If you don't know anything about Penn State men's basketball, we've got you covered. The long layoff between games for Wisconsin gives us some extra time to preview Saturday's road game against the Nittany Lions.
Eric from Raise the Curtains -- the "tempo-free Penn State basketball blog" -- allowed us to run him through the wringer to help everyone get to know the Lions better. He also sets me straight on Penn State point guard Tim Frazier.
B5Q: A month ago, you proclaimed "The End of the DeChellis Era" after Penn State lost to Maine. But Ed DeChellis seems to have righted the ship lately. What has been the key difference between then and now?
Eric: I don't know if anyone really has an answer. Ed's coaching style has left a lot of freedom up to the players, so it really comes down to seniors starting to play like seniors. Also, the common achilles' heel of Ed's teams has always been defense. In all of this teams' losses so far, with the exception of Maryland, they have given up at least 1.15 PPP to the opponent. So they have been defending better, even though they gave up 1.21 and 1.19 PPP to OSU and Purdue, respectively.
B5Q: According to Ken Pomeroy, Penn State has played one of the toughest schedules in the country thus far. Two big wins over Michigan State and Illinois were followed by heartbreak against Ohio State and Purdue. Is there a renewed enthusiasm about this team's ceiling or did the last few games diffuse that excitement?
Eric: There's definitely renewed enthusiasm, even with the heartbreak losses. I mean, we are Penn State ... we don't go into the elite teams' gyms and scare the crap out of them. There's no need to go look up the conference road record of this program because it's pitiful. I thought they did enough to deserve to win both of those games, especially at Purdue. But in reality, they lost down the wire to two first team All-Americans. I don't think there's too much shame in that. I really don't believe in moral victories but those games I thought displayed a rebirth of this team for the rest of the season.
B5Q: Have the Penn State big men finally turned a corner?
Eric: Man, I sure hope so. Jeff Brooks has undergone quite the transformation. He's gone from one of the most underachieving, frustrating players to an All-Big Ten talent in one year (16.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.1 BPG in 8 conference games). David Jackson has always been decent, but he's found some consistency and showed up big time against Purdue with some clutch 3's down the stretch. Andrew Jones has been the weak link. If there is one guy responsible for PSU's new life, I'd say it's him. The guy has put up some invisible statlines (14 min - 0 pts, 2 rebs against Michigan's frontline), but he has really turned it on since that game. He's never developed any back-to-the-basket repertoire, but he's doing what this team needs him to do. Bust his butt on the boards and be able to finish second chance opportunities. He's also gained some new found confidence in his jumper and has been able to hit that 15-footer the last 5 games. We've seen glimpses from Drew before though, so a 5 game hotstreak doesn't eliminate his lackluster performance for most of his career. We're just hoping he keeps it up and doesn't disappear again.
B5Q: Talor Battle has been the identity of this team for awhile now. He remains capable of the incredible, but also capable of shooting his team out of a game. What can you tell us about his development over the past four years? Has Battle lived up to the early expectations or have fans had to recalibrate and accept him for what he is -- perhaps the greatest scorer in school history?
Eric: Like I said, Ed has quite a long leash with a lot of his players, especially guys he can trust like Battle. It was the same with Claxton and Cornley before him. You just gotta take the good with the bad, because for every poor shot Talor shoots, he makes a crucial 30 footer. Certainly frustrating to watch but he's bailed them out too many times to not let him shoot. And when he gets hot....he can take over any game. As far as his development, he's grown very strong that he can make some crafty moves in the lane. He's also on a hotstreak at the foul line (82% in conference play). That's been probably the most annoying part of his game for how often he gets to the line. But I would say most of the fan base loves the guy and are rooting like mad for him to get a chance in the Big Dance. Little unknown tidbit - Talor and Jimmer Fredette were on the same AAU team.
B5Q: From what I have seen of sophomore Tim Frazier personally (and from looking at his shooting percentage), he is trying to be "Battle-Lite." Taran Buie also appears to be of the same build and playing style as Battle, as does 2011 recruit Trey Lewis. Will the Nittany Lions try to recapture the Battle magic with every guard recruit from now on?
Eric: Not too sure what you've seen from Tim to compare to him to Talor. Tim is not, and will never be, anywhere near the scorer Talor is. But Tim seems to really be hitting that stride where the game slows down for a young player. He's a pure point guard, very unselfish and always looking to pass. Unfortunately, his jumper is awful, and it has really hindered his game. He's very quick and has a great handle, but people play so far off him it's hard for him to penetrate. Buie and Trey Lewis, though, are scorers, and we did have a commitment from Trey Burke (now a UM commit) who was of the same mold. Battle was in DeChellis' fourth recruiting class and was the first PG recruit of Ed's (why Claxton's career was wasted), so he seems to have become the example for DeChellis to prospective recruits. If they're anything like Talor, it's fine by me.
B5Q: Who guards Jordan Taylor on Saturday?
Eric: Tim Frazier. Like I've mentioned, Tim is unselfish and probably our most motivated defender. However, we've been successfully mixing in a lot of zone lately, so I'm sure that'll be showcased this Saturday, too. I just hope they can keep Taylor from scoring the last 15 points of the game, or whatever it was the last time we've played.
B5Q: A lot of hype accompanied freshman Taran Buie's arrival in State College this fall. Being the half-brother of Talor Battle raises the pressure enough already, but it has been a terribly rocky road for Buie on and off the court, culminating in his indefinite suspension earlier this season. As a result, the Lions have virtually no production off the bench. What is Buie's status and when (if ever) do you think he will return to the court for Penn State?
Eric: The Buie situation has been bizarre and frustrating. I've heard nothing concrete but various rumors about his suspension, and we've been hearing these type of rumors about him ever since his family moved here in the summer of 2009. His senior year of high school was nothing but trouble, and now apparently it has continued into college. His status with the program is a complete mystery to me. I will say I don't think he'll be back this season, and that gut-feeling was unofficially confirmed today in this article. All I know is he hadn't been the world-beater everyone hyped him to be on the court when he did play. I feel bad for Talor, though, because they're very close and he's been talking about how great it would be playing with his brother for a while now.
B5Q: What's it going to take for Penn State to beat Wisconsin?
Eric: That's the million dollar question. Ed's never done it, and that chokejob at the Kohl Center year just reinforces the thought that they're never gonna beat the Badgers. I feel like the biggest problem PSU has against Wisconsin is they never stay disciplined on defense. The swing offense is worked to perfection against them. They'll guard everyone for 28 seconds and then have some pitiful breakdown that leads to an easy shot. I think this year's matchup has got some great matchups, though. Taylor/Battle, Leuer/Brooks, hell it might come down to Nankivil/Jones. I think it's a pretty even draw in many areas - I don't expect many turnovers, or any kind of rebounding edge for either team. Nor do I think either team is going to get to the line. It's gonna come down to shooting and the edge goes to Wisconsin because they'll get the better shots. PSU is either going to have to be hot or really make it tough for the Badgers.
B5Q: Going back to our first question, is this really the last chance for Ed DeChellis at Penn State?
Eric: I'm pretty sure I can speak for the entire fan base at this point and say I freakin hope so. I don't think people outside of the program truly realize how experienced this team is. Jackson and Jones are 5th year seniors, while Brooks is also a senior, and they've all been logging major minutes since freshmen year. Considering how the short the bench is right now, next year's team is essentially going to be starting over (while the rest of the conference just reloads). If you can't make the NCAA tournament with a player like Battle in 4 years, what on earth is it going to take? Everyone has an NCAA or bust measuring stick, but we also dread the AD feels differently. This year is already better than last year's, so we're afraid we'll be fed BS about the improvement of the program. These next 6 games will decide our fate, though. We've just escaped our gauntlet, and now we have a chance to win all of our next 6. Our RPI and SOS #'s will put us in the picture, despite losing to Maine. The bubble seems very weak right now so we're thinking a 10-8 conference record will get us there. I just hope an NIT berth doesn't lead to a contract extension for DeChellis.