Thoughts before the Real Season…

December 28, 2009

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. That’s a phrase that’s been used frequently to describe politics in America (yay for the two-party system!), but it’s applicable to the Penn State men’s basketball team, as well. One thing we were all tired of hearing about come March of last year was PSU’s weak non-conference schedule. Yes, it kept PSU out of the Big Dance, but we learned our lesson, right? Apparently not. Penn State’s 2009-2010 SOS is actually lower than the pitiful 2008-2009 schedule. This year’s ‘improved’ slate is currently rated the 317th toughest schedule in the land, compared to last year’s 307th.

There’s still opportunities that the schedule ratings could improve. Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, Davidson and UNC-Wilmington all look like they will make some noise in their respective conferences. But you can also basically stick a fork in Penn (who already fired their coach), American, UMBC, and Gardner-Webb.  In the end, though, does it really even matter? The bottom line is this young Penn State team is about to embark on an 18 game conference season. Their preparation was the 317th toughest schedule, and they did not fare well against it.

The NCAA tournament is a long ways away for this team. A road win against ACC bottom-feeder Virginia isn’t going to impress anyone. The Nits have set themselves up for another 11 win conference season if they want to get in. They were unable to do it last year, and it’s highly unlikely they don’t get it this year.

Have any questions heading into this season been answered? There are no consistent scoring options after Battle. As much as we all love Talor, it’s foolish to think he’s going to score 20 points in every Big Ten game. When he has a bad outing, which I’m sure will happen at least a few times, will PSU get run out of the gym or will they still be able to stay competitive? Time will tell.

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PSU 80 RMU 61

November 17, 2009

We know there are going to be nights where Talor Battle can’t score 20+ points. But PSU showed last night that they could score just fine without Talor being the one to put it through the hoop. After a sluggish first half, PSU came out and blew the game wide open with a 29-6 run in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

At halftime, I was concerned despite a one point lead (thanks to Battle’s buzzer-beating layup). The Colonials were clearly more active, outhustling the Lions on more than a few occasions. They collected 7 offensive rebounds in the first half (41.1% OReb%), including a monster tip jam from reserve Lijah Thompson. PSU was in a dogfight and there was no evidence that anything would change in the second half. Battle was frustrated and he had played the whole first half. So much for my hopes of him getting rest…

But the Lions came out much more focused and energetic in the second half – props to the coaching staff. Robert Morris didn’t know what hit them. Chris Babb was the main contributor in the run. After sitting with 2 fouls again for much of the first half, Babb spotted up for 4 threes in 5 minutes, 2 of them coming in transition. These streaks by Babb are what we know he is capable of. He can score a lot in a hurry, especially with his high release point that makes his jumpshot practically indefensible.

The hot start to the 2nd half really deflated the Colonials, and DeChellis was able to empty the bench. Battle was given 12 minutes of needed rest before the 3 game stretch in 4 days in South Carolina.

Some tempo-free analysis:

Teams Poss Efficiency eFG% OReb% FTRate TO%
PSU 64.0 125.0 63.0% 39.3% 33.3% 21.9%
RMU 64.0 95.3 40.3% 34.1% 27.4% 12.5%

Penn State was lights out again from the floor, hitting 28-54 from the field (12-26 from deep). The Lions were also much more active on the offensive glass, as I expected. The defensive rebounding improved in the second half to overcome the atrocious 41.1% RMU posted in the first half. The defense, though, continues to have the awesome ability of not being able to force turnovers. The Colonials were credited with 9 turnovers in the game and about 3 of them were completely unforced passes out of bounds.

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PSU 70 Penn 55

November 15, 2009

You gotta love season openers. For many of us diehards, we had to wait a long 7 and a half months. Football tried to fill the void, but failed horribly. A terrible schedule/conference provided undeserved victories, which raised unrealistic expectations for this team, and it just led to disappointment, confusion, and an awkward ‘emptiness’ feeling. This might be the most unsatisfying 10-2 season in the history of football (assuming they win in EL next week, which is a complete toss-up IMO).

It didn’t help that this has been by far the most optimistic I’ve been for a Penn State basketball season since the Crispin era. With the positive end to last season, along with the uncertainty of how this team is going to be this year, I was just a little excited to get the season started on Friday. I was so excited to see basketball that I completely forgot how awful these early games are. It’s not a Penn State thing. It’s evidenced throughout college basketball. It takes a week or two for teams to get into the flow of the season and start playing competent basketball. It really makes you wonder why the hell the Selection Committee puts as much stock in these games in March. It’s all about the body of work, don’t you know.

So I would have to say the Penn game wasn’t too revealing to how PSU is going to play this year. Or maybe it was a significant sign that this is how we’re gonna be and I’m just in denial.

We all knew Talor Battle is going to produce the most, but if he’s counted on to do this much for PSU to win a game, it’s going to be a long season. Talor had a phenomenal game – 27 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists. He consistently broke Zach Rosen’s ankles with some incredible hesitation steps and some ridiculous craftiness in the lane. Talor could always score in the paint, but the way he did Friday made me think he did really improve over the summer. He did whatever he want against the Quakers and it was a joy to watch. I particularly enjoyed his 1 on 5 drive that put PSU up 61-49, capping off a mini 7-1 run that put the game away with 4 minutes to go.

It was a choppy game, because the officiating crew couldn’t swallow their whistles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many offensive fouls called in one game. It wasn’t unfair or one-sided, it just really kept the game from getting into any sort of flow. Three of PSU starters picked up 2 fouls in the 1st half – Drew, DJ, and Babb. That allowed for DeChellis to play 11 guys at least 5 minutes each in the first half. It was nice to see the new guys get so much time, but there was little cohesion among the ever-changing lineups. Battle was the only constant during the game.

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Report Card: Jeff Brooks

June 3, 2009

Previous Report Cards: Talor Battle (A), Andrew Jones (B-), David Jackson (D)

2008-2009 Statistics

ORtg Usage %Min PPG RPG APG eFG% FT%
89.9 16.7% 39.0% 3.3 3.1 0.8 40.3% 50.0%

The Good

I’ve never had more trouble writing a blog post than this space right here. What was good about Jeff’s season? He did improve his free throw % from 35.5% to 50% and his 3pt% from 25.0% to 25.6% this season. But unfortunately, the rest of Jeff’s numbers are virtually identical to his forgettable freshman year. Jeff did hit a few unexpected treys in some key games that were huge momentum changers at the time. But sadly, that’s the only bright spot I could find in Jeff’s disappointing campaign.
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Know Your Enemy: Indiana Hoosiers

January 17, 2009

6:00 – Assembly Hall – BTN

This is an obvious must win for everyone in the conference this year.  Indiana is not a good basketball team. But I still can’t fathom an 0-18 Indiana team, so I’m saying they’ll get somebody at home this year.  They damn near got UM at home, but they blew a 20 point lead, missed a billion free throws in OT, and lost by 3.

PSU currently sits at 2-3 in the conference, but these next 3 games (@ Ind, UM, Iowa) are must wins if they’re still trying to get to the NCAAs, which really seems like a pipedream at this point.  They should be favored in all games as well.  We’re a 5 point favorite today.

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Review of the Season Thus Far

December 26, 2008

Penn State has concluded their non-conference schedule on the season and have 5 days until they kick off the real season with Northwestern at the Jordan Center.  So now seems like a great opportunity to do some analysis of what exactly is going on with the men’s basketball team.

Coming into the season, Penn State in Ed DeChellis’ 6th year, finally had some legitimate expectations. It’s a shame it took 6 years, but with what appeared to be a really young conference and PSU returning 7 players (5 of whom were first year players, including 4 freshmen) who won their last 5 Big Ten Home games (including 2 against ranked teams), winning success in the conference seemed more than possible, it became expected.  Talor Battle seemed poised to become one of the best point guards in the conference, despite his poor shooting %’s last season. Stanley Pringle, despite his library incidents, showed glimpses of what he could be with that blazing speed, leaving fans hoping for a significant improvement in his game that most JuCos seem to undergo from their junior to senior seasons.  David Jackson made huge plays down the stretch of a few of those Big Ten wins, showing the ability to fill the statsheet and hopefully becoming a consistent 8-10 PPG scorer.  Jeff Brooks had a strong last 2 games despite looking lost his whole true freshmen season. With his body and skill set, a lot of people expected Brooks to become more like the top-100 recruit he was pegged.  With the addition of Lewis Preston to the coaching staff, Andrew Jones was expected to lose some of that rawness in his game and become more of a contributor inside.  Jamelle Cornley had healed up after his injury-riddled junior season, hungry for some success after a rather unfulfilling 3 years here.  Danny Morrissey also returned for his senior season, providing a legitimate outside threat for the Lions.  With that returning core, PSU was also getting 3 true freshmen and a Villanova transfer.  Ott provides some depth inside, Babb and Woodyard gave PSU some size and athleticism at the 2, and Oliver was the only fall signee, expecting to be able to contribute in the frontcourt.  There was enough returning talent for a tournament run.

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Victory

December 4, 2008

Boy, what a game.  Gani Lawal is redonkulous. I mean, I know PSU is short/weak up front but my goodness is that dude versatile.  He has such an arrangement of weapons in his offensive arsenal.  He was flat out unstoppable.  15-20 from the floor?  34 points?  What an individual performance.

But what might be more impressive is the fact that PSU got dominated inside all game along, and we came away with a huge 85-83 win.  Stanley Pringle was absolutely magnificent all game long, but who stepped up for us when we needed some points?  Danny Morrissey.  He came off the bench with about 7-8 minutes left in the game and hit 3 clutch, open jumpers (2 from behind the arc).

Definitely a big road win, but the complete chokejob the last 2 minutes left a lot to be desired.  We missed all three frontends of 1 and 1s, by arguably our two best free throw shooters.  Then Jamelle Cornley missed 2 foul shots with 5 seconds left to end the game.  Tech got a decent 30 footer at the horn to win the game, after PSU was up comfortably (3 possessions) from about 7 minutes left to 1:20 left.  All we had to do was hit free throws and we would’ve probably won by double digits.  We know our team sucks at the charity stripe, especially Jamelle, but DJ and Talor’s misses were disheartening.  DJ’s decision to pass up on a breakaway layup in favor of running clock and getting to the foul line, certainly left a lot of Lions, especially coach DeChellis, frustrated.

Transition defense was awful all night.  When PSU finally started to extend their lead near the end of the second half, GT would come straight down the court and score within 7 seconds.  It eventually led to a Jamelle Cornley ‘what the fuck are ya’ll doin’, that was audible on the broadcast.  Interior defense was bad, as well, but considering GT’s frontcourt, I’m not too worried.  I don’t think any frontcourt in the Big Ten is as good as athletic and talented as theirs (maybe OSU’s once Mullens gets going).

PSU had just 6 turnovers for the game.  That’s an even more impressive number, considering the number of possessions in the game.  Stanley Pringle has improved so much, I don’t think even he knows how good he is. He’s so quick he can take anybody one-on-one, and he’s got that jumpstop that allows him to get around any one in the lane.  He finished 22 points (9-14, 2-3 from 3), 3 assists, 4 steals, and 1 board.  He hit a lot of clutch shots when it appeared PSU’s offense was going to stall a bit.

Battle didn’t have a great shooting night, but he was setting guys up left and right, finishing with 7 assists.  He also had a strech where he scored 8 straight points in the second half.  Other than that missed one-and-one, he played great, once again.  He finished with 18 points, 7 assists, and 4 boards.

Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones, I mentioned how important they were in the pregame, and they delivered.  Maybe not on the defensive end, but it’s tough to guard an NBA lottery pick one on one.  Coach DeChellis has expressed how uncomfortable Jeff has looked early in the season, claiming the concussion and sprained ankle he has suffered has really hampered him in the early going.  He missed a lot of practice time and coach thought that was a huge reason why he couldn’t get in the flow of things.  Jeff seems to be putting it together over the last week, averaging 6.7 PPG and 4.7 RPG in 18 MPG off the bench.  He made several big plays, including a big, contested 3 from the corner.  His confidence is growing and he’s showing signs of being a serious player this season.  Jones did a fabulous job of staying out of foul trouble.  He finished with 8 points and 7 boards, including a huge stickback off an offensive rebound in the second half.  He struggled defensively, but like I said, GT had some serious talent.

Good win, but there were so many mistakes, the coaches will certainly have some ammo to keep these guys motivated through a pretty lackluster schedule the rest of the way.  We have a big game against Temple on Saturday, but they’ve struggled this season.  The blue unis won’t be making an appearance again until after the Rose Bowl.

BILLY OLIVER UPDATE: Seems like a redshirt is imminent.  He still hasn’t been cleared for full contact activities in practice, and DeChellis doesn’t expect he will be until at least this time next week.  By then, Andrew Ott will only be a game or two away from eligibility.


Know Your Enemy: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

December 2, 2008

A very big must-win for the Nittany Lions coming up tomorrow. They’ll be going on the road into the Thrillerdome for a nationally televised tilt.  The game’s obviously apart of the Big Ten/ACC challenge and will be broadcasted at 7:30 PM on the Deuce, otherwise known as ESPN2.

Results thus far

  • Winston-Salem State – W 92-47
  • @ Mercer – W 82-76 OT
  • Arkansas Pine-Bluff – W 74-47
  • Jacksonville – W 79-76

Projected Starters

  • PG – Moe Miller
  • SG – Iman Shumpert
  • SF – Gani Lawal
  • PF – Zach Peacock
  • C – Alade Aminu

Georgia Tech is coming into the game under-manned.  Senior guard DeAndre Bell unfortunately is out for the year, discovering he has spinal stenosis.  Also, fellow senior guard Lewis Clinch is academically ineligible for this semester, so he will not play as well (thank goodness, he dropped 4 threes and 20 points against us 2 years ago).  Their backcourt is a little thin at the moment. It’s led by sophomore point Maurice Morris (6-1 181).  He was Tech’s primary point man at the end of the year last season, in his true freshmen season. He averaged 20 MPG last season while putting up 8.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG, and 3.3 APG.  This season he’s only played 3 games, suffering a mild concussion against Mercer and missing a game.  He has yet to hit a three this season (0-13) and is shooting 52.2% from the charity stripe (12-23).  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s gotten off to a rough start because I don’t how you can be an ACC starting point guard with shooting percentages like that.  Hopefully he doesn’t have a breakout game tomorrow.  Joining him in the backcourt at the 2 is freshmen stud Iman Shumpert (6-4 185).  He’s averaged 11 PPG so far with 5 RPG and 4.5 APG.  He hasn’t shot well either, only 3-11 from behind the arc and 62% from the foul line.  We’re his first high D-1 opponent in his career.  He has turned the ball over 14 times already, so hopefully that high number continues.  Backing them up is sophomore Lance Storrs.  He didn’t play much his freshmen year and is seeing a lot of action so far this season due to the short bench.  He’s shown an ability to hit the trey, making 5-10 on the season.  Freshmen walk-on Nick Foreman (6-3 185) has seen a lot of time as well, but who knows how much he’ll play against a good team.

Georgia Tech’s frontcourt, led by projected NBA lottery pick, sophomore Gani Lawal (6-8 220), is downright scary.  At least compared to PSU’s.  Lawal only has one weakness in his game – the foul line.  He’s only made 15 of 35 free throws so far this season.  However, he’s averaging 19.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 1.3 BPG. Unfortunately, PSU doesn’t have the frontcourt depth to just keep hacking him. Joining him in the starting lineup are two upperclassmen, junior Zack Peacock (6-8 240) and senior Alade Aminu (6-10 225). Peacock was expected to be a breakout candidate in hoops this year. He started a few games as a true freshmen, but came off the bench all of last year.  Despite averaging just 20 minutes, he put up 9.9 PPG and 4.3 RPG.  It remains to be seen whether Peacock really will be the go-to guy for this Tech squad, or if Lawal has already stole that role from him.  So far Peacock has put up 12 PPG and 4 RPG.  Alade Aminu finally steps into the starting role for the Yellow Jackets this season and he’s off to a great start.  He’s shooting 62% from the field and averaging 15 PPG and 8 RPG.  7 foot sophomore Brad Sheehan is the primary reserve off the bench.

Georgia Tech under coach Hewitt has always played fast.  They like to make it a fullcourt game and get out and run.  They have some serious athleticism in the frontcourt.  While I’m sure they’ll exploit our weak frontcourt, I feel semi-confident with our guys.  Yea, they’re undersized and they haven’t come close to reaching their potential, but I feel that Andrew Jones, Jeff Brooks, DJ Jackson, and Jamelle Cornley can run with these guys.  They have the athleticism to not get run off the court, unlike some other recent PSU frontcourts. We know what Jamelle and DJ give us. But this will be a tremendous test for Jones and Brooks. They have got to step up tomorrow, especially defensively. We cannot afford to let them get into foul trouble. They’ll probably have the biggest impact on whether or not we can win the game. I’m interested to see how we defend these guys. We’ve played man all year, but against our one true opponent (URI), we were forced to play some 2-3 zone due to their athleticism. One would think GT is more athletic than URI. I think David Jackson can matchup with Lawal.  Yea, he’s going to get his points, but I think DJ can prevent him from dominating.  Jamelle would probably matchup with Peacock again (they faced off in the 2006 game).  Can Andrew Jones stay on the floor and d-up Aminu? I bet Ed will give him the chance, but I won’t be surprised if he quickly pulls the plug and goes to a 2-3 zone. Force them to have to take some jumpshots.

PSU’s interior defense has to give the PSU backcourt a chance to win the game.  We have a significant edge against their young, thin backcourt. It all starts with Battle, as usual. Moe Miller doesn’t scare him. Battle should be able to penetrate often and get the offense going. Also, Shumpert is obviously a hell of an athlete, but there’s no way he has ever had to guard in his life the speed and quickness Stanley Pringle will bring on Wednesday. Wouldn’t surprise me to see Shumpert pick up a few handcheck fouls trying to keep up.

The bottomline is we’ve had to rely on a 3 guard lineup of Battle, Pringle, Morrissey, DJ, and Jamelle a lot this season because of Jones’ and Brooks’ lack of production.  That lineup will get destroyed against this big GT lineup. Someone, either Brooks or Jones HAS to be able to compete.  I can’t stress it enough.  Neither team is really that deep, so it’ll get very interesting if the refs are whistle-happy, especially considering both teams’ inability to make foul shots (GT = 58.2%, PSU = 65.8%).

Injury Note: It was said on the radio broadcast of one of the Philly Classic games that Billy Oliver was expected to be able to practice again early this week. That could mean he will be available for the first time all season tomorrow night. He could give us another 6-8 body and some fouls, if nothing else.  But I doubt he plays unless we have some serious foul trouble.

Prediction: GT is relying on their frontcourt, PSU is relying on their backcourt.  GT will get high-percentage shots, PSU probably won’t.  If PSU gets hot from the perimeter, they can definitely steal this one.  But I’m not going to pick PSU hoping that they make 12 threes.  Oh, and this game is on the road, too.  I don’t think Brooks or Jones are ready for this challenge.  Hopefully I’m wrong, but I gotta take Georgia Tech by 9.  ACC wins 6-5, yet again.

EDIT: Jeff Rice of the Centre Daily Times echoed my thoughts on Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones in his article today, found here.


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