however, I expect PSU to be on the defensive, and I anticipate this being one of the closest and most exciting finishes to a game we have all season. In the end, I see this being a coinflip, but taking the optimistic approach that I am: Result W 72-71 6-1
v. TBD*-I will not spend the time anticipating who this matchup will be, however I expect and hope it will be Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. As much as I hate the guy, he can ball. Regardless of whom we play, I expect us to come out slow, coming down from such a thrilling game. Given that our opponent is likely to be talented, I do not expect us to recover enough in the second half, and we will lose handily. My scores are based on the opponent, so I will omit it here. Result L ?-? 6-2
@ Pitt-Boy am I looking forward to this one. As a current law student at Pitt, and having grown up in the Pittsburgh area, I anticipate getting a ticket in the student section, and cheering my loudest for the Nittany Lions as they take on Pitt in the B1G/ACC Challenge. First and foremost, it's a really good thing that Stephen Adams declared for the NBA after just one year at Pitt, because I fear he would have feasted on the glass against us. Couple that with the loss of two key contributors to transferring and having super senior Third Team All Big East guard Tray Woodall graduate, and I see a Pitt team that is quite vulnerable. They are bringing in more new players than they have returning ones, and this turnover is likely to take some time to develop. Pitt does present a formidable frontcourt even without Adams, in upperclassman Lamar Patterson and Senior Talib Zanna. I see Pitt as having the serious frontcourt advantage, but I think Penn State gets the nod in the backcourt. Sophomore guard James Robinson is talented, but Pitt lacks experience elsewhere. The question then becomes, can our advantage at Guard offset Pitt's at Forward? I don't think so. What I do think is that PSU keeps it relatively close the whole way through, possibly even sniffing the lead early in the second half. Higher talent, coupled with playing a "rivalry" game at the Zoo will be enough to allow Pitt to escape late despite my raucous cheering. Pitt is projected to finish 6th in their first year in the ACC, which means a tourney birth. Result L 69-61 6-3
v. Marshall-This is a likely recovery game for the Nittany Lions following the trials of the Barclays Classic and the Challenge against Pitt. This Marshall squad finished near the bottom of Conference USA last season, and they're losing four starters from last year. That said, the one returning starter, Elijah Pittman is a highly efficient scoring threat in the Herd's frontcourt. They also have a freshman class coming in that is infused with talent, including former 5-star guard,Chris Thomas. There are some legal and other disciplinary questions addressing this Marshall team, but if they manage to stay out of trouble, they could surprise a number of people this season. All that said, Marshall is only projected to finish 8th in Conference USA, and the combination of off the court troubles with general inexperience should give Penn State a distinct advantage. If all things go Marshall's way up to this point in the season I could imagine a close game, but from a practical standpoint I anticipate Penn State looking to right the ship so to speak in this one, and coming out with a comfortable victory. Result W 80-62 7-3
v. Duquesne*-Duquesne is undergoing a rebuilding project in the biggest of ways starting this season. At the end of last season the Dukes had seven players who all left the program despite remaining year(s) of eligibility. That overhaul left only three players from last year's squad on the team. This may not be the absolute worst of outcomes considering Duquesne was a "cellar-dweller" in the A-10 last season, but it's hard to imagine any different result for their team this coming season. It's not all lost for Duquesne. They do have some talented transfers coming in, foremost of which is Tra'Vaughn White, who averaged 25.9 points per game last season. This game will be taking place at a "neutral site," at the Consol Energy Center (Where the Penguins play), but this is only a short hike from Duquesne's campus. That said, it's hard to imagine many Duquesne students mustering enough excitement to get out for this one. Duquesne is pretty much a unanimous selection to finish at the bottom of the conference again this season, and this could easily be Penn State's biggest victory of the season. Result W 82-48 8-3
v. Princeton-The Nits double up against the Ivy League this season, as they take on the Princeton Tigers to go along with their earlier game against the Quakers. The Quakers were picked to finish second and Princeton is picked to finish fourth, but teams 2-3-4 in that conference really could finish in any order, as Harvard is the clear class of the league. Princeton is coming off of a respectable 17-11 season, but are losing their be-all, do-all player, Ian Hummer. He led the Tigers in pretty much every notable statistical category. With that said, Hummer is really the only player of note that is departing last year's squad. Three of the five projected starters on this year's team will be seniors, so the maturity and leadership should definitely be there. One aspect of Princeton's game that could give PSU trouble is their sheer size (The team's point guard is even 6'5). Aside from this, Princeton's team are very efficient shooters, and given Penn State's struggles guarding the 3-point line, this could present some problems. While I think Penn State is the better team, there always ends up being that one head scratching loss in the non-conference play that hurts this team, and I think this could be it. The Princeton offense ends up being a little too much to handle, and Penn State's offense is stunted by the length of the Tiger's players. With B1G play looming, a slight PSU overlook costs them dearly in a game that PSU will wish they had back come Selection Sunday. Result L 67-61 8-4
v. Mount Saint Mary's-With that wake-up call now in hand, Penn State will surely be itching to release some aggression in their last non-con game of the season. This is another conference double-up as Mt. Saint Mary's is in the NEC just like Wagner. The Mount finished with an 18-14 record last season, but are returning the bulk of last year's squad. This is another efficient shooting squad that could present many of the same problems that Princeton did, which is why I think meeting them right after the Tigers may benefit this PSU team. I expect to see better rotation on defense, and the shots that Princeton was able to hit, will be contested a little better on this night. The Mount also has a 7' footer in Taylor Danaher, but he is an inexperienced sophomore, who I believe PSU will be able to manage and exploit on offense with matchup problems in Taylor and Jack. Mt. Saint Mary's will probably go on a nice run or two, but PSU's talent will win out in the end, and Penn State is going to end non-conference play on a good note. In the NEC preseason poll, The Mount are projected to finish 6th. Result W 82-70 9-4
*-Neutral Site Game
I intended to do the entire Penn State schedule (B1G games included), but this took a long ass time, and being in law school, I don't have THAT much time to spend on personally gratifying tasks like this. Anyways, share your insights or how you think I messed up.