When Sasa Borovjnak chose to leave Penn State a year early, we knew Penn State's frontcourt would be perilously thin. There was the stalwart Ross Travis, but he was the only known commodity. They'd return Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor, but they would be sophomores. The rest of the playing time would have to be cobbled together from freshmen and transfers and walkons and hey, maybe that four-guard lineup that Chambers used at Villanova can work in the Big Ten
As it turned out, this was D.J. Newbill's team and everyone else--Tim Frazier excepting--might as well have been bystanders. Pat Chambers desperately needed someone to step up as a third scoring option, but nobody could put together more than a good week at a time. And like everyone else, Ross Travis had a wildly inconsistent season, one that saw him improve in some areas--especially shot selection--but fail to take a much-needed step forward in his development.
The numbers tell the story of the season: Travis got off to a terrific start but faded, significantly, throughout Big Ten play, to the point where he was replaced in the lineup and glued to the bench down the stretch as Pat Chambers desperately searched for answers. Even the prodigious on-ball defense--we remember him locking down Trey Burke en route to Penn State's upset of Michigan a year ago--seemed to slip. It wasn't all bad: Travis' shooting was greatly improved, as he took far fewer low-percentage jump shots than he did last year, and focusing on his struggles in Big Ten play does a disservice to his play in the early season.
It looked like Travis might be the third scorer this team so desperately needed, but come conference play, he had as many games with two or fewer points as he did double-digit performances. And it's not that he suddenly couldn't buy a bucket, Travis just wasn't a part of the Penn State offense. To be sure, it's harder to clean up weak-side rebounds and drive to the rack against a Big Ten defense than against some of the cupcakes he beat up on in the early season, and it's probably for the best that Travis didn't force things as much as he could have. The problem is that he's still the same Ross Travis he's always been. Last year, I wrote: "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." If Travis could have become a reliable third option, this team might have had a shot at meaningful postseason play. Instead, it cratered early in the Big Ten slate, and seemed to play with a malaise that had been absent in Chambers' first two years. As perhaps the preeminent energy guy on the team, it might be Travis' job to prevent that.
vs. Ole Miss - 37 mins, 17 pts (5-10 FG), 6-10 FT, 13 reb, 0 ast, 3 TOs, 0 blk, 0 stl
There were two games I was debating between, and in each of them, both decided by a possession, Travis missed a pair of free throws down the stretch. He did that in the Princeton game, too, though we've all tried to scrub it from our memories. Perhaps that's Travis in a nutshell: Even when he's at his best, he's not someone you particularly want to rely on in the clutch. Anyway, his play in the Ole Miss game was emblematic of his play in the early season: Banging down low to score on put-backs and lay-ups, snatching up everything on the glass...and failing to fill up the stat sheet much beyond that. Travis' defense has never been the type to rack up steals or blocks, and the offense doesn't exactly run through him to rack up the assists. But someone who plays 30 minutes a game should probably average more than 1.
At this point, we know exactly what we have in Ross Travis, and so it would be silly to expect anything else in his senior year. If Penn State is going to be successful in 2014-15, it'll be because of its guard play; Ross Travis could slide into a sixth-man role behind three guards, Brandon Taylor, and Jack or Dickerson. He's obviously versatile enough to play anywhere in the frontcourt--there have been times where Travis is the largest Lion on the court--and the goal is to become more consistent in that role. Travis doesn't need to average 15 points a game next year, but he needs to chip in 6-10 reliably, rather than disappearing offensively for large swaths of the season. But if he wants to take a Jeff Brooks-sized step up, that would be nice, too.
Final Grade: B-
It's not fair to grade Ross Travis as something he simply isn't. He's not a scorer, he's not even someone who can be counted on to pitch in 8 or 10 points a game. He's a terrific rebounder, a solid defender--if someone who, like the rest of this team, regressed in their energy and intensity through yet another drudgery of a season, and . He became a more efficient offensive player this year, but his struggles through Big Ten play, when the year started to spiral downwards, came at the worst possible time.