DeChellis has a full roster for the first time in a long while with 12 scholarship players and 5 walk-ons. With only about 50% of scoring, rebounding, and minutes returning, this team is going to be much different than last year’s NIT champs. There’s plenty of playing time available and roles to fill. There’s questions surrounding everyone on this team (with the exception of Talor Battle). But the big question remains, who’s going to play this year?
Well, first, the starters for the season opener are going to be:
- PG – Talor Battle
- SG – Chris Babb
- SF – Jeff Brooks
- PF – David Jackson
- C – Andrew Jones
These guys started the Slippery Rock exhibition, which we won by the way, and DeChellis said in his weekly presser that these guys will start against UPenn. This lineup isn’t a surprise, since all of these guys have a good deal of experience in the system. But we’ll see if this starting unit lasts all year.
There’s a lot to like about that lineup. I think that those 5 guys could be the best defensive unit PSU has ever fielded since DeChellis has been here. If we want to continue to win in this league, we have to keep improving defensively. Since Ed has been here, PSU’s conference defensive efficiency was well above 1.10 PPP, which would always take last place in the Big Ten. Then last year the Nittany Lions posted an efficiency of 1.04 PPP (good enough for 6th in the Big Ten), and not surprisingly, PSU won more conference games. With Babb at the 2 and the lack of a 6’3″ PF, this unit has legitimate size to match-up with other conference teams, which has always been a problem. Jackson and Brooks haven’t put on too much weight since they’ve been here, but they’re definitely stronger and more toned. They can hold their position on the low block. Brooks length allows him to recover and block some shots, Andrew Jones no longer hacks down low and did a great job frustrating the world-renowned Luke Harangody, and Chris Babb has really improved from what I’ve seen in the preseason, particularly jumping the passing lanes. I can’t wait to see some defensive stats on this team.
Offensively, there’s a lot more uncertainty. Battle is obviously going to be the guy, but the other 4 are going to have to step up to more prominent scoring roles. Teams are going to key on Battle, obviously, because if you stop him, then PSU is in big trouble. So other guys have to step up and burn teams for giving more help to Battle. Those 4 starters have all shown they can score double digits in a game, but some of them are going to have to average that. Can they? I think so, but right now, all it is is wishful thinking until they prove themselves.
Chris Babb seems to have some freedom to shoot out on the arc. I saw him score what we believe to be 21 points in a 20 minute scrimmage. He was a scorer in high school and with more playing time, I’m looking for him to make that big freshman to sophomore jump. Babb could be the second leading scorer on the team.
Andrew Jones averaged 10 points during the 5 game NIT run. I’m hoping he can be that productive this season. Last year, Drew was the garbage man in the offense. He was never given an opportunity to really earn his own points down low (which I never understood why). He was either fed a lay-up by Battle, or he grabbed his own board and put it back up. This year, with Jamelle’s inside presence gone, he is now the man in the paint. Lew Preston has really worked with him on an assortment of drop-step moves and baby hooks. I’m looking to see what Drew does with more opportunities within the offense this season.
David Jackson’s offensive game will be a mystery to me until the Big Ten season. He averaged 8.8 PPG during the first 7 games last year during the weak non-con, then continued to decline to the point where he scored just 30 points in 18 Big Ten games. But in the postseason, DJ scored 57 points in 7 games (one of those games was the ND game where he left the game with a back injury and didn’t score). DJ’s defense is always going to get him minutes, but he has to score more than 1.6 PPG in the Big Ten. He will, but how much will he score? Can he draw the attention of the opposing defense?
Jeff Brooks I think is the least likely to develop into a consistent scorer. He’s been an enigma his first two seasons here, leaving behind the optimism that surrounded his 4-star recruit ranking. He makes a few plays that are impressive, but he has never shown any sort of consistency. He takes way too many flat jumpers and tries to penetrate too much for his skill set. I still think Brooks should model his game after Mike Davis at Illinois. They both have similar bodies and watching Davis’ improvement last year just made me think, why can’t Jeff be like this? Jeff has looked more confident in the preseason, though, so we’ll see.
Those are the starters, for now. How deep is the bench gonna be? DeChellis has never had a deep rotation, but he hasn’t had a roster this deep, either. Right now, DeChellis has said that Woodyard, Ott, and Frazier are going to be the first guys off the bench. The other guys’ minutes are ‘still up for grabs’.
- Andrew Ott – I know he’s going to be the victim of plenty of jokes, especially with our new $1 ‘Ott’ dogs promotion instead of Dollar Dog Night, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Ott this preseason. Every time I’ve seen him, he looks better. His footwork is more fluid in the paint, and he continues to make plays, despite his slow-footedness. He’s going to play 12-15 MPG spelling Drew. There was a brief moment in the exhibition where Drew and Ott were on the floor at the same time, but I doubt that’s going to be common this season.
- Cam Woodyard – Not sure what to expect out of Cam. He’s got a good 3-pointer as well, but his defense has prevented DeChellis from giving him more time.
- Tim Frazier – Who knows what DeChellis plans for Tim are yet, but he’s going to see the floor. He’ll spell Talor’s 5 minutes of rest a game, but he’s also going to be on the court with Talor for some minutes. DeChellis likes our speed when Tim and Talor are on the floor together. Frazier’s jump shot is not there, and he’s going to turn the ball over a ton. You can already tell he gets himself trapped in the paint, but you gotta love his unselfishness. Whenever he penetrates, he’s always looking to pass.
Those three are the firsts off the bench. Who else could sneak into the rotation?
- Bill Edwards – Before Bill’s MCL injury, he was considered to be in the rotation. He’s got a Big Ten body at 6’5″ 225 lbs. Coaches have raved about his passing ability and jump shooting. He’s a scorer that’s got the body to mix it up on defense, too. He should play after he heals up in a few weeks, but the question is, how much?
- Billy Oliver – I have to just go off of reports, but insiders have hyped up Billy’s game. He was going to play as I was told, until he’s had all sorts of health setbacks again. His chronic headaches that he apparently suffers during physical activity have kept him off the practice floor. You don’t practice, you don’t play. But if Billy can stay healthy, he could sneak in for some minutes.
- Sasa Borovnjak – The 6’8″ true freshmen doesn’t appear to be ready athletically to play right away. He’s slow-footed, but he can score inside. If the current starters struggle to put up some points in the paint, there’s a chance the coaches will give Borovnjak some opportunities. His defense, though, has a long ways to go and could keep him off the court this season.
- Jermaine Marshall – He hasn’t played real competition since his junior year of high school. Throw in the fact there’s not a lot of minutes at the 2/3 available for him and I think he redshirts. We gotta even out the classes somehow.
- Adam Highberger – The junior walk-on has recovered from his ACL injury. He’s looked good in practice and he’ll get some minutes, but not enough to consider him a contributor.
- Steve Kirkpatrick – Same as Highberger. Good practice player and he’ll be rewarded with some playing time at the end of games, as well.
A lot of options for DeChellis this year, but also a lot of questions. The answers are coming in just a few weeks.