This post has been in the works for quite some time, really since PSU’s all-everything point guard Tim Frazier’s ruptured achilles was made public. A team that was always going to struggle offensively, or at least appeared to be headed in that direction with Frazier, suddenly lost the guy that ran the entire show. Is it wise to build so much of what you want to do around just one guy? Of course not, but for so many reasons, that was the hand Patrick Chambers was dealt.
The first and most obvious effect of the loss of Frazier is D.J. Newbill’s role. Newbill was primed to take some of the scoring burden off of Frazier, and form one of the more potent backcourt tandems in the Big 10. When Frazier went down, Newbill was forced into taking on the bulk of the point guard duties, a spot he had never played, and certainly not against the level of competition PSU was to face in the conference. While Newbill’s transition to the point has been admirable, it is clear it’s very much the proverbial round peg/square hole problem. Not only is he not the type of ball handler you need, especially against the aggressive Big 10 defenses on the schedule, it has taken it’s toll on the sophomore transfer. The strong, aggressive shooting guard looks worn down and has struggled to get to the basket consistently.
With Newbill moving to the point, junior Jermaine Marshall has transitioned to the 2, and PSU’s 2nd scoring option. Going into the season, Marshall was penciled in as the 3rd guard, and 3rd option on offense. As Marshall moved up in the lineup, freshman Brandon Taylor was pressed into heavier minutes that the staff would have liked, and is being relied on to provide much more than you would typically want a true freshman to do. Taylor has shown flashes of offensive talent, but the adjustment to playing defense against Big 10 opponents has been a slow one. Taylor has struggled to stay out of foul trouble with any consistency, taking one of PSU’s precious few offensive threats off the floor.
Entering the Big 10, the Lions had well documented struggles down the stretch of games they appeared to have well in hand, only to be forced to hang on at the end. Any coach will tell you the key to closing out a game is putting the ball in the hands of your point guard. Penn State has not had that luxury since the 3rd game of the season. Newbill is simply not the ball handler, especially against the pressure defenses you see in late minutes of a close ballgame, you would want, but he is the best Chambers has at this point. As the season goes on, and Newbill’s heavy minutes continue to add up, it would stand to reason this can and will be a bigger issue should PSU find themselves in the position of needing to close out a close win.
Perhaps most importantly is the leadership aspect. Frazier and Newbill entered the season as captains, with Nick Colella and Jermaine Marshall being named captains in December. There is no question this is Frazier’s team though. He is the most talented, and hardest working guy on this team. I don’t care what any coach says, it is damn near impossible to lead a team when you are at the end of the bench, in a suit, with a walking boot. Frazier’s efforts are admirable, but there is just no substitute for a guy going out on the floor and working with you. Do you think that Tim Frazier lets that Northwestern game go down the way it did if he’s running the point? I didn’t think so.
I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Michigan’s head coach John Beilein Monday evening during his coaches show in Ann Arbor. I was introduced to him as a PSU fan and alumnus. His first words were “it’s really too bad what happened with Tim Frazier. They just aren’t the team they would have been with him. He’s a huge loss.” Is some of that coach speak? Of course. But he could have just as easily said “they’re playing hard” or “Pat’s doing what he can.” No, he focused on Frazier. Beilein, and I’d wager all 10 other coaches in the Big 10, know just how much Frazier means to PSU basketball. It’s too bad more than a few Nittany Lion fans don’t realize the same.
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