Analyzing the Roster Shakeup

March 21, 2010

As I’m sure you are all aware of, in the last few days there have been a few departures from the basketball team. Not surprising were the announced graduations of Andrew Ott and Adam Highberger. What caught most PSU fans off guard were the announced transfers of promising players, Chris Babb and Bill Edwards.

With the official release from Ed DeChellis and the Sports Information department, I think it’s safe to assume that the transfer train has left the station. As usual with such happenings, numerous unsubstantiated rumors were running wild around the internet. Taran Buie, who has had one hell of a strange year at State College High, was rumored to be expressing interest in getting out of LOI. That turned out to be false. Buie has endured so many strange rumors this year that it’s gotten to the point where anything out of State High now I’ll just believe to be more small town gossip. If there’s anything we have learned from the Battle/Buie family, it’s that their family comes first above all else. Buie’s family is here, he’s not leaving (at least not in the near future). It also appears that Cammeron Woodyard and Tim Frazier, subjected to their own rumors, are also staying with the program.

At first thought, this is nothing like the end of the Jerry Dunn era, which many frustrated fans will have you believe. The ‘family’ motto of the program has constantly been mocked the last 24 hours. I think that couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • Adam Highberger – It’s unfortunate that his injury-riddled career is going to end, as he was pegged as one walk-on who DeChellis thought he could become a contributor. But if you know anything about the schooling and standards required to become a dentist, Highberger’s career aspiration, you would know that moving onto dental school far outweighs playing spot duty for this basketball program. I wish Adam well.
  • Andrew Ott – The Villanova transfer is graduating with a business degree, but he still had a year of eligibility remaining. However, I think DeChellis and the coaching staff made the right decision in this case. If we want to reach NCAA goals next year, we needed to bring in another big man who can compete at this level. Ott was a serviceable backup in most cases, but he’s not the guy who’s going to win us ball games. We needed his scholarship (since we had none opening, or so we thought). His playing time significantly decreased towards the end of the year, and I think that was ED’s message to Ott. Yeah, Ott had a shoulder injury at the beginnning of February, but he was definitely healthy to play down the stretch and didn’t. Edwards and Borovnjak took his minutes. Ott might not be leaving on good terms, but this happens all the time across the country in college basketball. Scholarships are sacred and if you’re only averaging 10 MPG with 3 PPG with a degree in hand, you’re going to be shown the door. I wish the Ottzilla well.
  • Bill Edwards – I’ve always had the suspicion that Bill never was really 100% certain with his decision to come here. It’s always hard to closely follow the recruitments of PSU recruits, since we usually don’t land too many big name players. But with how long Bill drew out the process (he decided roughly a week until the spring signing period was over), I just felt he didn’t know where he wanted to go. He kept saying how he was hoping for a bigger offer, and it never came, so he probably settled for Penn State. There were rumors that he didn’t like State College and those were probably true. It’s disappointing to see him go, because I think he could’ve become a heckuva player here. I wish Bill well and look forward to following the rest of his career.
  • Chris Babb – Now this is the biggest surprise. I know Chris has been homesick. It’s gotta be tough when your home and family are 1500 miles away. People don’t realize how little basketball players get to go home. All the major holidays during the school year are during the season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break). Then, they are on campus working out on their own for at least the second summer session, if not both. Throw in the fact that it snows in October here compared to his Arlington, Texas home, and I don’t think Chris’ decision to transfer had anything to do with the players or coaches. However, one must question, would Chris have transferred if we went 9-9 in the Big Ten this year instead of 3-15? Losing certainly breeds frustration and unhappiness and the tough year could’ve made Chris realize how much he misses home. I wish Chris well.

I don’t think these departures signal anything like the end of Jerry Dunn’s era. Players were leaving back then because they were upset with the coach. There was no team chemistry and it was just one huge mess. As of right now, I think it’s clear that the fan base is understandably a far bigger mess than the cohesiveness of the program right now. Talor Battle’s quote in the release further credits that belief.

“I know my teammates and myself are really looking forward to next season and have some things we want to achieve,” said Battle. “I’m looking forward to a really good off-season with the guys who want to be here and I love the guys we have coming back and think we can reach the goals we have set.”

Nonetheless, the departures of Babb and Edwards certainly are alarming for the health of the program. I don’t think their reasons for leaving are anything to get worked up about, but there are some serious holes now in the scholarship table. While the losses certainly aren’t good, I don’t think they cripple PSU’s chances next year (and they cannot be used as an excuse!). We do lose some experience and are going to have to rely on Marshall and Buie to step in right away. I think they’ll do just fine meshing with Frazier, Battle, and Woodyard’s games, though. We all know the backcourt wasn’t the issue this year, and I don’t believe it’ll be an issue next year. This year’s squad lacked the penetration/slasher ability at the 2-guard. Buie and Marshall will provide that, but now we’re lacking perimeter threats. Woodyard and Battle can’t carry it on their own. Another shooter would be beneficial, IMO.

The biggest loss of Babb and Edwards is the fact they were going to be the upperclassmen on the 2011-2012 squad. They were suppose to carry the torch during a ‘rebuilding’ year after Battle’s class graduates. There was already tremendous pressure on DeChellis and staff to deliver on the supposed 5 scholarships for 2011. But now, he has to fill 5 more scholarships for 2011-2012 (and hopefully keep current verbals, Trey Burke and Peter Alexis), 3 of which are available for next year. With so little talent so late in the recruiting game, DeChellis’ future depends on who he lands with these scholarships. A huge mistake in DeChellis’ regime was handing out three scholarships in the 2005 class to European players who never produced anything (Milos Bogetic, Joonas Suotamo, and Nikola Obradovic). This program cannot afford such a blunder again.

However, I’m not sure what we can really expect on the recruiting trail anymore. All the momentum gained from the 2009 NIT championship has been lost with our crappy year this season. We were getting so close to rounding out some stability and class balance, but it’s crumbled a bit with these transfers. Looking at the recruiting calendar, after tomorrow DeChellis will only have another 10 days or so of a contact period in April. Spring signing period runs from April 14th-May 19th. The odds of the staff bringing in the quality of talent in so little time is slim-to-none. But that’s what faces the program right now. I think they should only focus on filling two scholarships right now for next year, a big who can play and a perimeter shooter (preferably JuCos for the sake of class balance). Take another big if you’re positive he can play. They cannot afford to gamble on kids at this point. If you have to save another ship for the 2011 class, so be it.

So now it’s time to scour the internet to find any tidbits we can of who PSU is after. Some names for 2010 are Majok Majok, JuCo Dwight McCombs, Eric McKnight, and Brice Kofane (Buie’s AAU teammate). Although, I don’t think any of those kids have ‘high’ interest in PSU. Hopefully we get some positive news on the recruiting front in the next month…

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Time to Deliver

March 11, 2010

If you don’t love this time of year, you must be one of those hooligans who proclaims the superiority of college football and their ‘meaningful’ regular season as a means to keep the wonderful bowl system we all love. Thank God for college basketball and its postseason. WIth how brilliantly it all works out and how much of a joy it is to watch, you’d think basketball were geniuses. Nope, football is just that moronic. But enough of that.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that PSU is not the worst basketball team in the conference right now at the end of the season (when it’s most important). However, the standings say so and PSU gets the 11-seed in the Big Ten tournament. But what’s exciting is, everybody gets new life. PSU has the opportunity to build on their inspired play of late and make up for this disaster of a season.

The first step is today against 6-seed Minnesota, who’s NCAA at-large hopes hinges on a good performance the next few days. It’s been a disappointing season for the Gophers, too, relative to expectations. I don’t hesitate in saying this could very well be Tubby’s worst coaching job I’ve seen. Al Nolen’s academic suspension certainly didn’t help. But this team is way too talented to lay eggs in March against weaker teams, especially considering their bubble hopes.

PSU played Minnesota tough the first two meetings, but lost both of them. There really was no consistent correlation between the two games. We have not had much success against Minnesota in recent years, but there’s no doubt in my mind that PSU can win this game. However, I think much of the outcome of this game depends on Minnesota’s effort level. They present matchup problems that PSU can’t handle.

Keys for PSU:

  • Handle the Gophers press, when they do, and limit TOs. 25% TO rate killed the Lions in the first meeting.
  • Keep rebounding the basketball. It didn’t hurt PSU in the first two meetings, but if Minnesota outrebounds PSU, I believe that will signify Golden Gopher dominance down low with their size.
  • Out shoot the Gophers from 3. Hoffarber is still hitting 48% of his threes. Babb and Battle have to produce more than Hoff and Westbrook, IMO.
  • Continued Jeff Brooks’ aggressiveness. Jeff’s unstoppable when he plays within himself and with confidence. But the ticking time bomb that is his mind can always backfire on him.
  • Get some valuable bench production. If PSU is going to do anything in this tournament, the bench has to show up with 10 minutes of production, not 5 minutes of liability. Frazier, Edwards, Ott, and even Woodyard and Borovnjak need to be ready to play this weekend.

Now, yes, we know about the universal rule in tournament play, but if PSU pulls out a W today, I really like how their end of the bracket is set up for the Lions to get on a little bit of a roll and make some noise. Wisconsin and Ohio State, who we haven’t beaten since 2003, are on the opposite side. PSU wouldn’t face either until the finals. Up next for PSU would be a Michigan State team, without Chris Allen.  Then would be the Hummel-less Boilers again (unless our favorite whipping boy, Northwestern, could pull out some magic themselves).  Obviously both teams are still gonna be tough, but they aren’t hopeless.

We’ll see. Hopefully we’re in for some exciting basketball (that lasts longer than a day). If this season has taught Nittany Lions fans anything, it’s we have the players to compete in this league. The first step is the Golden Gophers (tentative 7:30 tip, Big Ten Network). It’s time for the Lions to deliver on this season. It’s their last chance.


Minnesota Preview

December 29, 2009
  • WHO: Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-3)
  • WHERE: Williams Arena aka The Barn
  • WHEN: 9:00 PM
  • TV: ESPN2
  • LINE: Minnesota by 12
  • Enemy Blog: From the Barn
  • Pomeroy Profile

Conference play starts tonight, and the Lions open up with no cakewalk. The Golden Gophers play defense, something many opponents in the OOC schedule could not. Will the Nittany Lions be able to handle it?

Minnesota’s only real competition came in the 76 Classic and the Big Ten/ACC challenge. They did beat Butler, but they went 1-3 in those games. However, all of those games were on the road. They lost close games to Miami FL, Texas A&M, and Portland (when they were the story of college basketball).

The Golden Gophers practically returned their whole team from last year (89% returning minutes). Defensive stud Damian Johnson and offensive scorer Lawrence Westbrook return as the senior leaders. Hoffarber, Nolen, Iverson, and Sampson are back as well. The Gophers are deep (11 guys average between 9-25 MPG), tall (21st tallest team in the country), and experienced. Penn State is none of those things. Oh, boy.

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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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G-W/American Recaps

December 26, 2009

Happy Holidays everyone! I’m sorry your Christmas wasn’t as special as I’m sure you’ve been waiting for these recaps…

Penn State 104 Gardner-Webb 57

http://statsheet.com/tables/games/2009/12/gardner-webb-57-penn-state-104/team_stats.html?7947

This game wasn’t a contest, obviously. While PSU was resting all week and taking care of finals, G-W was out and about getting killed by Duke and James Madison. On the ESPNU broadcast, they claimed G-W was also fighting the flu bug (despite playing 15 total guys in the game?). They didn’t have the legs to play with the Nits as 4 of G-W’s starters played less than 20 minutes. The Bulldogs never stood a chance, and PSU jumped out to a 30-4 lead.

This was another annual pre-Christmas snoozer that meant nothing. Credit to the Lions, though, for coming out in front of 500 fans and taking care of business. If the Lions can take anything away from this game, its that they remembered how to shoot jumpers. They hit 12 of 26 3PA for 46%, while 4 players hit 2 or more. The bench got some run, as well, as no one logged over 30 minutes but 10 guys logged at least 10 minutes.

NCAA Basketball

Battle scored 21 points on 13 shots in 24 minutes. Tim Frazier had one of his best games with 18 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. Chris Babb went 5-6 from the field for 12 points (much better than his 35% FG%). Even Andrew Ott had a career-high 12 in 14 minutes (he went 8-9 from the foul line!). So pretty much everyone got in on the action as the Nittany Lions posted their best offensive efficiency on the season (1.4 PPP) and scored over 100 for the first time since December 2006 when they beat VMI 129-111.

Penn State 76 American 57

http://statsheet.com/tables/games/2009/12/american-university-57-penn-state-76/team_stats.html?49921

I thought PSU might struggle with this game, despite the inferior opponent. It was the last game before the players could go home for the first time in 6 months or so (the players apparently already had their bags packed and some literally went home immediately after the game), and they had just played a game on Saturday night. However, American actually had just lost a game 22 hours earlier to UMBC at home (a game that was postponed a day b/c of the Nor’easter last week). American was just as tired, if not moreso, than G-W two days before.

American came out strong as Vlad Moldoveanu scored 11 of American’s first 13 points. Vlad, a recently eligible George Mason transfer, scored 26 points in American’s upset of Depaul. The game was tight in the first half, until PSU opened up a comfortable 11 point lead with a minute left. But they let American creep back in it and the halftime score was 36-30.

Vlad and the rest of the Eagles were out of gas in the second half, as PSU busted the game open. The score was 66-38 with 7 minutes left (PSU going on a 30-8 run). For the second time in 3 days, the Lions were beating down on an over-matched opponent at home.

College Basketball

The stars of the game for the Lions were Chris Babb and Bill Edwards, who started the 2nd half and broke the game open. Frazier and Brooks, who had been struggling, were benched. Babb continued his hot shooting (5-7 from the field) for 13 points to go along with 6 boards. Edwards scored 12 points on 5 shots with 5 rebounds. Battle had 16 points on 9 shots and 7 assists. Andrew Jones had 9 points, but had just as many shots as turnovers.

All in all, neither of these games offered any stiff competition to get PSU ready for the Big Ten season. More to come on the Real Season before PSU’s game @ the Barn on Tuesday.


Temple 45 PSU 42

December 8, 2009

http://statsheet.com/tables/games/2009/12/penn-state-42-temple-45/team_stats.html?13830

It’s been 3 days since this game and I still don’t what to think about it. Was it a bad loss? I have yet to come up with an answer to that question. I don’t even know where to start with this game…

Despite the painfully slow paced game (only 53 possessions), the first half flew by. The main reason for the short first half was because of a strange stretch that led to 9 consecutive minutes of gameplay. From the under-16 media TO (that happened at 15:17) until 6:43, there was just 1 stoppage in play (at 12:52 because of rebound that went out of bounds). This stretch might seem impossible to most, but it really just epitomized how the game was played. Neither team was aggressive on offense and the contest turned into a jumpshooting match.

NCAA Basketball Stats

PSU didn’t shoot too well, but they sure shot better than Temple. Turnovers were a big problem in such a low possession game, none bigger than Bill Edwards’ offensive foul with under 20 seconds left. Rebounding was also a big issue. Penn State played great defense for the second game in a row, but towards the end of the game, they just couldn’t finish off possessions by protecting the defensive glass. It was just a little irritating.

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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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