The start of Penn State men's basketball season is less than a month away, and the Nittany Lions will take to the floor this evening for the start of practices. Head coach Patrick Chambers has a lot of work to do in his second season to bring Penn State up from the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but the Nittany Lions, who lost four key players from the 2011-12 rotation, believe they'll be better across the board this season.
Tim Frazier, left, and head coach Patrick Chambers will once again lead Penn State in 2012-13.
To get you primed for hoops season, here are five issues that should give you an idea of what to expect when Penn State takes the floor against St. Francis on Nov. 9 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
What impact will D.J. Newbill have?
Newbill, the transfer from Southern Mississippi, will turn 21 in May but will enter the season with sophomore eligibility. The Nittany Lions saw his talent during practices last season, and during the offseason he joined senior guard Tim Frazier as one of the team's leaders. Penn State will play Newbill at the two and junior Jermaine Marshall at the three this season and should find plenty of shot opportunities for both. Newbill's mid-range game and his ability as a passer should complement Frazier's penetration and Marshall's spot-up skills nicely, and he could play some point if Frazier needs a rare breather. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he instantly upgrades Penn State's backcourt from a defensive standpoint.
Who will shoot the three?
The Nittany Lions were 11th in the Big Ten last season with a .311 team 3-point percentage and will look to make some strides there. Marshall, who connected on 32.6 percent of his 3-point tries last season, has improved his consistency from the arc, according to observers. So too has Frazier, who worked in the offseason with assistant coach Eugene Burroughs to shorten his stroke. Frazier has always been quick enough to get separation and his leaping ability makes it tough for opponents to block his jumper; he could take his game to a new level if he can be more consistent from long range. True freshman guard Akosa Maduegbunam has also shown potential from the outside.
Are the big men ready to step up?
Redshirt sophomore Jon Graham has worked hard to change his body, dropping several pounds and improving his vertical leap. Graham showed the ability to get off his shot last season but had trouble finishing; the extra spring should help improve his confidence around the rim. Teammates have praised him for being more vocal during offseason activities. Junior Sasa Borovnjak has worked hard to add strength and has good passing skills and touch for a big man. The Nittany Lions will need him to be tougher on defense and more assertive with his shot, though.
Where does Ross Travis fit in?
Penn State played the athletic Minnesota native mostly at the four last season, but Chambers would like to see what Travis can do on the perimeter as well. The 6-foot-6 Travis spent the offseason trying to improve his ball-handling abilities and short- to mid-range jumper. Travis brings energy to the floor and has a knack for chasing down loose balls, and his ability to guard bigger forwards as well as smaller, quicker ones gives Chambers some lineup flexibility. His aggressive defensive instincts will continue to lead to some transition opportunities, but he must also learn to avoid foul trouble.
Will the freshmen contribute immediately?
There might not be any freshman of the year candidates on the roster but all three of Penn State's newcomers could see the floor this season. Brandon Taylor trimmed nearly 30 pounds from his 6-foot-7 frame during the summer and has the offensive skill set -- particularly his perimeter jumper -- to be a factor. Like most young players, he'll need to prove he can be a reliable defender and rebounder to log serious minutes. Donovon Jack has put on some weight but could still have some trouble putting a body on some of the Big Ten's better big men. His shooting ability could make him a tough matchup at the four, though. Maduegbunam came to Penn State with a Division I body and, as mentioned earlier, could find his way into the rotation thanks to his 3-point range and athleticism.