Penn State basketball's non-conference slate is over. The team sits at 9-4, which is its best start since the 2008-09 season, when Talor Battle led the Nittany Lions to an NIT title. Not bad.
To honor this, our four basketball, uh, "savants" sat down and answered six questions regarding the team's non-con slate and how it looks going into Big Ten play. Today's questions: 1) What would you grade the team based on its performance during its out of conference performance? 2) Did the team exceed your expectations, fail to meet them, or did they perform as you expected?
1) Pat Chambers gave his team a B or a B- during its out of conference slate. If you were him, what would you grade the team based on its performance during its out of conference slate?
Eric: B. There's plenty of room to improve, but there was also a lot to like so far. Noticeable improvements by the underclassmen have allowed this offensive system to blossom under Chambers. With the exception of the Princeton meltdown, this offense has had little trouble filling up the basket, while being downright unstoppable at times. They've created numerous open looks at the rim and from three, and unlike previous years, they have the confidence to make them with consistency. Obviously the defense has been the disappointment. You expected struggles with their lack of size and experience up front, but I'm more disappointed these guards can't seem to stop opposing guards from getting into the teeth of the defense. The new hand-check rules might be a factor here, but leave it to a true freshman to be the only one on the roster that looks interested in stopping dribble penetration.
Tim: B-. While this team hung with all the big boys on its schedule, it only managed to pull out a win against St John's and that was after blowing a commanding second half lead which lead to OT. Ole Miss and Pitt were other grand opportunities to notch a quality win over a likely NCAA tournament team but they just couldn't get the stops or buckets in crunch time in order to get over the hump. The minus on the B of course, is for the losses to Bucknell and Princeton. 9-4 record.
Chad: Record wise, I would have to give Penn State a B-. They lost what were a couple of winnable games in Bucknell and Princeton, and it would've been a major boost to their postseason hopes had they beaten Ole Miss or Pitt. But as far as what I done seen with my eyeballs, I'm inclined to hand out a B+ grade, especially considering what transpired last season. It's nothing short of a whole new team out there, and I don't think Pat Chambers gets enough credit for turning one of major college basketball's worst offensive teams into one of the B1G's better attacks.
Bill: B+. The one thing that stands between Penn State and an 11-2 record is the inability to close out games. If the team didn't fall asleep against Princeton and if Ole Miss didn't get rewarded with that bullshit foul against Marshall Henderson, Penn State is 11-2, and we're talking about this team making the tournament without much of a second guess. Hell, if the refs in the Pitt game weren't brutal and if Bucknell didn't have one of the best shooting nights in college hoops this year, both of those are winnable. Penn State is better than its record shows, and while the conference slate will be brutal, it showed during its first half of the year that this is much better than the usual Penn State squad.
Has the team exceeded your expectations halfway through the year? Failed to reach them? Has it performed exactly how you expected?
Eric: There was too many unknown quantities coming into this year for me to have any real sense of expectation for this team. Overall, they're meeting mine by exceeding in some areas while struggling in others. But there's clear potential among this group, which is all anyone could really ask for at this point. There's too much youth outside of the backcourt duo to rely on this team to make a significant leap in the best league in the country. But the ship is heading in the right direction, they now have two new toys to incorporate into the team, and the problem areas can still be fixed in time. While it's disappointing this team isn't 10-3 or 11-2, the on-court product as been worth watching, which isn't something that could be said the last two seasons.
Tim: My minimum expectations were 9-4 for the non-conference slate, and they technically met those expectations. However, given who half those losses were to, it's highly disappointing they aren't 11-2 right now going into the Big Ten slate (oh, what could've been).
Performance-wise, Ross Travis' newfound confidence was a very pleasant surprise, not to mention Donovon Jack's ability to hold his own. The up-tempo style of play and ability to rack up points is also a welcome change, even if the defense is terribly lacking.
Chad: My expectations were probably too high to begin with, but I do think the talent and confidence is there to make a run at an NCAA berth. So thus far, they've met my expectations.
Bill: Record wise, the team hasn't met mine -- I expected them to be 10-3 -- but individually, all of my expectations have been exceeded. Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor, and Donovon Jack have all improved so much that the team's frontcourt is much better than I could have anticipated. The bench goes 11 deep, and that includes John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson. D.J. Newbill has been a monster, and you can argue that Tim Frazier has been one of the ten best players in America. It's a mixed bag, and that's perfectly ok.
On Monday: Who is the team's MVP through 13 games, and who needs to step up in Big Ten play?