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.
David Jackson has been the best shooter on the team in terms of shooting percentages, but he continues to not be involved (only 15.2% possessions used). He rarely takes more than 5 shots a game, and it’s unlikely that since conference season is here, things will change. DJ is a great defender and a solid role player. But on a team so desperate for somebody to step up, role players aren’t going to win games.
I’ve been pretty disappointed in Chris Babb. I didn’t think he’d be as streaky of a shooter as he is. He shot his way out of the starting lineup in the Charleston Classic. But in fairness to Chris, he’s still an underclassmen and never proved to be a consistent scorer. My expectations for him were probably a little high. But Penn State’s offense needs him to hit the open jumper when he gets a clean look. He started sinking some shots the last two games, so maybe he can carry that over to conference play. Another thing I’ll say for Chris is he still contributes even if his shot is off. He’s averaging 4 boards in 23 minutes, and I’m impressed with how much he has improved defensively.
Andrew Jones, on the other hand, probably is the biggest disappointment. I’m starting to wonder if he’s maxed out. I thought last year he was ignored on offense, but he’s not using many more possessions this year (15.2% compared to 13.9% ). He struggled early in the year just establishing post position. He’s still scoring his garbage points that are set up by Battle or him grabbing an offensive rebound. But PSU needs Drew to be able to score his own points , and he hasn’t been able to do that. Will he ever?
Jeff Brooks was a pleasant surprise in November, but he has since struggled. Jeff can score with his back to the basket, but he still insists on floating around the perimeter. PSU needs him to touch the ball on the low block with regularity. His length and athleticism is tough to guard, but he needs to stay inside. It’s mind-boggling that with Jeff’s size (6’8″), he has registered 6 games with just 1 rebound or less.
Tim Frazier is going to be really good, but he’s going through the learning curve every freshman guard faces. He’s going to be inconsistent. It has to be expected from the true freshman. I like his defense and athleticism, but we’ll see how he handles Minnesota’s press. Broadcasters have exposed his inability to drive with his left, so you can be sure all the coaches in the league have noticed. His jumper has been a pleasant surprise, even so much that I would like to see him shoot more.
And then there’s Bill Edwards. The late signing has been an awesome surprise. He’s a smooth, versatile playmaker with above average passing and balling handling skills. The coaching staff has given him a lot of freedom on the court. He can shoot the 3, drive the lane, and post up. If there’s anyone who will step up into that 2nd scorers’ role, I’d bet it will be Bill. But he’s still a true freshmen and makes his fair share of bad plays (29.7% TO%). I never feel comfortable relying on a true freshman to be consistent. Especially one who hasn’t even played a game yet at 100%. He’s still hobbled by that knee injury, and I’m curious if Bill will be able to keep up with the athletes in this conference.
I’m more optimistic about the defense this year, however. Before the season, I thought PSU had the potential to put out their best defensive team in years. That wasn’t the case early on, as Sacred Heart and UNC-Wilmington tore the Lions up. But they’ve guarded much better since then, even against decent clubs like Virginia, Va Tech, and Temple. There are much better offensive teams in the conference than those 3 clubs, though, so we’ll see how improved the defense really is. Just because they could be PSU’s best doesn’t mean they’ll be elite. I’m hoping PSU could register a sub 1.0 PPP defense in conference play this year for the first time in DeChellis’ era, but I don’t think they will be at the point to win games on defense.
So, as you can probably tell, I’m not really optimistic as we enter the Big Ten campaign. Too many questions have been left unanswered and too much has been the same. The offense is in disarray. However, I certainly wasn’t optimistic last year and the team went on to post a winning conference record for the first time since 1996…Can Talor Battle really do everything?