November 7, 2007

Big Ten Basketball Preview - Penn State

UPDATE: PSU blogger Black Shoe Diaries has a thorough preview. After further review (not BSD's preview) I am calling PSU to be 6-12 and finish tied with Michigan for 8th/9th place.

A year ago Penn State came into the season with high expectations. They were returning 4 starters from a 6-10 team (in conference) and were ready to make some noise in the Big Ten. Nobody told them that if you don't play defense you don't win in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions were last defensively in the conference and finished 2-14.

This year they return 3 starters and again are optimistic. Their optimism stems from the return of Geary Claxton who is the Big Ten's leading returning rebounder (8.0) and 2nd scorer (16.3). To go with Claxton they also return Jamelle Cornley, David Jackson returns from a medical redshirt and other talented but young players.

Can they make the jump from a last place team to a competitive Big Ten team in 1 year? Probably not but here are the kids who will look to improve on last years debacle.

PG - Talor Battle - Like their 2-14 partner, Northwestern, Penn State will likely start the season with a freshman PG. The downside is that he is replacing an experienced starter who graduated, the upside is that Battle has more athleticism and quickness than his predecessor. Battle was a dynamic scorer in his senior season and will look to infuse an offensive spark into PSU. The question is can he help to upgrade the Nittany Lion defense?

SG - Stanley Pringle - anther new face to the starting line-up. Pringle should also upgrade the speed and athletic ability of the PSU backcourt. This JUCO transfer is really fast and will hopefully be able to use that speed to apply some defensive pressure to opposing guards.

SF- Geary Claxton - an NBA talent who will likely lead the team in scoring and rebounding. But can he use his talent to lead this team to more wins? Often lower tier teams have players with outstanding numbers because somebody has to score, but can Claxton get it done on the defensive end and offensively play with the other 4 guys to get Ws?

PF - Jamelle Cornley - The 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the year had a solid sophomore season as well. But Conley, like Claxton needs to improve defensively as he continues to mature as a basketball player.

C - Brandon Hassell - athletic, strong but thin big man. Hassell could break out and have a big season. But here again the big question for Hassell and the rest of his teammates is can they put together a breakout defensive season? Along with stoping teams, Penn State had trouble rebounding the ball and that will rest partly on Hassell to improve.

Key Bench - Schyler King - JUCO transfer foward who will compete for playing time.
Key Bench - David Jackson - redshirted last season after an injury. Jackson is another forward who could start but likely will come off the bench for key minutes.
Key Bench - Andrew Jones - a redshirt freshman center who will hopefully add some size to this undersized frontcourt.
Key Bench - Jeff Brooks - a highly recruited wing who is in a situation where he could make an immediate impact in the Big Ten.

Prediction - Going from a season where they were unable to win just one road game and finished with only 2 conference wins, it is hard to imagine a season where Penn State makes a significant jump in the standings. They do have an outstanding player in Claxton and some other talented pieces. But a team that is young and needs to improve their defense as much as they need to improve seems to be too big of a leap.

I see a 5-13 conference season for the Nittany Lions. They have the potential to be the team that makes me look the worst. The talent is here to break out and win 6-8 games, but getting over the mental hump of a road win within the Big Ten and a team that relies on the 2-3 zone to stop teams just won't get a vote of confidence from me until they prove it first.

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