Basketball season begins on Friday in Happy Valley, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited. There are also plenty of reasons to be concerned, given that misfortune has already befallen Penn State in the form of Sasa Borovnjak's torn ACL that will keep him out of action for the entire 2010-2011 season. Ultimately, Penn State is still an 11-20 team looking to rebound in a tough-as-nails conference. It's not going to be easy, despite whatever good feelings the new season might bring.
5. The Big Ten-While the Big Ten should be more wide open this season thanks to absence of old stars like Evan Turner and Robbie Hummel, the league is very tough top to bottom. There will literally be no off nights. If Penn State isn't careful, it could find itself in another crippling losing streak after last season's 12-game skid to start the conference schedule. Penn State is capable of beating anyone in the conference, but its also capable of losing to anyone if it brings anything less than its best to the table. For a team that's struggled with consistency in the past, this is a daunting reality.
4. Foul Shooting-It's as basic an element as you can get in the game of basketball, but since the departure of Stanley Pringle after 2009-2010, foul shooting has been an adventure for the Nittany Lions. As a team, Penn State shot 70% from the line last season. Not a dreadful number, however, without last season's top free throw shooters Chris Babb (81%) and Bill Edwards (80%) on the roster this year, you have to figure that number could dip significantly, and it could be a big problem. Penn State can't afford to leave points on the floor as last season's narrow losses proved. If the Lions don't hit their free throws, it could be a long year.
3. Perimeter Shooting-Much the same as Chris Babb's contributions will be missed from the foul line, his departure will be felt on perimeter for Penn State as well. Babb was 69-185 or 37% from deep last season, and contributed nearly a third of Penn State's hits from deep. While he was streaky, he was the only guard other than Talor Battle who could regularly hit the three, which in Ed DeChellis's offense probably isn't good news. Penn State will need freshmen Taran Buie and Tre Bowman to make some contributions from the perimeter this season if the Lions are going to get any kind of an inside game going. If they can't help out, defenses will collapse on the Penn State front court, and smother the offense before it can even get going.
2. Thin Front Court-With Borovnjak's injury, Penn State boasts only one scholarship forward taller than 6'8" in 6'10" Andrew Jones. Penn State is notorious for being one of the smaller front courts in the Big Ten, but this season will be especially challenging given that number. Walk-on Alan Wisniewski, who is 6'9", could be a wild card, but don't hold your breath. Penn State has solid rebounding guards, so it might not be total devastation on the glass, but considering most teams will be bigger than Penn State down low, it's hard to see the Lions having an advantage there very often.
1. Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones-Simply put, Penn State will not be able to overcome inconsistent play by this pair. Talor Battle is an All-Big Ten caliber player and Taran Buie may well be the future of the program, but without a lot of depth behind them and three seasons of significant playing time invested in them, it's time for these two to step up and be the players Penn State fans have always hoped they could be. No one is expecting Jamelle Cornley like numbers or anything like that, just consistent scoring and rebounding to supplement Battle and David Jackson. When they offer that, as they did down the stretch last season, Penn State can play with anyone, but when they don't, as they failed to through much of the conference schedule last year, disastrous seasons like 2009-2010 happen. As this pair goes, so goes Penn State.