|Senior Tim Frazier, who was second in the Big Ten in scoring last season (18.8 ppg), will lead a young but talented Penn State squad. (US Presswire)|
Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions
Last year: 12-20 overall, 4-14 Big Ten (t-12th), no postseason
Coach: Patrick Chambers (second year, 12-20; fourth overall, 54-48)
Projected starters: G Tim Frazier, Sr. (18.8 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.2 rpg); G D.J. Newbill, Soph. (9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg); SF Jermaine Marshall, Jr. (10.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Jon Graham, Soph. (3.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Ross Travis, Soph. (4.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Top newcomer: Chambers is high on sophomore transfer Newbill for good reason. The 6-4, 210-pound guard is a scrappy combo-player who averaged 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman at Southern Miss. Chambers wasn't shy about his admiration for the Philadelphia native when he said that Newbill paired with Frazier could give Penn State “the best backcourt in the country” over the summer.
Key losses: F Billy Oliver (6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpb) and G Cammeron Woodyard (8.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) will hurt the Lions scoring production but more importantly, their losses mean that Penn State's inexperienced big men will need to rebound. The Nittany Lions were 11th in the Big Ten last season on the defensive glass and rebounding will again be everyone's responsibility.
What you need to know: Penn State is young, raw, and talented. Frazier's maturity could be the key to galvanizing their inexperienced squad. Frazier, who shot 31 percent last year on three-pointers, worked relentlessly in the offseason on his outside shooting and is now at a point where “he's almost un-guardable,” his coach said at Big Ten media day. “But it's off the floor, in that locker room, being the hardest worker on the team,” where his coach says Frazier's leadership will become invaluable. The Lions are expected to start three underclassmen but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example than Frazier. Penn State, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (31 percent), desperately needs Frazier and Marshall (32.6 percent) to provide an outside threat along the perimeter.
Mark the calendar:
- Nov. 15 vs. N.C. State (Puerto Rico): The Nittany Lions get an early season test against the No. 6 Wolfpack in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. N.C. State returns four starters to a team that advanced to the Sweet-16 last season and two excellent rebounding big men in C.J. Leslie (7.3 rpg) and Richard Howell (9.2). This game should quickly illuminate the Lions' low-post issues.
- Jan. 7 vs. Indiana: Penn State will host the nation's preseason No. 1 ranked team in its second Big Ten game of the year. Penn State lost to the Hoosiers three times last season but nearly upset Indiana on its lone visit to the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State trailed by two points with just 21 seconds but ultimately lost 88-82. Indiana hit 16 three-pointers in the game.
- Feb. 27 vs. 5 Michigan: Penn State will take on the Wolverines twice in a 10-day span towards the backend of the conference slate. Frazier will likely be matched against potential all-Big Ten guard Trey Burke, who, like Frazier, led his team in points (14.8 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg) last season. The Wolverines won both matchups last season.
Biggest question: How will Chambers adjust in his second-year with such a young nucleus?
Best-case scenario: The Lions ascend the Big Ten standings with stellar backcourt play from Frazier and Newbill and make a deep run in the NIT. The NCAA tournament is still a little too optimistic after just four conference wins last season. Penn State's only made it to the Big Dance once in the last 11 years.
Worst-case scenario: Injuries take a toll on the team and thin frontcourt depth becomes exposed. The Nittany Lions stumble in a deep Big Ten conference and miss out on postseason play for the third time in five years.
Reality: The Lions field goal percentage, which was last in the Big Ten (39.3 percent), improves significantly and postmen Graham and Travis average north of five rebounds per game. The Nittany Lions win seven Big Ten games and are a fringe NIT team.
Season opens: vs. St. Francis, Nov. 9, 7 p.m ET.
For more Big Ten basketball coverage, follow Mike Singer and Dave Carey @CBSSportsBigTen.