The last time Penn State took advantage of the NCAA rule allowing teams to travel overseas to compete against foreign opposition in the preseason was five years ago, in the summer of 2008. If your memory fails you, that was the Talor Battle and Jamelle Cornely-led group that won a school-record 27 games as well as the NIT championship. Correlation does not equal causation, of course, but there's a reason Pat Chambers decided to take this team across the pond, and it has little to do with the sightseeing. When teams take a preseason trip, the NCAA rules allow for ten practices before the tour. Those ten practices, and the international exhibition games, are incredibly valuable for any team, especially one that's bringing in six newcomers and has high hopes of reaching the postseason.
The Nittany Lions won two of their three games in Europe, though wins and losses aren't really the takeaway from the trip. As Chambers said before the trip, his main focuses were on building chemistry and gauging the health of Tim Frazier. Since trying to analyze the former from players' Instagram photos would be an incredible waste of time, let's get it out of the way first.
Sweatpants are one of the most recognizable signs of good chemistry. (via drew_jones87)
Freshmen wearing matching shirts at lunch! You know who dresses in that style? Twins dress in that style. Twins have excellent chemistry. Some twins even claim to have telepathic powers. Good for chemistry IMO (via drew_jones87)
Pensive portraits! I'm guessing a teammate operated Graham Woodward's phone for this, in which case it makes for a good chemistry-building activity. (via gwoodward_3)
Okay, that's out of the way. On to the important stuff.
Frazier's Achilles injury, suffered last November in a game against Akron, took eight months to fully heal, according to the team's training staff. There's no substitute for live gameplay, and this trip was Frazier's chance to really test out the rehabilitated ankle in a game situation. Thankfully, the Achilles held up wonderfully and the all-B1G point guard looked like himself again on the court, averaging over 15 ppg in three contests, putting up 26 against St. Jan.
(You can see highlights and interviews from the games against Okapi Aalstar, St. Jan, and Binnenland here).
As this was the first look at the 2013-14 edition of the Nittany Lions, there were plenty of interesting little tidbits to take away from the three games. Here are some quick thoughts:
- If you watch the highlights of the 94-88 loss to St. Jan, in which Penn State nearly staged a late comeback, you'll see sophomore Donovon Jack knocking down a three pointer and Chambers subsequently discussing the forward's ability to connect from range. For a multitude of reasons, we didn't see a whole lot of Jack last season. If I recall correctly, he only took one or two jumpshots in the entirety of his scant playing time; this is a new aspect of his game, at least to those on the outside of the program looking in. If Jack can make the open perimeter shot with some consistency, it could give Chambers the option of playing a three-forward set despite the depth Penn State possesses at guard.
- Speaking of three-forward sets, Chambers used just one starting lineup for all three games: Frazier, and D.J. Newbill at guard, with Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor, and Jack up front. While that group may or may not be the starting five come November, Chambers certainly took the opportunity to test it out.
- Ross Travis had a very impressive tour, averaging 15 ppg over the three games. Rebounding totals were unavailable against Okapi and Binnenland, but the junior tallied 11 boards to go with his 19 points and four steals against St. Jan. Also, check this out: they kept track of fouls drawn as an official stat, and Travis tied with Frazier for the team lead with seven. Good looks, St. Jan.
- This was the first opportunity to get a look at the four freshmen, and for the most part they did not disappoint. Graham Woodward recorded the most impressive single game, leading the team with 18 points against Okapi. Thorpe was perhaps the most consistent, averaging just over eight per contest and registering a +17 efficiency rating despite a five-turnover performance against St. Jan. Stringbean forward Julian Moore scored ten against Okapi in his best outing of the tour. California import Payton Banks didn't see much action over the first two games but made the most of his third chance, racking up 15 against Binnenland. As of right now, Thorpe and Woodward seem the most ready to make an immediate impact.
- If you're wondering how the transfers played, I have some bad news. John Johnson, who enrolled at Penn State last January, and Jordan Dickerson, who enrolled this summer, were ineligible for the preseason tour. Only the players who will be eligible for the upcoming semester were able to participate in the practices and make the trip. It's not too much of an issue for Dickerson, who won't play this season, but it is slightly concerning for Johnson, who will make his debut in Blue and White on December 22nd, the game before the start of the Big Ten campaign. He'll be able to practice the next time the entire team does during the official preseason, as will Dickerson. Allen Roberts, the graduate transfer from Miami (OH), was eligible to travel and play. He averaged 8 ppg on the trip.
- Don't get used to the high scoring games just yet--international (FIBA) rules were in effect. That meant a 24-second shot clock, trapezoidal lanes, legal goaltending (once the ball hits the rim, it's fair game), etc. The level of competition wasn't necessarily comparable to Big Ten hoops, at least against Okapi and Binnenland; despite their status as professional clubs, Okapi trotted out a youth team consisting of 17-19 year olds, and I mean no disrespect to Dutch basketball, but Binnenland plays in a division below a league whose third leading scorer is Michigan product Zack Novak. So, grain of salt and all that stuff.
Obviously, there was a lot more that happened last week, especially off the court, so if there's anything that wasn't covered that you would like to discuss, say, this malicious hit-piece, feel free to bring it up in the comments. Here's the trip's official blog if you need a reference point.
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