Today marks the official start of basketball season. Real practices are finally allowed and the Nittany Lions can begin working out as a team with no on-court restrictions. Around the country, many elite programs will hold their Midnight Madness events (PSU's will be in two weeks) to celebrate the start of the season, while PSU will be busting their tails in the gym.
When we last left this team, they were finishing last in the Big Ten after what was assuredly going to be a struggle all year. A new era of gritty basketball was established, but the Lions' youth doomed the season from the get-go. They did manage to claw their way to four Big Ten victories, which some called a successful campaign, but they also went winless on the road in-conference and lost a total of 13 games by double-digit margins.
There was a lot of turnover among the players at the end of the year, as a few guys decided the new era wasn't what they signed up for. But Chambers was able to bring in his first recruiting class to replace the departures, and PSU will have four new players on the floor. The new guys along with the improved returners offer optimism for a better, more competitive season,
Heading into the year, the obvious area for team improvement lies in their shooting. Last year's team was among the worst in Division-1 basketball in eFG%. Not only did they struggle to score inside, but there was no reliable three-point threat (31.1% as a team from 3). If PSU is to improve at all, the first step would be increasing their efficiency in scoring the basketball. With a new, dynamic guard in DJ Newbill on the floor who can take some pressure off of Tim Frazier, and a more confident Jermaine Marshall, the backcourt is expected to improve in both efficiency and production. They might not be the best backcourt in the country, but they will be one of the better units in the Big Ten.
What will really determine the fate of this team is the development of sophomores Jon Graham and Ross Travis. Graham has chiseled himself down to 225 lbs, and the word is he's moving better than ever. Travis surely has worked to improve his shooting outside of 8 feet, so he can become that fourth guard on the floor that can also mix it up inside on both ends of the floor. Don't forget about redshirt junior Sasa Borovnjak, who is back to 100%. If Sasa has figured it out on the defensive end, expect to see the Serbian and his low-post craftiness on the floor more often.
Expectations aren't terribly high, but the optimism around the program is still flowing. The Big Ten looks incredibly tough yet again, so a large move in the standings seems overzealous, but a few more wins, a few less bad losses, and a postseason appearance in the NIT would be nice step forward in year two for Pat Chambers' rebuilding project.
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