The players who thrive on the dirty work--rebounding, defense, and hustle--are often overlooked. Ross Travis certainly fits that mold. The 6'6 forward was Penn State's leading rebounder, and finished fourth in the Big Ten, all while matching up against (and usually slowing down) the opponent's top offensive threat. But Travis was also a source of maddening frustration last year, particularly whenever he lined up for a jump shot.
Ross' numbers tell the story of the strengths and weaknesses in his game as well as anything else I'll write. Clearly, Travis is one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten, but beyond put-backs and tip-ins, there's not much else to his offensive game. Despite logging healthy minutes in his sophomore year, he only used a small percentage of possessions within the offense, and was very inefficient when he did get touches. His numbers were even worse in conference play, although he did finish strong down the stretch with 9.1 PPG in his last 7 games. Hopefully Travis can find his niche in the offense next year that finds him doing work down low instead of spotting up from the perimeter, considering that with the return of Newbill, Marshall, and Frazier, Penn State will have enough scoring from outside without needing Travis to take a single jumper.
Travis is listed at just 6-6, but his terrific length, athleticism, and motor allow him to defend anyone on the floor--more often than not, the opponent's top scorer. In Penn State's shocking upset win over Michigan, a banged-up Travis stuck with Trey Burke throughout the second half, and denied and hassled the best player in the country as the Lions erased a double digit deficit. Travis doesn't have the most active hands, or block all that many shots, but he sticks with his man and denies the ball about as well as anybody who's worn a Penn State jersey in recent memory.
In that Michigan game, we also saw the Ross Travis who emerges often enough to give us hope that maybe, someday, that'll be the real him. That Ross Travis is a rebounding dynamo who thrives offensively doing the dirty work--put-backs of offensive rebounds, who can finish in transition, or through the body checks of opposing big men. It's a Ross Travis we saw more of down the stretch, as he posted three of his five double-doubles in the last seven games. The exemplary work on the boards was a consistent positive from Travis all season long, but the offense was, at best, spotty and inconsistent.
The only person who watches a Nittany Lion basketball game and thinks a Ross Travis jump shot is a good idea is Ross Travis. You almost have to admire his confidence, though--most 12% three point shooters would just stop jacking up threes, but Travis put up 40 last season. His ineptitude extended inside the arc, though--Travis shot under 37% on the season, a number dragged down by Travis' incessant attempts to develop a midrange jumper.
Obviously, it's the Michigan game. 15 points (4-9 FG), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 0 turnovers.
After struggling to contain Trey Burke for most of the game, Chambers made the decision to put Travis on him, and Burke was promptly denied a field goal over the last 8 minutes. Travis was as active as we'd ever seen on defense, picking up a career-high 4 steals. But Travis' offense was almost as crucial to Penn State's comeback. Travis poured in a season best 15 points, and the 66% free throw shooter went 7 of 9 from the line. He was a whirling dervish of energy--hauling in twelve rebounds--and was even well-integrated in the offense--as he dished out four assists. Much of the focus after that game rightly went to Jermaine Marshall, and his hot shooting, but Travis was just as integral.
On a team led by offensively-minded guards, Ross Travis will play a crucial role. As Penn State's best defensive player, and as one of just three returning forwards with any real experience, Travis will be asked to log big minutes on a team with real postseason aspirations for the first time in the Pat Chambers era. If he can finally add some offensive tools to his already-deep menagerie of versatility, Travis could play a crucial role on a team that contends for the NCAA tournament.
Final Grade: B
Travis had a fine sophomore season in most respects, but his offense really needs to take a step forward. Really, it's probably as easy as just not taking so many jump shots (or taking a Jeff Brooks-like leap forward in that regard). Penn State was a hideous shooting team last year because it's bigs just could not score. As a terrifying matter of fact, Travis' 35.1% shooting percentage was actually better than either of the other returning forwards. Somehow, that says more about Jon Graham than it does Travis.