1. Penn State begins year four under Pat Chambers on Friday. Do the Nittany Lions need to make the NIT or better to keep Chambers off the hot seat?
Bill DiFilippo: I don't necessarily think so. Of course, it will help a lot, but I *think* the university has to know that he's been killing it in recruiting, and that he is just now going to start putting together a team of 14 guys that will play his style. This team has depth and some talent (obviously not Kentucky talent, but talent), and if it all comes together, this team will be pretty good. Still, there is so much talent coming in via recruiting in this year and next year that he should get a three year extension. Ed DeChellis got eight years and was about to get a ninth before he bolted. Chambers is on year four (you can argue this is really his third year since he was hired in June and didn't get a chance to recruit). I think we can give Pat Chambers six or seven years as he's trying to build a program at a school that has never really had a basketball program. While saying "let's just get Shaka Smart" is nice, do you really think coaches of that caliber want to come to Penn State when they know that they can get a job with team with a much richer hoops history, with almost unlimited resources of that disposal? No. Pat Chambers was on that trajectory. He chose to come try and build a program at Penn State. Have faith in him.
Ryan Stevens: If you would have asked me this question back in May or June, I would have said without a doubt. Then I had to reassess what I think the real goal for Penn State basketball needs to be. I know everyone wants a winner to produce like at Nebraska, a place where basketball doesn't come close to the biggest ticket item. But as Bill mentioned, recruiting and what could come down the line is the focal point here. I can't stress enough how big of an accomplishment it is to at least have a verbal commitment (Reaves) from the most prestigious prep school in the last 15+ years. To keep guys like Reaves and Watkins interested is where the winning comes into play. For this year, the only way I see Chambers getting on the hot seat is if the wheels fall off like last season. If this team finishes over .500, Chambers stays. The only factor that could complicate things is the new AD, Sandy Barbour. A new athletic director likes to put his or her stamp on a program and with the great group of people that are already in place at Penn State as head coaches, this is where Barbour could look to make a change if things don't go well this year.
Nick Polak: I don't think so. Honestly, if the team continues to show improvement and Pat continues to recruit more big time players, I think you keep him around for at least a few more seasons. You have to give him a chance to use these highly recruited guys, not only to give him a chance with big time talent, but to ensure that they do actually end up at Penn State. But if everything burns to the ground, the team fails to show any improvement at all, and they get barely sneak into the CBI again, I could see him getting canned. I suppose having a new athletic director could complicate things if the team has another so-so season, but Sandy doesn't quite seem like the type to drop an ax that quickly. I could be wrong though. If the season goes the way I think it's going to go, she shouldn't have any problems giving Pat a modest extension.
Matt de Bear: I don't think it's NIT or bust for Chambers, given the momentum the program seems to have on the recruiting trail, and the talent that is headed to Happy Valley in the next year or two. What I think we do need to see is continued improvement. Whether anyone acknowledges it or not, the program did take a step forward last year, although maybe not as big as many hoped. If the team stays healthy, I think a few more wins, both in the league and outside the conference, are possible. After that, we will just need to see where the post season chips fall.
Dan Vecellio: Before the commitments of Oak Hill Academy products Josh Reaves and Joe Hampton, I would have said that a trip to the NIT (while being on the NCAA bubble) would have been needed for Pat to keep his job after this season. But, this is Penn State basketball and earning commitments from top prospects at one of the premier basketball institutions in America is nothing to sneeze at. With an influx of talent never before seen coming into the program, I believe that Chambers has another two years before the seat becomes hot again, provided the team doesn't absolutely stink up the BJC this year. (Obligatory #ExtendPat)
Tim Aydin: With the current recruiting class inked, I believe Pat bought himself a couple more years to continue molding the program to his liking. Given that I don't anticipate a step backwards, record-wise, it's a moot point, anyway.
Chad Markulics: It is a little worrisome that Sandy Barbour hasn't given Chambers the contract extension he deserves (at least not publicly), but I think the 2015 class alone has bought him a couple of extra years. There's a buzz around this program for the first time since March of 2011, and there's no reason to put a stop to the momentum. That said, it won't feel like progress if there's another 16-18 season with another half-dozen one-point losses.
2. Which five players do you see getting the most minutes in 2014-15 if everyone stays healthy?
Bill: The most is Newbill, duh. The second most is Brandon Taylor, since he's a sweet angel (and is probably the team's second best player). After that, things are a bit muddled. I really think that Geno Thorpe is going to get a ton of time due to his ability as a defender and the fact that he showed signs of a really nice offensive game last year, so let's say he gets the third most. Give me Ross Travis to get the fourth most because Chambers loves his toughness/rebounding, and Jordan Dickerson fifth because he has the potential to be a really intimidating presence down low as a rebounder/shot blocker if he can stay on the court.
Ryan: Starting 5: C-Dickerson, F-BT, F-Travis, G-Newbill, G-Johnson. If Newbill is available to play, he's going to play at least 34 minutes every game this year. Brandon Taylor will be second because he's a matchup nightmare and can hopefully have that highly-anticipated sophomore to junior leap in stats especially outside shooting. Travis is third because he's a monster on the boards and you know what you're getting out of him every night. I want to see Johnson start because I simply think he's one of the five best players on this team right now and his potential to score at least 20 on any given night is still too much to ignore by starting him on the bench. Dickerson and Johnson, however, have the shortest leashes of playing time because they are replaceable. Johnson is more replaceable than Dickerson because of the plethora of guards (Geno, Shep, Foster, Washington) and you simply can't teach 7'1'' and the rim protection to Donovon Jack.
Nick: DJ, obviously. I like Geno Thorpe to get the bulk of the playing time at the 2, thanks to his defensive prowess and the potential he has as someone who can drive to the bucket at any given moment. Ross Travis will surely be a constant in the starting lineup, if for no other reason than his rebounding. Maybe this is the year he finally starts scoring? If he does, he'll probably virtually never leave the floor. It sounds like Brandon Taylor may see some time at the 3 this season, but he has to be the starting power forward, and will probably see the most minutes out of anyone not named DJ Newbill. Jordan Dickerson gets the most time at center in my PSU Basketball world, not only because he has the potential to become a dominating defender, but because Donovan Jack simply can't be trusted to stay out of foul trouble.
Matt: DJ is obviously going to be tough to get off the floor for more than a few minutes here and there. After that, it would seem likely guys like Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor, barring foul trouble, will be leaned on heavily by Chambers, especially as they can play a couple different spots depending on the situation. I really expect Geno Thorpe to continue his emergence and become a staple as well, especially down the stretch in close games. I'd love to say Donovon Jack, because I think he can really be a difference maker, but it's hard to expect him to stay out of foul trouble, so I'll go with the other big post presence, Jordan Dickerson.
Dan: DJ will log the most time on court this year, that's a given. Right behind him will be Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis. B-Titty is the second-best player on the team and I think this is the year that Travis makes the jump into Jeff Brooks territory. Plus, he has a motor that this team will need on the boards this year. I think Geno Thorpe will edge out John Johnson and Devin Foster (BOLD PREDICTION: Foster takes over main PG duties in January and DJ can move to the two and open up his offense, but still shares time with Geno), especially conference play comes around and a defensive stopper is needed on the court. The last spot is a toss-up between Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson. Limited information from secret scrimmages points towards Dickerson playing a bigger part in the frontcourt, perhaps as a starter, so I'll give the edge to him.
Tim: DJ Newbill obviously will log the most minutes. After that, I anticipate Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor, as those two have been regular starters over the past couple of seasons, and I feel this is the year Ross finally puts it all together and averages 30+ min/game. Jordan Dickerson, now with enough games under his belt, should be logging 20-25 minutes/game at the very least as the team's primary shot-blocker. After that, I'd have to say either Shep Garner or Devin Foster (depending on whether Foster ultimately wins the starting point guard job at some point).
Chad: Newbill and Taylor are locks. After that it's a bit of a mystery. Ross Travis and Flipp Johnson have seniority. Jack is the team's most talented post player. Dickerson is a defensive force, but he may never be able to play more than 20 minutes a game. Geno's defensive qualities will make him tough to bench, but Devin Foster has age over him and could be the point guard to put Newbill back in his natural position. So I guess I'll say Newbill, Taylor, Thorpe, Travis, and Jack.
3. Which player not named "D.J. Newbill" will have the best year and why?
Bill: Geno Thorpe. I think he's going to start with Newbill, which means he will get a fair amount of freedom on offense because teams will key in on Newbill. This will give him the freedom to hopefully expand on his absurd advanced shooting statistics, which if he can extrapolate his eFG% and TS% over an entire game, God help everyone. I also think he's going to draw the opposing team's best perimeter player on defense, which will give him the chance to show off how good he is on that end of the floor (plus, if defense is as important as offense, I think he can possibly end the season as Penn State's two-way player, which is different from being the team's best player, but still).
Ryan: I'm torn on this one because I think Brandon Taylor will have a surge in production, but give me Shep Garner for this. There's a reason Sean Miller, Billy Donovan and Rick Barnes offered this man a scholarship. I think he's a more natural scorer than Geno, who he will be battling with all year for playing time. The biggest thing to teach a kid about playing alongside the best player on the team is to not be passive. Garner looks for shots and to attack the basket while still recognizing Newbill is still top dog. You can't be a sidekick to Newbill when on the floor and be timid to shoot, you have to be a co-pilot and be willing to score the basketball to the same degree Newbill wants to.
Nick: Geno. His style just compliments DJ so well if he can build on last season. His defensive work should catch the eye of most other teams in the Big Ten, and could finally help solve that ever-present problem of opposing teams having the best three point shooting games of their lives against the Lions. The offensive potential is almost exciting as his defensive potential, in my humble opinion. With the amount of attention that DJ will command, and with big men constantly drifting out ever so slightly to follow Taylor to the arc, there should be plenty of space for Thorpe to continue exploiting space in the middle of the paint. Having a guy who can flash to the hoop in a millisecond would be a huge boon to this year's version of the Nittany Lions. If he can continue to grow as a player on both ends of the floor, you're looking at a future all Big Ten-team member, and it should start this season.
Matt: Brandon Taylor. He's shown flashes of his ability over the first two seasons of his career. When he has been able to stay on the court and out of foul trouble, he has been able to contribute on both ends of the floor. With more talent then ever around him this season, I expect him to be able to play with a little less pressure to be "the other scorer."
Dan: Travis. As I said, I think the senior year magic that transformed Jeff Brooks into a legitimate #2 option in 2011 works once again with JYD. Does he overtake Taylor as the second scoring option? Probably not. But his tenacity on the boards, especially the offensive glass, should help him get to double figures in scoring more often than not this year. Put me down for 13 ppg to go along with 9 rpg for the Minne-SO-ta native in 2014-15.
Tim: Shep Garner - Maybe I'm naive to be basing it off of an intrasquad scrimmage, but there is a reason this kid was getting a boatload of hype when PSU got him to sign the dotted line, and he did nothing to disprove it with his performance in the scrimmage. Whether it was running the floor, dishing out assists, or jacking up shots without hesitation, Garner just appeared to play with a level of confidence and swagger that screamed "future starter." Don't be surprised if he does become that future starter before the end of the season.
Chad: Eric's not participating so I'll ride the Donovon Jack bus for him. He's the most fundamentally sound big man Penn State has had in some time and he's got one year of B1G experience under his belt. His listed weight of 210 lbs is still a little concerning, but if he can cut down on the fouls playing the four next to Dickerson he could have a great season.
4. What will Penn State's overall and conference record be at the end of the regular season?
Bill: 18-13 (6-12). The non-con will feature a 12-1 record with a loss in the finals of the Charleston Classic to someone (I'm leaning Miami because Jim Larranaga is an excellent coach). In conference, I think Penn State needs to beat the teams it should beat -- Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana (if the team hasn't burned to the ground by then), Northwestern, maybe Minnesota and Illinois. PSU plays those six teams eight times, if it goes 6-2 in those games, then we're talking about a team that can maybe win 7-9 games in the conference and possibly get to 20 wins on the year. Hell, go 8-0, and this team may go *~dancing~*. I'm a bit pessimistic, because the Big Ten is brutal, so let's say PSU goes 4-4 in those games, pulls two awesome upsets, and goes 6-12 again. Still, 18-13 looks pretty nice on paper, eh?
Ryan: I'm in the minority by saying I like this team, but they have to show me the losing ways are a thing in the past until I can pick them as a 20 win team. Even though I think they could finish 20-11 and potentially be on the NCAA bubble, I'm only saying this will be a 16-15 year finishing around 10th or 11th in the B1G. It's enough to keep Pat around, which is ultimately what this season is about and I hope is the end result, and keeping top recruits from the Philly and Mid-Atlantic areas interested in Penn State. I'm as optimistic about this season as I've ever been!
Nick: Looking at the schedule, I see 16-15 (6-12). I think 10 wins in the non-con schedule is reasonable based on the teams they'll play, and 6 wins in Big Ten play should be the minimum. This leaves plenty of space for the team to shock the basketball world once or twice (that's right Ohio State, it really did happen twice), which they are definitely capable of doing. I'll be really interested to see what kind of effect a winning season would have on the recruiting trail, considering it's already picking up steam and racing down the tracks.
Matt: 18-13 (7-11). On paper, PSU should handle it's non-conference schedule without much of a problem. I do think there's a loss somewhere in the Charleston Classic, and there will be one somewhere else, because there always is. The Big 10 is certainly not as good as a year ago, but the league is still full of quality opposition, and PSU just has too many questions to answer to think there is more than 7 wins on a touch schedule.
Dan: 19-12 (9-9) If the Penn State bench can go 9/10-deep by the time Big Ten conference play rolls around, I think this team will be on the minds of the NCAA Tournament committee through January, February and March. I predict a 10-3 non-conference record with losses to Miami in the Charleston Classic, George Washington and someone we have no business losing to which will have Penn State Twitter calling for Pat Chambers to be shown the door. Getting Rutgers twice, Purdue at home and Northwestern should get Penn State to four conference wins and a few toss-ups along with a couple upset should push the Nittany Lions to nine in the Big Ten. Twenty-plus wins is certainly on the table for this team. Donovon Jack has the capability to be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and John Johnson can come off the bench and pump in double figures at the drop of a hat. Hopefully, Julian Moore will be able to provide 15 minutes of strong bench play at the 4 or 5 each game. I have a feeling that this year is going to be special.
Tim: 19-12 (9-9 in B1G play). Even though 11-2 or even 12-1 may be possible in the non-conference slate, it seems like PSU is contractually obligated to drop at least three of its non-conference games, so I'll say they go 10-3. I truly believe that even despite losing Frazier, this is a deeper, more experienced, and more talented squad than the one that took the floor last year. The frontcourt for once, will not be a source of weakness, as Dickerson, Taylor, Travis, and Donovon Jack (when not in foul trouble) should hold their own, and Julian Moore ought to be able to provide more than a breather for the starters, given that he's packed on the muscle at this point. That, in addition to great guard play should allow PSU to win a few more of those tight contests that they dropped a year ago. Perhaps it's because as a lifelong basketbro, I'm always attempting to delude myself every preseason, in order to justify my fandom, but I get the feeling deep down that this season will be a memorable one.
Chad: I predicted 19 wins on the inaugural BSD Basketbro Show!, and I won't back down now. The non-conference schedule is favorable to say the least and if the right pieces fall into place there are 7-8 games there for the taking. 19-12 (8-10) should be good enough to get them to the NIT, if not on the NCAA bubble. The non-con could come back to bite them in that scenario, but I would take a heartbreaking Selection Sunday in a heartbeat.