It took eight years, but Penn State coach Ed DeChellis finally accomplished what he was brought back to State College to do: he got the Nittany Lions in the NCAA tournament. It was quite an exciting run, but with four of five starters graduating and disgraced top recruit Taran Buie seeking a transfer, PSU fans are left with a hollowing "now what?" feeling heading into next year. Exactly what can we expect from the Lions this season and is there hope for a return to the tourney in the future? I talked to BT Powerhouse contributor and editor at Black Shoe Diaries fugimaster24 hoping to find some answers.
BT Powerhouse: How does the PSU fan base feel about Ed DeChellis now? The dreadful 2009-10 season made the extension he received after the 2009 NIT championship seem like a big mistake. Did DeChellis completely redeem himself with the NCAA bid this year or does he still have to prove himself some?
fugimaster24: After the team was forced to practice in Penn State's dump of an IM Building for more than a week in February, I think the athletic department's lack of commitment to the program was really exposed. Being forced to yield practice time in an adequate facility at a crucial moment in the season to tour practice for Bon Jovi and a career fair was a real slap in the face to Ed, the players and the program in general. At that point, I think a lot of fans began feeling apathetic toward Ed and started voicing displeasure with the way the athletic department treats the team instead. Ed might not be part of the solution, but I think most fans see him as a lesser problem than the athletic department's slavery to the bottom line, and as long as that's the case, I expect most will cut him some slack.
BTP: Talor Battle is already a Penn State legend. Is he is the best Nittany Lion basketball player ever?
fugimaster24: It's either Bubby or Jesse Arnelle, the key piece in Penn State's 1954 Final Four run. I don't think anyone else really comes close. If I had to pick between the two, though, I'd probably take Battle. He got every team's best shot on defense for most of four years at the college level and took an incomplete team to the NCAA Tournament. I've never even seen a clip of Arnelle's game, though, so that's probably not entirely a fair opinion.
BTP: Penn State took a huge step from 2009-10 to 2010-11 despite barely any roster turnover. Which player's improvement helped PSU the most? Tim Frazier or Jeff Brooks?
fugimaster24: Ultimately, Penn State needed both guys badly to have a chance to do what it did. Frazier developed into a more versatile threat by the end of the season but Brooks really helped Battle carry the team for the first couple of months.
BTP: With four starters graduating, prospects for PSU next season are bleak. Is there any reason for hope? Which of the incoming freshmen/redshirt freshmen do you expect to have the biggest impact?
fugimaster24: There's plenty of reason for hope. I've heard a lot of good things about redshirt freshman Jonathan Graham so far this offseason. Some say he looked better than Andrew Jones in practice during the last month or so of the season and he still has a lot of room to grow. Joining him in the frontcourt are the twin 6'11" towers of Pete Alexis and Pat Ackerman. Both will need to develop, but again, there's still plenty of room to grow,and frames like theirs have me giddy. Lastly, I think a lot of people are excited to see what Trey Lewis, a star in Ohio this past year, can do. If he can develop into the type of volume scorer Battle was, Penn State will be just fine.
BTP: No one is expecting PSU to return to the NCAA Tournament next season. What would you consider a successful year? Are you looking for a certain number of wins or is individual player progress more important?
fugimaster24: With 12 guys on the roster playing with freshman or sophomore eligibility next year, I have no expectations. I'll really just be watching to see how the team might come together in the future. If we can see the skeleton of an NCAA Tournament contender with guys in defined rolls by the end of the year, I'll be satisfied.
BTP: Penn State just got a huge boost with the news that Dayton guard Juwan Staten is transferring to PSU and be able to play starting in fall 2012. Is this a sign that DeChellis is getting more respect nationally? Does it make up for the major disappointment that was Taran Buie's career?
fugimaster24: I'm not going to read too much into the Staten transfer. He was a good get, but does he represent a shift in the way high school recruits or potential transfers see DeChellis? I doubt that. And who is Taran Buie?
BTP: Thanks for your time
So there you have it. Expectations could hardly be lower for Penn State going into the 2011-12 season, but there are a bunch of intriguing prospects to look out for. The crazy amount of playing time available to young players will make it easy for new recruits to grab minutes and start to pave the way towards Penn State's next tournament team. Be sure to stay tuned to BT Powerhouse as Penn State Week continues.