A scheduling oddity takes Wisconsin on the road for its first and only meeting with a Big Ten foe twice in the final eight days of the regular season. First up is Penn State on Sunday, followed by Nebraska one week later in the season finale.
The pesky Lions (14-14, 5-10 Big Ten) have played surprisingly well in defeat against the Badgers over the past two seasons, losing by just three (the Trae-bomb game) and six points at the Bryce Jordan Center. Led by a dynamic backcourt of leading scorer D.J. Newbill and senior Tim Frazier, what Penn State lacks most of all seems to be consistency. The Nittany Lions no longer have the element of surprise in their favor, either, after dismantling Ohio State on Thursday.
Going up against the second-worst defense in the conference, Wisconsin (23-5, 10-5) will look to continue shooting well. The Badgers have not shot worse than 46 percent from the field since the Michigan State game and appear to have all their weapons dialed in after an excellent offensive finish against Indiana.
We invited Tim Aydin from Black Shoe Diaries to round out our knowledge of the Nittany Lions.
B5Q: Obviously beating the Buckeyes a second time was huge for the Nittany Lions. The common thread in the two wins appeared to be the scoring of D.J. Newbill and winning the rebounding battle. Why hasn't this formula worked more often? Does Penn State just match up particularly well with Ohio State?
Black Shoe Diaries (Tim): Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. It seemed like after that disastrous 0-6 start, that PSU had finally figured things out after a 3-game win streak following it. At times, this team looks like it's capable of competing against almost anybody, perhaps no better illustrated than by pulling off the improbable sweep of OSU and the perhaps even more improbable 11-point rally with 2:53 left at Indiana. They go on to follow up such improbable wins with losses at home to Illinois (whom ironically enough, swept PSU this year).
B5Q: How would you describe Pat Chamber's philosophy on offense? What are Penn State's strengths on that side of the ball?
BSD: Chambers favors a motion offense with an 'attack the basket first' mentality. It hasn't always worked out as he'd liked, of course, but that seems to be the style of play more often than not. Offensively, you obviously have Frazier and Newbill, both of whom are capable of taking it to the basket (especially Frazier and his patented 'teardrop' which he used to upset Indiana on the road a couple of weeks ago), but Brandon Taylor at times has shown the ability to stroke it from three-point range, as has freshman guard Graham Woodward. Ross Travis and Donovon Jack are also capable of quietly putting up decent scoring numbers some nights. The issue with this team has been consistency on offense, outside of Frazier and Newbill. If a third capable scorer doesn't emerge to help out, then PSU tends to find itself in deep trouble.
B5Q: After beating OSU, Chambers already has secured his best record in three seasons at the helm. Is the incremental progress he's made enough to justify his continued employment? I see a number of decent building blocks (Newbill, Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor, Geno Thorpe) on the roster heading into next season. What will the expectations be like?
BSD: Obviously, losing Frazier will hurt, no matter what. Thankfully, the impact of his departure has a chance to be minimized by the fact that all the other key players you just mentioned will be returning for another year. Next year, there is no question that it will be DJ's team, and it will be his job to run the show (even if he won't be running the point full time) as a senior leader and leader of the backcourt. Really, next year's success will all depend on how well the young'uns (Woodward, Thorpe, Jack, Taylor, Dickerson, John Johnson, etc.) develop. Having some known commodities up front in Jack and Dickerson going into next year is certainly a welcome sight compared to this past off season, when the fan base was wondering who was going to man the post.
As for expectations next year, I think it's reasonable to say that a winning record is an absolute must, as is some kind of postseason berth (be it NIT or NCAA).
B5Q: With that said, I recently wondered if former head coach Ed DeChellis might have been smarter than we thought. Though he bizarrely left after guiding his second-best Penn State team to a Big Ten Tournament title game appearance and the school's only NCAA bid of the last decade, he left on his own terms. Do you think DeChellis knew the kind of rebuilding effort that was about to unfold and just didn't want any part of it? He happened to escape just before the Sandusky scandal exploded and a drought of basketball talent that probably would have gotten him fired. In retrospect, have any of your feelings about his departure changed?
BSD: I think you hit the nail on the head: Ed got out of Happy Valley before the AD did it for him. It's been a few years, so a lot of folks may have forgotten that Ed was on a very hot seat going into the Big Ten Tournament that year. Had PSU failed to make the NCAA tourney that year in fact, Ed would've likely been dismissed. Given how senior-laden that 2010-11 team was, Ed saw the writing on the wall and bolted at the first opportunity that awaited him, in the Navy job. I really think it worked out best for both parties, as Ed is in a spot where he has solid job security and Pat provided a shot in the arm to the PSU program for a pure marketing standpoint (obviously, the on-court results are a work in progress at the moment).
B5Q: Talk a bit about Penn State's big men this year. I have always really liked Travis' game and Taylor seems to be a nice player who likes to shoot the three a little too much. Then you have Donovon Jack and a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Jordan Dickerson. This could be a tough group to handle next season if they put together some offense. What kind of threat do they pose collectively? Still a year away?
BSD: Collectively, you have some solid rebounding (especially from Travis), and believe it or not, a blocking presences Jack and Dickerson. Dickerson especially, has been instrumental in finally filling a role that had been vacant since Calvin Booth graduated in the late 90's (shot-blocker who can alter opponent's shots in the paint). Taylor isn't much of a post-up guy, rather one who has a perimeter game. Ideally, I'd like to see continued development in all of them, particularly Dickerson, as consistency has been his issue. It would also be nice if Taylor weren't so three-pointer happy, but Pat trusts him enough to let him pull the trigger, so who am I to judge?
B5Q: Though Tim Frazier was honored Thursday night on Penn State's official Senior Day, Sunday will be the final game in Frazier's illustrious career. He is the school's all-time assist leader and a former First Team All-Big Ten selection. Does it feel like Penn State should have accomplished more while Frazier was in Happy Valley?
BSD: Sadly, it does. In Frazier's defense though, he was a true freshman on the horribly underachieving 2009-10 squad (won only 3 Big Ten games the year after winning the NIT), was the Robin to Talor Battle's Batman in the PSU backcourt during the NCAA tournament season in 2010-11, and then spent the next couple years after that playing on a roster that lacked talent/depth (which of course, became far worse when Frazier tore his ACL last year). At the same time however, there's been losses from this season where Frazier in those losses just seemed a little...off (for lack of a better word).
Could PSU have accomplished more? Perhaps, but again, the supporting cast hasn't been all that great the last couple of years.
B5Q: While Wisconsin's women's basketball team languishes yet again, PSU's ladies have returned to national prominence in the last three seasons. So we know fans will support a winning hoops team at Penn State. How frustrating is it to see that same success elude the men's program? What's the missing piece? Do you foresee a day when the university fully commits to a winning men's program?
BSD: Eh, as a lifelong Penn State basketbro who started following when PSU first joined the Big Ten, I'm accustomed to perennial underachievement of the men's program. The women on the other hand, have always historically been a solid bunch. The Lady Lions have decades of successful seasons to call upon and attract fans that way, unlike the men.
As far as commitment from the university, they have done a solid job of updating the practice facilities and locker room. When Pat was first hired, he even asked for and got a private plane for recruiting purposes (PSU didn't have prior to that). We will have a new President (Eric Barron) in place on May 12th, and he will likely name a new AD at some point, as well. I'm sure they will take a good, hard, look at the program and decide what (if anything) needs more money thrown at it. In the meantime, PSU's coaching staff can merely work with what they've been dealt with.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Frank Kaminsky, Jr.||C||Donovon Jack, So.|
|Sam Dekker, So.||F||Ross Travis, Jr.|
|Josh Gasser, Jr.||G / F||Brandon Taylor, So.|
|Ben Brust, Sr.||G||D.J. Newbill, Jr.|
|Traevon Jackson, Jr.||G||Tim Frazier, Sr.|
KenPom win probability: 73% (74-68 W) 64 possessions
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