1. How will Penn State cope with the loss of D.J. Newbill?
Bill DiFilippo: It has to be a replacement by committee. In terms of scoring, it's fair to assume that Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor will probably be relied on more at the start of the year while the staff will hope that a guy like Josh Reaves eventually develops into a consistent threat with some more seasoning. The biggest issue, in my opinion, will be replacing Newbill's leadership. Who is going to be the guy that the team rallies around when things get tough, the guy who gets the ball in his hands with the game on the line and is told "don't let the moment get to you"? I think that's Garner. I can also see Jordan Dickerson as an under-the-radar guy who becomes a leader for this squad.
Dan Smith: There's no way to replace a player who is relied upon like that unless you have someone on your roster who has been building up to that or a player who makes a massive leap. Newbill was building it up to it in Tim Frazier's final year, but there is no one on the roster quite like that this time around. It would require someone like Shep Garner taking a major leap, much like Frazier did in his first year post-Talor Battle and crew. I don't envision any one player taking that kind of step. It's not a bad thing from a team building perspective, but it's going to hurt you in the short-term win column.
Eli Moreta-Feliz: The loss of DJ Newbill is one that will sting for most of the season. We all know how important Newbill was to the offense. You don't easily replace that kind of talent, leadership, and heart. So, how will Penn State cope with the loss of one of its best players ever? By doing something they haven't done since Chambers arrived at Penn State. Chambers will need to move away from funneling the offense through one or two guys, and start sharing the ball. One silver lining of losing a guy that's on the floor for 39 minutes a game is that it gives the team an opportunity to have more guys splitting those minutes. With that comes more balance. One of the issues the team ran into as the season progressed last year is that Newbill was getting increasingly tired, but he still got the ball to end most games. Teams quickly learned to simply mob Newbill, and after a while it starting having an effect in the form of many turnovers that put winnable games out of reach.
Penn State has two capable scorers in Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner, a promising freshman in Josh Reaves, and a respectable supporting cast around them. If Chambers is able to get the team to stop playing hero ball and start passing, communicating, and looking for the open shots, this team has a chance to turn more of those close losses around.
Eric Gibson: It will simply be a whole new team. Totally different offense with new sets and not nearly as many ball screens. With increased size and length, hopefully they can cause more deflections/blocks/steals that lead to transition offense. They reportedly hit 12 three-pointers in a scrimmage with Seton Hall, so maybe some of the younger players are capable longe-range threats? No matter what though, they will definitely miss DJ when the shot clock is under 5 seconds. Those possessions could be ugly.
Chad Markulics: It will be a challenge for Chambers, no doubt. Losing someone like D.J. has to hurt both on and off the court, but these growing pains are necessary in order to move away from the inefficient ball screen offense that Eric described. Still, points could be hard to come by early on as only Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner have proven capable of scoring in chunks in the B1G. I'm also interested to see how the team's philosophy changes with regards to the shot clock; will an uptempo style - say around 70 possessions per game - be the best way forward for this program without that go-to guy on offense? We could very well find out against VMI on Saturday.
Tim Aydin: Obviously, there will need to be multiple guys who pick up the scoring slack. You won't be able to fully replace Newbill's production, but if Shep Garner and Josh Reaves for example, can become consistent scorers, it will help to mitigate this issue. It sure would help too, if a consistent three-point threat develops. Davis Zemgulis supposedly is one of those three-point threats and Isaiah Washington also sounds like he might possess this capability, as well.
2. Pat Chambers brought in a three-man recruiting class - Josh Reaves, Mike Watkins, and Davis Zemgulis - which will make the biggest impact in year one?
Bill: Without a doubt it's Reaves. Mike Watkins seems like he'll get some run, but he still needs a lot of development on the offensive side of the ball. Davis Zemgulis can shoot, but he needs to become better at almost everything else. I think the order of "biggest impact" is Reaves, Zemgulis, Watkins. Reaves is a good defender who can shoot, and with some polish, can be this team's go-to guy by the end of the year. There is always a role on basketball teams for shooters, plus there are minutes to be had at the wing, so I think Zemgulis can get some serious run at times. Watkins is going to be really, really good, but with the logjam in the team's frontcourt, I think time could be tough for him to come by.
Dan: Reaves went to Oak Hill, which is a school that will get you as prepared for big time college basketball as any. Watkins finished his career at single-A level Phelps School and Zemgulis is relatively new to American basketball. Those paths have left them considerably less prepared. Factor in the fact that Reaves may well be the most talented player of the three anyway, and the fact that there are holes to fill on the wing, and it's obvious that Reaves will be the biggest factor.
Eli: This is actually harder than I thought it would be. Ideally all three guys would be eased into the lineup and have their minutes increase as the season progresses. I think Deividas Zemgulis will have the least minutes of the three to start, simply due to the type of role he was recruited to fulfill for the team. Watkins is next, as big men take a little longer to get acclimated to college ball, especially in the Big Ten. That leaves us with Josh Reaves. He's somebody who could start from day one, so based on time on the floor alone, he'd end up having the biggest impact. However, I wouldn't sleep on the other two.
Eric: This is obviously Reaves. He's all-but-guaranteed to start from day one. I think everyone is really excited to see him on the floor and for good reason. The consummate unselfish player, Reaves will likely be a fan favorite from the beginning. He plays extremely hard and prides himself on defense. Whatever the team needs him to do, he's willing to do it. Unfortunately three-point shooting is not his forte, but don't forget, he can do stuff like this.
Chad: I asked a dumb question. Reaves is clearly the answer here, as my colleagues have said. His leadership and competitive drive could make him a great one in Happy Valley and I would expect to see some of that this year.
Tim:Pat Chambers brought in a three-man recruiting class - Josh Reaves, Mike Watkins, and Davis Zemgulis - which will make the biggest impact in year one? Look for Reaves to make the most immediate impact, as he will likely be starting from game one due to his athleticism and skill set. He and Shep Garner will make for a dynamite backcourt. Watkins will get his share of playing time but it will be coming off the bench, and he may take a little longer to acclimate to the college game. If Davis can provide some consistent three-point shooting (which is something this program has always lacked since Pat has been the coach), he will certainly carve out a spot for himself in the rotation.
3. Which returning player do you expect to make the biggest jump in production from last year?
Bill: How about Devin Foster? When we saw him last year, we saw an ultra-composed guard who almost always made the smart decision, whether it was to pull the ball out, dish it to a teammate, or drive to the basket. If he gets more playing time and become a more confident scorer, I think he can be in for a really nice senior year. Sure, he won't be the next Chris Paul or anything, but I think he can play, and I think he'll get a chance to show that to other people this year.
Dan: Maybe I'm hoping for this more than predicting it, but I'll say Julian Moore. There are minutes available down low, with a lot of names but a lot of question marks. Moore has flashed a higher ceiling than any of the other big men on the roster the last couple of years, and if he can find some consistency with his ability he should be a regular in the rotation.
Eli: This is a tie between Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor. I believe they'll be tasked with replacing Newbill's production, and I wouldn't be surprised if they both end up having around 15 points per game for most of the season. Now, you could have a situation where one of the guys who played less minutes makes the biggest jump by virtue of being on the floor more. My two candidates for that scenario would be Julian Moore and Devin Foster.
Eric: I'm thinking either Julian Moore or Payton Banks. I'll say Moore because he was more impressive last season before he lost all of that weight. Shep's certainly going to improve, but he's not gonna have a Battle-like sophomore year (aka first team all-big ten). I think Moore and Banks could get from 15-25 minutes a game this season, and I look forward to seeing what they'll produce in the offense. Devin Foster's in consideration here, as well.
Chad: If Julian Moore can regain his mojo from the game against Illinois in Champaign last January (10 points on 4-7 shooting and four boards in 22 minutes) before he fell ill, he could very well emerge from the pack of big men and play himself into a starting role. He'll certainly be a key member of the roster for the next three seasons considering the lack of big men beyond this season, and the sooner he can fill those shoes the better.
Tim:Julian Moore was starting to come into his own towards the end of last season and I think you'll see a continuation of that. If he can make the big leap forward in rebounding and scoring production, it will take a huge load off the backcourt's hands. Devin Foster, after seeing significant playing time in the latter half of the B1G slate, should also see his minutes and impact continue to increase now that he's gotten comfortable with the D1 level of play. At this point, you're hoping Foster can keep the point guard seat nice and toasty for when Tone Carr arrives in 2016.
4. What is your prediction for Penn State's record (31 games) and where will they finish in the B1G?
Bill: To answer the second part of this, above Rutgers. As long as Penn State does that, I'm happy. For an overall record, that's a bit difficult, but I think the Nittany Lions win three games – one against RU, one against a team like Nebraska, and one that they have zero business winning – in the conference for a 3-13 conference record. Throw that on top of a 8-5 conference record, and I think 11-20 this year. Yes, I am purposely setting the bar low because I think I would have more fun that way.
Dan: 14-17 (5-13), 12th in the Big Ten.
Eli: Let's start by stating the obvious: I always believe Penn State will have the best season ever always. I always look at the optimistic side of things, and that isn't going to change. My policy is this: the anger/sadness from a loss is temporary, but the expectation and excitement before a game is permanent. I prefer to be happy and expectant and hopeful over being miserable and defeated and jaded. That's who I am. With the rant out of the way, this is how I see it happening: 19-12, 7-11 Big Ten.
This isn't so much a prediction as it is my hope for the season. 12-1 was an amazing OOC record for last season, and while unrealistic, I'm holding for this season as well. We beat every team on the schedule save for SMU, and finish with the same OOC record as last season. As per the Big Ten, I feel like we have a more favorable schedule this season than we did last. Yes, the front part of the schedule is brutal as always, but we finish the season against many teams that we can conceivably beat, especially once our new guys start getting used to Big Ten play. I also think that some of the close games finally start going our way in Big Ten play, which leads to the better Big Ten record. That record puts us on the NIT fringe, and a win against our first opponent in the BTT puts us over the hump.
Eric: I'll say 9-4 non-conference, 5-13 Big Ten for 14-17. That should put them around 12th. If that's the case, they'll beat either a Rutgers or Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament and finish 15-18. Just pray to the bus that we make it through January alive. I do not want to consider any scenarios that doesn't include a win on 01/05/16.
Chad: I've gone back and forth on this a little bit. The non-conference slate could be rougher than people think - a 1-2 start with games against DePaul and Duquesne is a very real possibility. However, I do expect them to grow as the season progresses, culminating in a somewhat manageable February, or at least as manageable as a month's worth of games gets in this conference. I'll go with 8-5 in non-conference and five B1G wins, so 13-18 overall. I'll also agree with Eric's prediction that they pull off a win in the conference tournament "play-in" game. Last year five wins was good for 12th in the B1G, and that seems about right here considering where Rutgers, Minnesota, Nebraska, and maybe even Northwestern (now without Vic Law for the year) are in relation to the Nittany Lions.
Tim:I foresee another 4-14 finish in B1G play, especially since they only play Rutgers once. Too many question marks at this point for me to feel confident calling for an increase in wins over last year's B1G campaign. Given that I'm predicting a 10-3 mark in non-conference play, that would put this team at 14-17 overall heading into the B1G tournament. Better days are ahead for this program, though, so it's not like this kind of a record would bother me all that much.