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Penn State Basketball Preview - Part III

We took a hiatus from the basketball previews to focus on the football game against Ohio State last week. But the season opener is this Friday, so I have to wrap this up fast. Previously we discussed what Penn State has to replace, and what Penn State is returning. So today let's introduce you all to the new faces wearing the Blue and White this season.

35 - F - Billy Oliver - 6'8" 215 lbs

Oliver had hoped to make a contribution last year as a true freshman, but two concussions suffered in short succession during the preseason forced him to put on the redshirt and sit out the 2008-2009 season. Oliver took it as an opportunity to hit the weight room and the training table to bulk up his frame in order to compete right away when he came back. He was successful in adding 20 lbs of solid muscle over the past year.

Here's what the PSU website has to say about his playing style.

A terrific passer with three-point range and strong perimeter skills, the 6-8 forward has also displayed the anticipation and long arms to block shots and grab rebounds around the rim and will compete for playing time at the front line positions.

In high school Oliver lead his team to a 26-7 record his senior year while averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks per game. Oliver had a fight with the flu a few weeks ago, so he's just now getting back into the swing of things. In the exhibition game last Friday he played four minutes scoring three points and a rebound.

Penn State will be looking for Oliver to take some of the minutes vacated by Jamelle Cornley. Though Oliver has a long way to go to replace Cornley's heart and leadership, Penn State would be thrilled if he could contribute 10 minutes per game with five points, five rebounds, and a blocked shot or two.

11 - F - Bill Edwards - 6'6" 235 lbs

At 6'6" and 235 lbs, Edwards entered preseason camp as the most impressive physical specimen of the freshman class. As a senior, Edwards was named the 2009 Ohio Senior Player of the Year after averaging 17.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He was also nominated as a McDonald's All American. Edwards saw considerable recruiting interest from teams like Wake Forest, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Xavier.

Edwards has a big body and a lot of versatility that make him a perfect swingman. He can put the ball on the floor and create a shot, or he can spot up and hit a left handed jumper. Obviously, it's too early to tell at this point, but he sounds a lot like Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley in his size and versatility.

DeChellis had high hopes for Edwards to step in with quality minutes right away in the frontcourt, but a partial tear of Edwards's MCL during a preseason practice session will force him to sit out until mid December. If he can get back into playing shape quickly we may see him, but without the benefit of the out of conference slate to gain some confidence and comfort with the system, it wouldn't surprise me if Ed decides to redshirt Edwards until next year.

21 - F - Sasa Borovnjak - 6'9" 235 lbs

Borovnjak is the latest in the series of the Ed DeChellis European player experiment/obsession. But unlike other European players in the past, Ed didn't have to fly to some small hamlet in battle-torn Serbia to find this kid. Sasa was already having a lot of success on American soil.

Borovnjak played high school ball for Veritas Christian in Fletcher, North Carolina. Veritas plays a national schedule against some of the stiffest competition in the country, and Sasa more than held his own as a star on the team. He's an exceptional low post player, and like most European big guys he doesn't mind dribbling and even shooting an occasional three point shot.

Ed's past European experiment players have been major disappointments. None of them could adjust to the physical style of American basketball and just get shoved around under the basket. But there is hope for Sasa because he's had a few years of high school basketball to adjust by now. His teammates called him "Sushi" when he first arrived in the States because he had never lifted a weight in his life. But his high school coach said he quickly took to the gym and morphed into a very physical player. I particularly like this quote from his coach.

I've been very blessed and had some great players. I had Donnell Mack who is at Memphis now and who was a prolific scorer in high school and a top fifty kid. And I had a 7-foot-2 kid, Catalin Baciuhere, who just finished up his freshman year at Clemson. He was a top fifty kid. But I'm telling you, Sasa scores better than either one of those guys. He can score on anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Sasa showed off that scoring ability last Friday when he recorded ten points to go with four rebounds, one block, and two steals in just 14 minutes of play. If Penn State can count on that level of production from him every night they will have gone a long way toward replacing Jamelle Cornley.

23 - G- Tim Frazier - 6'1" 160 lbs

You may remember me from such movies as...


All the reports on Frazier from preseason observations are the same. He's incredibly quick. Some say he's faster than Stanley Pringle. But DeChellis has been stressing that he doesn't know how to control that speed yet.

Tim is trying to go fast, and I think his speed will benefit him if he slows down some and then goes fast. He hasn't figured out that he can gear down and then when everybody is in his mode then he can go to the next level because he has a whole other gear. You can't always throw a fastball. You can throw an off-speed pitch and that is what we are trying to get him to understand. It doesn't always have to be 100 miles an hour. Go 80 and then go 100 and then you seem to go faster. The change of speeds is something he is going to have to figure out.

This is a typical adjustment for freshmen. They're used to high school where they can just blow past everyone. Try to do that in the Big Ten and more often than not you will dribble the ball off your knee or foot. So expect to see a few rookie mistakes, but you should also see flashes of amazing athletic ability like the video above.

Look for Frazier to play a lot of minutes this year. In the exhibition game he played 19 minutes and finished with four points (on a not-so-impressive 1-for-6 shooting) and five assists. His contribution will be critical in order to keep Battle's minutes down. Even if Frazier can just bring the ball up the court and get the offense started it will be a huge weight off of Battle allowing him to focus more on scoring and getting his teammates involved.

3 - G - Jermaine Marshall - 6'4" 190 lbs

Penn State is hoping they found a diamond in the rough with Marshall. A knee injury in his junior year of high school forced him to miss his senior year and fly under the radar, though he was seeing some minor interest from Temple and St. Joe's. ESPN graded him extremely high when they evaluated him as a 16 and 17 year-old before his injury.

Marshall's high school coach describes him as a highly versatile player. In high school he played all five positions on the floor, which also shows he's an unselfish player willing to do whatever was needed to win. His coach also raves about his vision on the floor and ability to anticipate things before they happen. He's very good at creating shots for himself and  his teammates.

Here's what you won...

Due to his high school knee injury, Marshall hasn't played a lot of competitive basketball in recent years. So he may need some extra time to adjust to the college game. In the exhibition game last week he scored three points on his only shot, but only saw six minutes of play which suggests to me that Ed may have plans to redshirt him. The other factor at play here is that Penn State has just one scholarship player coming in next year in Taran Buie. Ed may want to space the scholarships out some so he doesn't have four one year and just one the next.

So those are the new faces. Before the opener on Friday I'm still going to try to get out one more preview post. In that edition we'll put it all together, look at the schedule, and I'll give you my prediction for where I see this team going this season.