It's the time of year of which every college basketball fan dreams. Selection Sunday is over. Bloggers are breaking down their round one opponents. Even the office secretary who hasn't watched a game all season and probably won't watch one minute of March Madness is filling out her bracket.
But not Penn State basketball fans. We're back in that all too familiar position of sitting around and watching the action from the couch. While other teams dream of trying on the glass slipper and making a run, we're left to wonder what we did to deserve 12 game losing streaks and what Penn State has to do to turn things around. There probably won't be any good Penn State basketball or football coverage for the next few weeks as everyone goes March Madness ga ga, so to fill the void, we humbly offer up this depressing version of the BSD roundtable with myself, RUTS, and For The Glory.
What was missing from the team this year that made them so bad?
RUTS: A dependable scoring option when things got tight at the end of games. Whenever Penn State was in a close game, everyone in the arena knew Talor Battle would be the guy taking shots. Opposing teams clamped down on Battle, daring him to rely on his teammates. More often than not, Battle forced up difficult, low-percentage shots and failed.
FTG: The perimeter defense was a sore spot that never healed. The Lions simply gave up too many wide open deep jumpers that Big Ten guards don't miss. Neither the zone, nor the man sets consistently rotated well enough to keep other teams from sticking threes when they needed them. Taking the three point line out of play can cover for a lot of other problems but conversely, if you struggle guarding it, it can make other problems worse, and that's what happened to Penn State in 2010.
Mike: I think this team really lacked leadership. We missed Jamelle Cornley's inside presence, but I think they missed his leadership more. He was the guy that would single out a teammate and correct him when he missed his assignment. He was the guy that pumped up his teammates in the huddle demanding they do their job. This team didn't have a guy like that. Battle was the team captain, and the team feeds off of his moods, but he didn't show me he can really lead the team and give them direction. I think the late season turnaround came more from guys like Jackson, Brooks, and Jones realizing they were playing like crap and deciding they didn't want to play like crap anymore.
Who is the most important player to next year's team making a run at the NCAA tournament?
FTG: Jeff Brooks. He has the tools to do anything he wants on the floor, yet in his time at Penn State, he's never been able to establish a bread-and-butter element in his game that he can rely on when he's struggling. He's shown life in the post and from mid to long range, but he's not consistently good at anything, and that's why he can disappear for games at a time. If Penn State is going to succeed in 2011, he needs to establish some kind of identity as a scorer.
Mike: I agree with FTG here. I think it has to be Jeff Brooks. Ed loves those versatile swing men like Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley who can post up a guard or take a forward off the dribble. Brooks really came on at the end of the season. We used to see flashes of his amazing athletic ability once every three games. This past month is seemed more like three times per game. Next year they need him to be a serious scoring threat and a commanding presence on the glass.
RUTS: Andrew Jones. This team goes absolutely nowhere if he doesn't play well. His improved play in last year's NIT was a big reason for the team's success because it took some of the pressure off Jamelle Cornley, Talor Battle, and Stanley Pringle. If there's no threat near the basket, those other guys don't have as much room to operate. Sasa Borovnjak's minutes increased throughout the season, but he's still not physically ready to be a low-post threat of any sort. Jones has to step up in a big way if Penn State is going to make a run at an NCAA berth.
Come back for Part II of the roundtable tomorrow.