March 31, 2011

PSU Basketball 2011-12: We've Been Here Before

Open your eyes, Tim. Because
it's about to get real, and you're right
in the center of it all next season.
(Photo: CDT)
*This is the last of three posts that will wrap-up the 2010-2011 basketball season and take a look at the state of the program. The 1st/2nd posts can be found here and here

Penn State does not regularly make the NCAA tournament, as evidenced by their 4 appearances in 46 years. Before this season, the last time this program made it was 10 years ago behind the backs of a group of battered but determined seniors, trying to salvage their careers with an NCAA berth. Everyone uses this fact to be quick to compare this year's team to that 00-01 squad. There are just two similarities between the two teams that I can come up with:
  1. Each team had a talented, experienced senior class that was responsible for the majority of the production. Joe Crispin and Talor Battle were commanding guards that could light up the baskets after a single shot. Jeff Brooks and Gyasi Cline-Heard had surprise senior years. No one on this year's team compares to Titus Ivory, but DJ and AJ had their moments offensively and were underrated defensively.
  2. Each team was led by unpopular head coaches among fans - Jerry Dunn and Ed DeChellis. Both were unpopular for their teams' poor performances. Dunn, for the amount of choking and sporadic play his teams endured and DeChellis, for well, pretty much the same damn thing. Both seemed incapable coaches, who were just riding their star players in hopes to keep their jobs. 
These two simple facts has already led to the widespread assumption that an inevitable implosion will occur within the basketball program. DeChellis will finish last place in the Big Ten the next 2 seasons and then will finally be fired. While I won't flat out disagree with this opinion, I don't think it's a sure thing, despite the eery similarities between the numbers:

What's Gone2001-20022011-2012
% Minutes
% Points
% Rebounds

All this means to me is that next year's squad is going to be made up of entirely new DNA, as is most of the Big Ten. The class of 2007, which has dominated the All-Big Ten accolades the last 4 years, is moving on and taking an incredible amount of talent and experience with it. Penn State just happens to be losing the most.

This is easily going to be Ed's toughest year yet. Penn State, without a doubt, looks like the weakest team in the Big Ten next year, regardless of whether Taran Buie returns or not. Now granted, only having like 8 scholarship players and having assistant coaches as scout players is undoubtedly a tougher position to be in. But next year's Penn State squad has to remain competitive if this program wants to build up some sort of relevance in the college basketball world. We all witnessed what can happen after an atrocious year (see: 2009-2010).

The bottomline is no one knows what to expect from next year's Lions. There's only one proven, quality player thrown together with a bunch of unheralded recruits. But here's a few things I like about next year's squad:
  1. I love the fact that Tim Frazier is going to be the unquestioned leader. I think he's going to be great and flourish in this role. 
  2. I like the size and balance of the roster right now, assuming these guys can play a little bit. That remains to be seen. But a lot of versatile lineups can be assembled. The trick will be finding which ones work. 
  3. I like the fact that all of these guys are committed to the coach (something that was missing under Dunn) and the program. The current 2011 class was all signed in the fall period, meaning the staff isn't scrambling among slim-pickings for multiple impact players. Hopefully all of these guys will contribute more with their scholarship than the Sky Kings and Joonas Suotamos did. 
No, I don't know who's going to score, who's going to rebound, who's going to defend, etc. on next year's team. I'm sure DeChellis doesn't know either. I think some potential candidates for scorers are Jermaine Marshall, who clearly has shown plenty of self-confidence, and a bulkier Jonathan Graham, who has been getting glowing reports from the coaches, local media, and practice observers. Sasa Borovnjak was a huge scorer in high school, but I'm not sure if his apparent finesse game is going to cut it at this level (plus he has that whole ACL thing to recover from). Trey Lewis can scorch the nets, but he'll be a true frosh. I'm also interested to see what Camm Woodyard will do with his new opportunity at playing time. If he can earn a starting spot, will he be a more productive scorer? He never really was given a consistent chance to be that sharpshooter off the bench. 

And no, I don't know what to expect from the four true freshmen. Unless Pat Ackerman gains 20 pounds in the next 8 months, I'd have to think he'll redshirt. I'm not really excited about Peter Alexis for next year because of the HUGE step up in competition he will face. Ross Travis seems to have the size and athleticism, so he could be a factor. I'm curious to see what happens with Trey Lewis, who I think will be the best of the bunch. Since I don't foresee Frazier playing anything less than 35 mpg, will Trey earn enough trust from the coaches to go with a Tim/Trey backcourt for stretches? 

As of now, I'm not expecting much of anything next year in terms of postseason. But I'm intrigued how all of these questions will be answered (or not). Penn State could very well fall flat on their faces and nobody would be surprised. It sure looks like the odds are in favor of that happening, but I think it's a little foolish to assume that's how it's all going to go down. Just ask VCU and Butler.

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  1. I like how you note the one glaring difference between now and 10 years ago, which is the fact there isn't a revolving transfer door decimating the roster (mainly due to the players not liking Dunn). Say what you want about his record, but DeChellis has done a good job of creating a 'family' type atmosphere within the program and making sure that he has players who want to be at PSU.

  2. Chris Babb and Bill Edwards transferred after last season. Babb was pretty decent.

  3. Next year scares me, but not like it did during the latter Dunn years. Like Tim said in his comment, and Eric illustrated in the post, DeChellis has created a positive atmosphere, and all the players who are in Happy Valley are pretty happy to play for him.

  4. Edwards was clearly a kid who never had his mind made up coming out of HS, IMO. He literally signed with PSU out of the blue on the last day of the spring signing period. Then balled his eyes out, looking like a kid who was just relieved it was all over. He should've stayed close to home, which is where he went back to.

    Babb's story will always be a mystery to me. But he was well-liked and accepted by the team. I'm not sure if there were coach-player issues with him, but we'll just never know.

    Under Dunn, we had players tampering with hotel smoke alarms, because they were trying to hide their marijuana addiction. We had constant rumblings about how practices were way too demanding. Jon Crispin transferred simply because he couldn't stand Dunn. It was a much, much worse situation.