After reading through the tweets from Pat Chambers’ end-of-season press conference on Monday, you could tell how much he’s looking forward to the 2013-2014 season. I don’t blame him, I’m really looking forward to it too.
As frustrating as this past season was for Chambers’ young team, it will pay off for them next season. When you go through the meat grinder that is the Big Ten without your do-everything point guard, the rest of the team is forced to elevate their game and take on more responsible. Even though that didn’t result in many wins, it will only help the players who return next season (which is nearly everyone).
Obviously the two players who had to shoulder the majority of the load once Tim Frazier went down for the season were D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall. At times the duo struggled. But when both were hitting shots and playing well, Penn State was a lot tougher to beat (see Feb. 27 vs. Michigan).
Newbill was also charged with most of the point guard duties, with primary ball handler being his main responsibility. And he’s a shooting guard, not a point guard. So now that Newbill has nearly a whole season of playing point guard under his belt, he has a better overall understanding of the game. And even though Marshall didn’t play the point as much as Newbill, you could say the same about him to a lesser degree. With Frazier back next season, Newbill and Marshall will both play off the ball a lot more and be back at their natural two-guard spots.
Another reason to get excited about Penn State hoops next year is the incoming freshmen class. The four incoming freshmen are Geno Thorpe (guard from Pittsburgh), Graham Woodward (guard from Edina, MN), Payton Banks (small forward from Orange, CA) and Julian Moore (power forward from Ft. Washington, PA).
I’ve seen Thorpe play in person twice and he has impressed me a lot. He is a great on-ball defender, can get to rim and make tough layups. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the other three play in person. I know that Woodward and Banks scored a lot in high school. And even though Moore didn’t fill the stat sheet as much, he was instrumental in helping his team win a state championship. In my opinion, Thorpe might be the most prepared one of the group to contribute right away. But due to Penn State’s need for more production from its bigs, Moore might be the most important down the road.
Another factor to consider for next season is the addition of Pitt transfer John Johnson. Johnson will add more depth and scoring to an already solid backcourt of Frazier, Newbill and Marshall. Chambers seems very optimistic about Johnson and even said this during the press conference:
“What a luxury to have someone off the bench giving you 20.” In 39 games as a freshman at Pitt during the 2011-2012 season, Johnson averaged 4.2 points per game and 1.2 assists per game while playing about 14 minutes per game. I’m not sure what gives Chambers reason to think that Johnson can score like that in a conference like the Big Ten, but hopefully he’s right.
Penn State isn’t going to shock the world and finish in the top three of the Big Ten, but I believe that they have a legitimate shot to win 7-10 conference games next season. Obviously a lot depends on who from the other Big Ten teams decides to enter the draft early (Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, Deshaun Thomas, etc.).
I’m usually not so optimistic when it comes to sports, but I firmly believe that Pat Chambers will have great success in his third year in Happy Valley. The experience that his team gained from this past season while playing in the best conference in the country without their best player is vital to next season’s hopes. The Nittany Lions are well equipped to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid in 2013-2014 and I believe that they will do it.
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