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.
Then the non-conference scheduled dropped over the summer, instantly infuriating the 25 or so PSU fans that knew that this schedule was going to cripple the Lions. David Jones then did some more research for the still fuming Lions fans and slapped me across the face for being a fan of this program. Despite the scheduling obstacle, PSU still had talent to win in the Big Ten.
The season arrived and PSU rolled through their first five opponents, despite playing rather poor basketball. They made 36 three pointers in their first 3 games, despite running that chuck-n-duck offense. They finally looked legitimately good, running out to a 49-24 halftime in the Palestra against Penn, their first road test. They then sleep-walked the second half and won 85-73. Up next came the Philly Classic against the infamous Rhode Island Rams, notorious in the early season for their near win @ Duke. It was PSU’s first legitimate opponent. They kept in the game, but trailed for most of it, missed open looks, and lost 77-72. While not a devastating loss by any means, PSU did lose out on their chance against Villanova. They came back impressively the next day, however, jumping all over the Towson Tigers on their way to a 78-54 victory. It was an improvement over the last year’s loss to South Carolina that was followed to losses to Rider and Central Florida in the Old Spice Classic. The Lions then travelled down to Georgia for their annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Ga Tech. Obviously a tough road game, PSU came out and displayed probably the best offensive basketball game in years. They set good screens, ran solid halfcourt sets, and got great open looks at crucial times down the stretch. Despite almost melting down at the foul line and playing pretty poor interior defense all game, PSU held on for a huge 85-83 win. The Lions then came home for a ‘big’ game against Temple (if that’s a marquee opponent). The Lions drew a large crowd for the weekend affair and proceeded to come out and shit themselves. Pringle tweaked an ankle in the first half, didn’t return, and left Battle exhausted for the rest of the game since he was the only ballhandler for the Nittany Lions. After the ugly 65-59 loss, PSU had 4 cupcakes left in December until the real season began. PSU won all four but played poorly in at least stretches, if not the whole games. They squeaked by Sacred Heart and Mt. Saint Mary’s, put away Army late, and beat Lafayette after struggling the first half.
- Talor Battle appears to have tremendously improved this season. He’s averaging 9 more points, 2 more assists, and 2 more rebounds a game while shooting 12% better from the field, including 15% from behind the arc. But taking his 3 game averages against Big Ten quality competition (URI, GT, TU), the numbers aren’t so pretty. While he’s still averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and a solid 7.3 APG in those three games, his shooting percentages resemble those of his freshmen year (15-47 from the field for 31.9%, 7-24 from 3 for 29.2%). He’s played 90% of the team’s minutes against one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country. He averaged 38.7 minutes a game against those three opponents. How is he going to hold up in the physical Big Ten playing that many minutes? He gets hurt, it’s an automatic loss for the Lions. If he suffers a significant injury, PSU’s season is donezo.
- Stanley Pringle is clearly the Lions most improved player this season. He’s far more under control, and he’s the best player on the Lions roster at creating his own shot. He can score from anywhere on the court with a multitude of moves. He’s averaging 14 points on 52% shooting. He got hurt against Temple so his play against BTQC is inconclusive at this point. He dominated against GT, logging 22 points on 14 shots, but struggled against URI scoring 8 points on 9 shots. Battle and Pringle though do form an intimidating backcourt. Both can shoot the rock and are tremendous ballhandlers. In transition, these guys are as good as it gets.
- Jamelle Cornley is completely healthy and has had a productive season so far. However, despite good numbers, Jamelle has not been as successful and productive inside as he has been his first 3 years. It’s hard to factually prove that, considering he’s shooting 53% from the field, but there have been many cases in games this season where he has missed many shots that he would make with ease. He’s still awful from the foul line (57%) and there’s no reason for that to improve. He’s averaging 15 points and 7 boards and he’s the most experienced player on the team.
- Danny Morrissey has struggled this season. His knee problems are still lingering and he hasn’t looked completely healthy all year. He came up HUGE @ Georgia Tech but has been irrelevant for the rest of the seaso. He’s only shooting 31% from 3, well below his career average. He’s only made 3 of his last 22 attempts. You would think if his shot isn’t falling he wouldn’t play, but he’s still gotten his minutes.
- Andrew Jones has moderately improved this season, but still has a long ways to go. Unfortunately most of his progress has come on the offensive end. He’s shooting 62% from the floor and averages 6 PPG. His interior defense really hasn’t shown much improvement at all, which is what PSU desperately needs. He has seemed to lost his fouling habits, which is good. But he hasn’t offered much resistance inside, only logging 5 blocks so far this season.
- David Jackson has been a starter for the whole season. He got off to a decent start, averaging 8.9 PPG and shooting 52.5% from the floor in November. He looked like he was going to become a dependable scorer and a bigger role player for this team. He then went into a slump. Against GT, he didn’t score much, but he really didn’t have to. However in that game, he bricked two front ends of crucial 1-and-1s, almost allowing GT to steal the game away. Ever since those bricked free throws, DJ hasn’t been the same. In December, he’s averaged just 3.7 PPG and shot 25% from the field all while playing just one less minute average than in November. That’s not going to get it done at all for a starter.
- What might be more disappointing than DJ’s slump is the fact that Jeff Brooks hasn’t been able to crack into the starting lineup for DJ. Brooks has looked a lot more like his lost, freshmen self than how he looked against Indiana and Illinois in March last season. He hasn’t done anything of significance this season, only averaging 4 points in 16 MPG. He did score 9 points off the bench at GT. Otherwise, he hasn’t scored more than 6 points in any other game, while scoring less than his current average more games than scoring above it. The one thing Brooks has done well is come off the bench and rebound (4.3 RPG which would equal more than 10 rebounds per 40 minutes). He needs to get more focused and appear to be more committed than what he’s shown so far. PSU really needs him to blossom into a scoring threat that he could be. As I’ve said before, there’s a reason he was a contender for Mr. Kentucky and was a 4 star recruit.
- Andrew Ott just recently became eligible for the Lions. He hasn’t done much in the last two games. He’s not going to be a force in the post on the offensive end, but PSU needs him to offer resistance in the post on defense. He’s not athletic, but he’s better than some of PSU’s more recent big stiffs (Kevin Fellows, Scott Witkowsky, etc.). I’ll be surprised if he averages more than 10 MPG in Big Ten season. He does provide fouls to give and it’s nice to have someone over 6’8″ on the bench.
- The true freshmen’s production have been a huge disappointment, as well. Billy Oliver suffered two concussions in October and hadn’t been cleared until mid-December, just in time for him to catch the flu. He’s missed the whole non-con schedule, so a redshirt, which was a strong possibility before the season started, seems imminent. DeChellis keeps hinting at playing him, though. Cammeron Woodyard and Chris Babb have virtually gotten no significant playing time, and quite frankly, no one knows why. Now of course none of us know how these guys have looked in practice, but this non conference schedule was filled with some serious chumps (PSU has played the 319th toughest schedule so far). Cammeron Woodyard has been pretty impressive. He’s made 8-15 from behind the arc in just 11 games this season (he’s only averaging 8.7 MPG). He misses assignments and rotations on defense, though, but that’s why he should get gametime experience so he can learn and correct. Chris Babb struggled for most of the season so far, clearly lacking confidence. He was a scorer in high school, averaging around 30 PPG. However, he’s struggled mightily with the steep learning curve. He looked good though against Lafayette a few days ago, making his first 2 threes on the season. He scored 8 points in 14 minutes in that game. He was unable to make an impact against Sacred Heart, the next game, because of our implosion in the second half. But can we expect these guys to log any meaningful minutes in the Big Ten season, when they apparently aren’t good enough to play much with this schedule to date?
So that’s a quick synopsis of what’s happened the last 2 months. I swear having an 11-2 basketball team should feel better than this. More on what to expect in the tough Big Ten season and some more PSU statistical analysis to come later in the week.