Penn State's 11-20 record in 2009-2010 translates to a 57-105 Major League Baseball season. Ironically, a team Penn State is often compared to, the Pittsburgh Pirates, finished with that very mark in 2010. With that in mind, keep possible improvement by Penn State in perspective. Just as an improvement of 20 or so odd games to approach .500 would be a big gain for the Bucs, an advance of five or six wins by Penn State in a Big Ten that figures to be very tough would be a significant accomplishment. An NIT berth, or less likely, an NCAA tournament berth, would all be icing on the cake. That said, improvement is possible, maybe even probably in some cases, and here are five reasons why.
5. Better Luck-Penn State lost nine games by five points or less last season. Needless to say, a roll here and a call there, and Penn State very well could have been hovering around .500 or better. Ken Pomeroy ranked Penn State the nation's second unluckiest team last season. It's not often regression to the mean is a good thing, but if Penn State can fall back in the rankings to a team with even average luck, 2010-2011 might see at least a couple of those close losses go the other way.
4. Taran Buie-It's hard to know just what to expect from a freshmen when they steps on campus, which is why those who see Buie as Penn State basketball's savior might be a little disappointed early on. However, as one of Penn State's most celebrated prospects in years, few would argue Buie lacks the tools necessary to become a contributor early in his college career. Penn State doesn't have a whole lot of star power behind Buie's big brother Talor Battle, but if there's one player who has the potential to become one, it's Buie. Whether we see that in two games, five games, 10 games, 20 games or throughout the season remains to be seen, but if Penn State improves, look for Taran Buie to be a big reason.
3. The Big Ten-Without saying the league schedule should be taken lightly, the Big Ten should be more open than it was a year ago with game changers like Evan Turner and Robbie Hummel out of the picture. While titls against top dawgs Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State will still be very hard for Penn State to win, at least right now, the window for possible upsets appears more open. New faces could step up and change all that, but right now, you have to like Penn State's chances better than a year ago.
2. Experience/Urgency-Often when you see mid-major teams knock off big powers in the NCAA tournament, veteran leadership and experience are contributing factors. With five seniors, Penn State figures to have a lot more of that this year than last when it didn't have any seniors. Some young players have already talked about the sense of urgency upperclassmen are instilling and others have mentioned the roles veteran players are taken in acclimating their less experienced teammates to the Penn State system. If that continues, it's a good sign for the Lions.
1. Andrew Jones and Jeff Brooks-Over the first three years of their careers, both Brooks and Jones have been targets of a lot of criticism. Though they've shown flashes of brilliance, they've also been plagued by inconsistency. As seniors, those growing pains should be behind them and their maturation process near completion. Whether that plays out remains to be seen, but if the way both carried themselves down the stretch last year is any indication, Penn State could be a lot better of only these two take steps forward from here.