Penn State Basketball Mid-Season Report Card
Expectations were high for the Penn State basketball team going into this season. After adjusting to life after Jamelle Cornley’s departure last year, where no leader ever stepped up and the Nittany Lions struggled to an 11-20 record, this year was supposed to be different. With four senior starters, this team was expected to compete for the top half of the Big Ten.
After sixteen games, I’m still very shaky about this team. Talor Battle and company had three signature non-conference games to pick up a signature win and monstrously flopped with each opportunity. To cap it off, with the students home to start winter break, a Maine team picked to finish third in the America East Conference came into the Bryce Jordan Center and embarrassed this senior-laden team, setting off cries from students, alumni, and local experts that this season was a wash.
The Big Ten season has seemed to bring new life to Coach Ed DeChellis’s band of basketball brethren as the team looks to be having fun on the court for the first time in a long time. While watching the upset of Illinois from press row on Wednesday night, I noticed a change in the character of this team. Early on in the first half, as a ball was going out-of-bounds in the Penn State offensive end, Jeff Brooks came up with an incredible under-hand toss to save the play, which got the Nittany Lions two points, the number of points that they beat the Illini by.
With all this being said, it’s time for some mid-season grades, awards and predictions.
Talor Battle has been, well, Talor Battle this year. Despite having two or three game stretches where he’s shooting around 30 percent, he always seems to hit the big shot when the team needs it. If you haven’t seen his 40-footer from the Illinois game with the shot clock winding down, do so. He hasn’t had to carry the load this year, but, to reach his dream of finally getting into the NCAA Tournament, he might have to put this team on his shoulders anyway. He will be the most prolific Penn State basketball player in history when this season ends and we should all be grateful for seeing him play.
Tim Frazier has done a decent job handling the point. While he will never make us happy with his shooting (or lack there of, sometimes), he has created well enough to get David Jackson and Jeff Brooks to become double-digits scorers. He may be the most important player on this team.
David Jackson reminds me a lot of Jim Thome (excuse the baseball reference). He’s a veteran who goes out and plays hard every night and gets you the production that you need and except out of him. Every team needs a player like that.
Andrew Jones has finally come to play basketball over the last three games and I’m happy to have him aboard. With double-digit performances in his last two games, defenses won’t be allowed to play him straight up consistently anymore, which will free up space for the other four guys on the floor. If he works at his rebounding and foul trouble over the rest of the season, he can help this team play a few extra games in the post-season.
Finally, while Brooks has cooled off a bit over the last few games, his explosion out of the gates put the Big Ten on alert that this was no longer a Talor Battle dribble-dribble-shoot team. The most impressive part of his transformation has been the improvement of his outside shooting. He can now post-up, drive, or take the outside shot, and that creates matchup problems when you consider that he is 6’8″.
I’m not sure if we can really give the bench a grade because we’ve barely seen them. The team goes, at best, eight deep and no one has made a significant contribution. Taran Buie showed that hype doesn’t get you much when his piss-poor shooting did not keep him from jacking up three and three during his time with the team. He has been suspended for almost a month and this isn’t any sign of a return. Outside of Jermaine Marshall’s 18-point game against Purdue, the bench has pretty much been silent.
MVP: Talor Battle
Most Improved: Jeff Brooks
Second-half star: Andrew Jones
Postseason: Semis of Big Ten Tournament, NIT bid
Sixteen games have gone by and, while this team may be having fun and hustling like the 2009 NIT championship team, we are still left in the dark. Have they answered any of the questions we had in November about how good they actually are? I don’t believe so. And while people may be raving about wins against Michigan State and Illinois, they become less impressive as you look back and see that Penn State has had both the Spartans’ and Illini’s number at home in recent years. Saturday’s game against presumptively number-one ranked Ohio State will be a true test for this team. Another signature win in conference will be needed if they want to be dancing in March.