After a few days off here in our B1G Preview series we come back to you with a look at another 2011 NCAA Tournament participant: Penn State. The 2011-12 Nittany Lions will look a lot different, something everyone could see coming since last year's team contained 4 Seniors on it. However, what was unknown was that Ed DeChellis would take off after building this program back to a competitive level. He's off to head up the program at Navy. In steps Pat Chambers, who becomes the Big Ten's youngest Head Coach at 39. Chambers will only have one returning starter back from last year, so who will he build his Penn State team around? Let's dive in to what's ahead, shall we?
Conf. Record/Finish: 9-9 (tie for 4ht)
Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round (64-66 Loss to Temple)
Head Coach: Pat Chambers - 1st season (42-28 overall in 2 seasons at Boston University)
Returning Starters: 1
- Tim Frazier (Junior, Guard); 6.3ppg, 3.9rpg, 5.1apg
Newcomers: Patrick Akerman - 6'11" 230lbs. (Fr., Forward); Peter Alexis - 6'10" 255lbs. (Fr., Forward); Matt Glover 6'4" 210lbs. (So. Guard); Jonathan Graham - 6'8" 240lbs. (RS Fr., Forward); Trey Lewis - 6'1" 175lbs. (Fr., Guard); Ross Travis - 6'6" 220lbs (Fr., Forward); Nick Colella - 6'3" 195lbs. (Jr., Guard); Alan Wisniewski - 6'9" 230lbs. (Fr., Forward)
It was an offseason of change as Penn State lost it's best player in some time, Talor Battle, and 3 others to graduation and then also lost their Head Coach, Ed DeChellis, to Navy. The Nittany Lions went out and hired Pat Chambers from Boston University. He's got huge ties to the Philadelphia area, having been the associate head coach at Villanova and graduating from Philadelphia University himself. Philly has been an area Penn State has been really unsuccessful in recruiting in the past, but are hoping that Chambers' hire changes that and makes them a consistent contender for a top half finish in the Big Ten.
On the court the Nittany Lions are losing 49.2ppg from a team that only averaged 63.1ppg as a whole in 2010-11. Talor Battle's 20.2ppg will really be missed, along with fellow double digit scorer, Jeff Lewis (13.1ppg). Stepping up this year will have to be a backcourt that features the only returning player with proven minutes, Tim Fraizer, who was a 30 minute a game player last year. It will be key for him to step up on the scoring front early on (6.3ppg last year), but he's a proven assist machine and that should help the youngsters that will be asked to play key roles right away. Joining him in the backcourt should be true Freshman Trey Lewis. He is clearly the best player in this year's class, being named the co-Player of the Year in Ohio's Division 1 and the runner up in the voting for Ohio's Mr. Basketball. He's a great combo guard and may take some of the pressure off of Fraizer in terms of being the only playmaker on the court.
Amazingly, the front court could be the deepest and best part of this team. They will really need the twin tower Freshmen duo of Patrick Akerman and Peter Alexis to be forces from the get go. Akerman was a 3 star recruit by Rivals and ranked as the #13 player out of Massachusetts in this recruiting class. Alexis on the other hand may not be a starter, but will be counted on off the bench to give them needed height up front. The biggest help in the frontcourt could actually come from Jonathan Graham who could be a great force at the 4 spot after redshirting last season and putting on 30 pounds while getting experience on the scout team. He was also a 3 star recruit by Rivals in the 2010 class. One player to really keep an eye on in the frontcourt is Sasa Borovnjak. The 6'9" big man is returning to the team after an ACL tear and he does have the most experience of anyone in the frontcourt, playing in 18 games as a Freshman two seasons ago.
Penn State will need to figure out rotations and a starting lineup quick as the non-conference schedule will be a tough one for a young team with a brand new coach as well. They'll need to take care of business in this portion of the schedule to really have any hopes of any type of postseason bids coming their way.
Non-conference Schedule Highlights: 11/16 vs. Long Island, 11/19 vs. Kentucky (Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament), 11/20 vs. USF/Old Dominion (HOF Tip Off Tournament), 11/26 @ Saint Joseph's, 11/30 @Boston College (B1G/ACC Challenge), 12/4 vs. Ole Miss, 12/10 @ Duquesne
This is very challenging set of games, with the key being the Hall of Fame games. The Kentucky game may be punching way above their level right out of the gate, but the South Florida/Old Dominion game could be a great measuring stick for this very young team. Finishing off the slate of hard games with Ole Miss and Duquesne are also smart moves to help see where this team is before playing a few more cupcake games ahead of the conference slate. It will be especially important to learn and grow in the first few months of what is virtually a brand new team with a brand new coach and I think we'll have a decent idea of where this team will be in terms of competing on the Big Ten level with this schedule.
Conference Schedule: Anytime you're playing in a conference like the Big Ten nothing is easy, however the way their schedule plays out it's pretty even overall. After a few hard games to start the slate the Nittany Lions see their best opportunity to make a statement when they play vs. Indiana (1/8), @ Nebraska (1/11), vs. Minnesota (1/15). If they want to reach beyond the basement of the league these games are ones they will need to win. On the other end the toughest part of the schedule comes at the end of January into the beginning of February with games @ Ohio State (1/25), vs. Wisconsin (1/31), @ Iowa (2/4), @ Michigan State (2/8).
It will be interesting to see how fluid this program is becoming even with all the changes for this season. Penn State has never been to back to back NCAA tournaments and will need a strong non-conference showing in order try and get there again this year, but ultimately it will come down to pulling off an upset or two inside Big Ten play, something that I just don't see happening for a team that, along with Illinois, is the youngest in the conference. The difference between Illinois and Penn State? The Illini have a massively better recruiting class. Rather than look at postseason goals I think the more relevant question is will this team be able to reach above .500 for the year? As usual you'll have to wait till the end of this series as I unveil my full record and conference finishes for the B1G.