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Penn State Basketball: What's Expected by the Experts?

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The Nittany Lions start their season with the first official practice today. How does the college basketball world feel Penn State will fare this upcoming season?

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, basketball is finally here. Technically the season started on October 3rd when teams could begin practicing together. But due to the rule changes that still feel new in its second year of existence, Pat Chambers has the flexibility to construct his own preseason regiment. Instead of everybody cramming in 24 practices in 4 weeks, programs are now allowed 30 practices in the six weeks leading up to opening night.

Chambers elected to start his season today, so the Nittany Lions will have 30 practices and 8 off days as they prepare for their first game against Morgan State on November 14.

This marks year four under Pat Chambers, a year many believe could be a tenure-defining season for the unproven head coach. The last time we saw his program, it was in Albany after a brutal loss to Siena in the second round of the irrelevant CBI. It was the final halt to a roller-coaster ride that had plenty of lows (Bucknell, Princeton) with some shocking highs (sweep of Ohio State) that ultimately washed out to a 16-18, 6-12 season.

Many will label the 2013-2014 campaign as a disappointment, and it certainly was in some respects, but steps were undoubtedly taken to bridge the gap between Penn State and the top of the Big Ten. Now, the Lions look to continue their climb out of the Big Ten's basement and into national relevance. Because judging by the projections found in many of college basketball's best preseason magazines, they aren't considered relevant heading into 2015.

Lindy's Sports Athlon Sports Sporting News Blue Ribbon
1. Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin
2. Ohio State Nebraska Michigan State Ohio State
3. Nebraska Michigan State Ohio State Michigan State
4. Minnesota Ohio State Nebraska Michigan
5. Illinois MIchigan Michigan Nebraska
6. Michigan Illinois Iowa Illinois
7. Iowa Iowa Maryland Minnesota
8. Indiana Indiana Illinois Iowa
9. Michigan State Minnesota Minnesota Indiana
10. Maryland Maryland Indiana Maryland
11. Northwestern Penn State Penn State Northwestern
12. Penn State Purdue Purdue Penn State
13. Purdue Northwestern Northwestern Purdue
14. Rutgers Rutgers Rutgers Rutgers

Every preview I've seen so far have the Lions pegged to finish 11th or worse in the Big Ten. That fact is not terribly surprising considering Penn State's recent history. From Joe Crispin to Jamelle Cornley to Talor Battle, historically-speaking, when the face of the Penn State program has graduated, the following year typically has been a struggle. The Nittany Lions are not known as a program with the capability of reloading from year-to-year. With Tim Frazier moving on to a possible NBA career, many expect PSU to suffer without its all-time assists leader.

This isn't an unfair assessment, as PSU doesn't have anyone currently on the roster with the skills that could compare to Frazier, but what the Lions do have is quality depth, size and meaningful experience. They also add 5 new players capable of breaking into the rotation. And they still have that D.J. Newbill fella, who will be much better prepared to run the offense this year with a better supporting cast than in 2013 after Frazier tore his achilles.

They are also playing in a league that will still be regarded as one of the nation's bests, but one that has lost some of its truly elite teams. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State have all undergone substantial overhauls, while the rest of the middle of the pack each have their own uncertainties heading into the year. Only Wisconsin is a true heavyweight on paper, as the Badgers appear to be a serious final four contender. It's a favorable conference landscape for Penn State who could actually have one of the league's better frontcourts this season.

Real GM Basketball's Dan Hanner agrees:

Because of the Big Ten's incredible depth, Penn St. will probably still end up near the bottom of the standings. But this team is much better than most people think. This could be one of those years where Penn St. wins 8 games in the Big Ten and everyone scratches their head about how they unexpectedly ended up on the bubble.

You see a lot of hit-or-miss perspectives from national writers who try to preview all 350+ division-1 teams, and Hanner is no exception. While I'm a big fan of Hanner's work at Real GM, I'm quite confident in saying Geno Thorpe will not be one of PSU's options at PG and Ross Travis does not score at a 'remarkable' rate. But Hanner's preview is the first one I've come across that acknowledges the potential of what PSU returns rather than what it does not. In a league that's as level as the Big Ten (outside of Bucky), the Lions have the look of a team that could surprise this season.