Is Newbill The NCAA’s Most Underrated Player?

D.J. Newbill won’t tell you what he thinks about rankings or where he stands on lists. He has let his play do the talking for him during his last two seasons at Penn State.

As he gears up for his senior year, he’s ready to prove himself again and produce at a level that made him the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer these past two years.

“I don’t pay attention to those things. I’m here to win basketball games,” Newbill said. “What they put in the media is going to be their opinions, but for me, what I think about myself doesn’t matter. What they put in the media and stuff really doesn’t phase me. I just worry about just coming in everyday with a great attitude, getting better, and helping my teammates get better.”

It’s surprising to think that a player who averaged 17.8 points per game, the second highest total in the Big Ten — arguably the best conference in basketball from year to year — could still be considered underrated. But Newbill was excluded from a number of preseason watch lists, including the Top 100 Players ranked by CBSSports, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. He was listed as one of “50 Who Just Missed” in the SB Nation list and landed in the middle of the pack at No. 54 in ESPN’s poll,

Even some of the top NCAA Basketball analysts, were confused looking for Newbill’s name:

Though Newbill won’t say the u-word, his coach is glad to speak up for him.

“D.J. is definitely underrated and I think that’s a good thing, because it’s going to continue to make him hungry and really get after it,” coach Pat Chambers said. “Not that he wouldn’t anyway.”

“I think it’s easy for national sportswriters just to talk about the blue bloods because I guess they’re driving their website or their Twitter accounts and whatever. So why would you put up a guy from Penn State?”

Why? Because Newbill has built the credentials to be named one of the top players in the conference and around the country. Last year, on top of his scoring (most made field goals in the Big Ten), he was second on his team in rebounds as a guard (4.9), and played nearly 35 minutes a game on his way to a second team All-Big Ten nod.

A natural shooting guard, Newbill will likely be handling the point guard position after the graduation of Tim Frazier. The Philly native isn’t new to the role after playing the point most of his sophomore year when Frazier went down with a season-ending Achilles tear.

Still, he will be called to step up even more than last season as he tries to work as a greater distributor on top of his necessary scoring. He averaged just 1.7 assists, playing mostly off the ball after averaging 4.0 the season without Frazier.

He was dubbed the point by Chambers during media day, but this week the head coach seemed a bit reluctant to name Newbill as the primary ball handler, likely because of his ability off the ball.

“I’m still looking at it to make sure what makes us the best team,” Chambers said. “What’s going to give us the most success throughout the game. There’s definitely going to be times and good chunks of time when he will play the point, I’m just not dead set on saying he’s going to start that way.”

The Big Ten was well represented on many of the lists that Newbill was absent from. His counterparts like Nebraska’s Terran Petteway — the Big Ten’s leading scorer last year (18.1 points per game) — and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell (17. 3 points per game), cracked the top 20 in some rankings. The primary difference with these players has been team success.

Petteway led the Cornhuskers to an unlikely NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014, and though Ferrell and the Hoosiers struggled last year, he was a key contributor to their Sweet 16 squad the season before. For Newbill to take that next step on a national stage, Penn State will have to win, something it hasn’t done much of the past two seasons.

After a dismal record of 10-21 in 2012-2013, the Lions improved to 16-18 last season. The finish was still disappointing for a team led by Frazier and Newbill, though, and the Lions were ousted in the second round of the CBI.

Despite this being the last chance to make the postseason and solidify himself as one of the top players in the country, Newbill isn’t feeling the stress — something that Chambers says comes with preseason accolades.

“I’ve got a great group of guys around me. We got five seniors on the team so I think that we’re all carrying the load for each other,” Newbill said. “But I mean this year [I’m] just going out and having fun. The season hasn’t even started yet, so it’s no pressure, no worries for me right now.”

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