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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Heading into Tougher Stretch, Nittany Lions sit at 4-2

Ok, so after 6 non-conference games Penn State is 4-2. Usually, this would be a good thing. This season, not so much, especially since the losses came to two poor teams. But let's remember there are NO seniors on this Nittany Lion team. Three key contributors, including the team's best player from last season, are gone. With the early season struggles of Andrew Jones and Chris Babb, Penn State is basically playing with 3 guys who received significant playing time last season - Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, and D.J. Jackson.

The season is far from over, especially considering a young team should continue to improve as the season goes on. With Big Ten play not starting until the last week in December, there is still a good chance Penn State reaches the NCAA Tournament.

But is the focus really on this season? If you are looking for stats and strategy, there is no reason to continue reading this post. I'm not going to explain how shooting under 30% from the floor for a majority of the UNC-Wilmington game affects this team. I'm not detailing the struggles of Chris Babb from beyond the arc. But, when you look at this team as a whole, the potential is there to compete for a Big Ten season.

Let's start inside with the big men...

First, C/F Andrew Jones has been terrible this season. There's no other way to look at it. I'm sure Jones and head coach Ed DeChellis would agree too. Jones showed in last season's NIT Tournament how good he can be. Not only did he show off his defense, playing great inside against Notre Dame's NBA-bound big man Luke Harangody, Jones proved to be a scoring threat as well. That's why his play has been so disappointing. The potential to become a complete, dual-threat post player is there. Jones has the ability to do what Jamelle Cornley did last year inside the paint and more. If he can improve over the course of this season, imagine the potential of a three-man rotation inside consisting of Jones, Brooks and Borovnjak. Jeff Brooks has been a consistent offensive and defensive threat for Penn State and Sasa Borovnjak has exceeded expectations with his hustle, size and athletic ability.

Now let's look at junior D.J. Jackson and freshman Bill Edwards. Jackson might have the most potential of any Nittany Lion. The defense has always been there, but was last night finally a sign of what so many people have been expecting from Jackson at the other end of the floor? His NIT performance against Florida and Notre Dame, plus 26 points last night is hard to dispute. Jackson has all the ability. Edwards is very similar, except he comes to Penn State needing to improve on the defensive end. DeChellis said Edwards was one of the best players in camp. Now just two games after returning from a MCL injury, we can all see why.

Next up, the two men who run the offense, junior Talor Battle and freshman Tim Frazier. Battle can't do it by himself, although he is good enough to win once and awhile without much help. Everyone knows all about the perennial player of the year nominee, but how about Frazier. Chris Babb was expected to start at the 2 guard, but instead the freshman, Frazier, is picking up extra minutes. Frazier, when he slows down and plays his game, has shown an incredible ability to distribute the rock. His speed should allow him to play a lot like Stanley Pringle did at the 2 last season. By this time next year, Frazier could be as good as Pringle last season. Plus, he's only a freshman, so there is a lot of time to improve on offense.

However, the guards need help. It all starts with Babb. His shooting and defense have been subpar at best. That's not a good sign for Babb, who figured to be the team's best outside shooter coming into the 09-10 season. If Penn State plans to compete this season, they need Babb and Cam Woodyard to step up. Adam Highberger is a nice player, but he's not ready for the spotlight.

The best part, all of these guys are back next season. Plus, Penn State adds Taran Buie. When the Nittany Lions struggle shooting this season, or when they fail to rebound inside don't get too upset. These are all simply growing pains. The goal of this season is to improve. But next year is the year for these Nittany Lions.

- Brian Tripp

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