2012-13 Season Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

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D.J. Newbill (left) will play his first season at Penn State in 2012-2013 (Photo: Mitch Cockrell/SportsPageMagazine.com)

Austin Lederman (@AustinLederman)

Penn State will return 70 percent of its scoring, 60 percent of its rebounding and 78 percent of its assists from a team that finished last in the Big Ten in Patrick Chambers’ first season as head coach. With a year under his tutelage, the Nittany Lions are hoping to reverse their fortune.

Penn State Nittany Lions Season Primer
Coach: Patrick Chambers, 4th season, (54-48, .529)

Last Year: 12-20 (4-14 Big Ten); Missed postseason play

Key Losses: Billy Oliver (6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)Trey Lewis (5.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg), Matt Glover (2.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Oliver was a typical Penn State player – a tough-nosed player willing to do anything to help the team win. Last season he suffered a concussion that eventually ended his season and the Nittany Lions will miss his three-point shooting the most. Lewis was a highly-touted freshman that could never get it going. He suffered an injury early in the year and then fell out of favor with the coach. Lewis transferred to Cleveland State and will sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Glover is another player that transferred from the program, going to the University of San Francisco. Glover really struggled to shoot the ball last year and the team won’t miss him too much.

New Faces: D.J. Newbill (Strawberry Mansion/Southern Miss), Brandon Taylor (Tabernacle, NJ/Trenton Catholic), Donovan Jack (Reading, PA/Berks Catholic)
Head coach Patrick Chambers has been raving about the 6-foot-4 guard out of Philadelphia since last season. Newbill transferred from Southern Mississippi and had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Freshman Brandon Taylor will be expected to be a key contributor off the bench with defense and rebounding. At 6-foot-9, fellow freshman Donovan Jack, who was originally committed to Duquense, will be expected to provide solid minutes to relieve some of the frontcourt members.

Starting Backcourt: Tim Frazier (18.8 ppg, 6.2 apg), D.J. Newbill (9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Jermaine Marshall (10.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Chambers has said that he believes he can have the best backcourt in the country. While that may be a stretch, it all starts with all-purpose point guard Tim Frazier. Success of this team will fall on Frazier’s frail shoulders, as he is expected to carry the load once again for the Nittany Lions. Coming off a season in which he led the team in nearly every statistical category and a summer spent at prestigious basketball camps run by Deron Williams and Lebron James, Frazier is ready for the challenge.

Luckily for Frazier, newcomer D.J. Newbill can help share some of the ball-handling duties. Newbill, a redshirt sophomore, practiced with the team last year but didn’t play in games. He can get into the lane with his strong build and finishes well around the rim. Expected to take over the point guard position when Frazier goes to the bench, Newbill believes he’s ready for the increased role.

Penn State also returns it’s second leading scorer from last year in guard Jermaine Marshall. Last year, Marshall reached or eclipsed the 20-point mark four times. He did it against quality teams too, most notably against the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, where he scored 27 points and grabbed 8 rebounds on 10-of-18 shooting. If Marshall can show some more consistency this season, Chambers may actually be on to something.

Borovnjak (left) averaged 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds in 17.5 minutes last season. (Photo: Christopher Weddle/Centre Daily Times)

Starting Frontcourt: Ross Travis (4.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Sasa Borovnjak (4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Chambers stated at media day that Ross Travis could very well be the MVP of this team. At 6’6, Travis has the ability to play either forward position, and can potentially guard up to four positions on the defensive side of the ball. Travis is the player for the Nittany Lions who will make all the little plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He’ll dive on the floor, make a key box out, and take a charge from anybody. His athletic ability will also give Tim Frazier another running mate when the Nittany Lions decide to get out on the fastbreak. Chambers has said Travis has really improved his shot, and if so, he’ll be even more valuable to this team than before.

Last season, Borovnjak was recovering from an ACL tear from the previous season, leaving him at times slow on rotations and not getting enough lift to finish around the rim. He’s fully recovered now, and he should be more explosive around the rim and should be able to get in better position for offensive rebounds. He isn’t the type of player to be put in isolation plays on the low block, but he’s an active big who sets solid screens and has a soft set of hands.

Bench: Jon Graham (3.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Nick Colella (2,7 ppg, 1.3 rpg), Brandon Taylor, Donovan Jack
Don’t be surprised if Jon Graham, the 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore, takes over the starting center position from Borovnjak at some point in the season. Graham had a really strong showing (16 points, 7 rebounds) in the exhibition game against Philadelphia University. Graham has cut his weight down by about 15 pounds and is now listed at 225, allowing him to move quicker and jump higher. He’s a much better defender in the pick-and-roll due to his increased quickness. He’s easily the most important bench player for the Nittany Lions if he remains on the bench.

Colella is a 6-foot-3 sharpshooting guard who originally played at Penn State Behrend, a Division-3 school and satellite campus of University Park. Colella transferred to University Park after his sophomore season and was a member of the Lady Lions’ practice squad. Colella walked onto the team, and earned a scholarship for the spring 2012 semester as well as for this season. Colella, known as a great three-point shooter also grinds on defense and is willing to sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team.

Taylor, who played AAU ball for Team Philly, already has the body for the physical play of the Big Ten. Chambers expects 6-7 forward to play a significant role off the bench, with skills to score inside and out. His primary calling though will be to play hard-nosed defense and to crash the boards hard.

Jack (6-9, 205) is a good athlete who also played volleyball in high school. He’s got good timing and runs the floor really well with great energy. Jack may not play too many minutes this season, but when he does, Chambers expects him to contribute.

Three Games to Watch: vs. North Carolina State (11/16), vs. Ohio State (1/26), @ Michigan (2/17)
Penn State’s second game of the season comes against a top-10 team in North Carolina State at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. Chambers knows that his team is going against future first-round draft pick C.J. Leslie and is excited for the chance his big guys have of going up against him. Playing against Ohio State will be a big challenge for the Nittany Lions. Last year Aaron Craft really gave Tim Frazier trouble (16 points, 6-of-17 shooting, four turnovers) and it will be interesting to see if Frazier takes this matchup personally. Another great point guard matchup in the Big Ten will be when the Nittany Lions go to Ann Arbor to take on Trey Burke and the Wolverines. Burke, one of the top lead guards in the country is sure to bring excitement to this game as well as backcourt teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. in what will be one of the better backcourt battles in the country.

Three Keys to Success
1. Win on the Road: Last year, Penn State went 1-11 away from the Bryce Jordan Center with the lone win coming against an abysmal Boston College team. If the Nittany Lions want to be any form of contenders in the Big Ten, they can’t afford to go winless again on the road in conference play. A full year under Chambers should help.

2. 3-point shooting: Penn State shot 31 percent from beyond the arc last year, a number that Chambers expects to increase. He said that Frazier and Travis have both significantly improved their three-point shots and that with a strong season from Colella can improve their chances of winning ball games.

3. Big men: Chambers has said that the development of the big men will be key for the Nittany Lions to be successful this season. Borovnjak is finally healthy, Graham has improved his quickness, and Travis has looked like a different player so far. You know what Tim Frazier will give you, the question mark remains on the big guys.

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