The Penn State Nittany Lions ended the season in the NCAA tournament for the first time since their magical run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2001. Expectations were understandably low after winning only three conference games in the previous season, but PSU managed to get past a few early losses to put together a solid conference campaign.
It is time to look back at the season that was by checking out the stats. As always the data that follows was mined from the indispensable Statsheet.com.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall Record: 19-15
Conference Record: 9-9
Final Conference Standing: 4th (tied with three others)
Home Record: 13-5
Away Record: 3-8
Neutral Court Record: 3-2
Record Against Top 25 at end of year: 2-6
Overtime Record: 0-0
Largest Winning Margin: 24 points vs Northwestern
Largest Losing Margin: 23 points vs Maryland
Best Win: vs Wisconsin (twice) #16 end of year RPI
Worst Loss: Maine #222 end of year RPI
A lot of teams look impressive in the early season against lesser opponents and then fall apart when the conference season starts. Penn State was not one of those teams; they lost four times before conference play started. One of those was a blowout at home against an average Maryland team in which PSU failed to break the 40 point barrier. Their home loss to the lowly Maine Black Bears made it seem like the best Penn State was capable of was another trip to the NIT.
Then the conference season started and Penn State started putting it together. They started off with a somewhat unexpected (at the time) road win over Indiana. After losing to Purdue at home, the Nittany Lions started defending their home court (even though attendance was poor). Wins over Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin sent a message to the rest of the league that they meant business this year. PSU won as many games as they lost during the conference season, and solidified their tournament position with three BTT wins (including the 36-33 fiasco against Wisconsin).
Penn State's season ended in a thriller in the first round of the NCAA tournament against the Temple Owls. Talor Battle hit a three-pointer to tie the game up with 16 seconds left, but Juan Fernandez hit a last-second shot to give Temple the victory in one of the most exciting games in this year's tournament.
Team Statistics in Conference Play (Rank in parenthesis)
Possessions per 40 minutes: 58.6 (10th)
Points per possessions: 1.08 (4th)
Rebound %: 50.2 (6th)
Assist %: 57.1 (6th)
Turnover %: 16.8 (6th)
True Shooting %: 55.8 (5th)
Points Scored Per Game: 63.2 (11th)
Points Scored Against Per Game: 64.2 (3rd)
Fouls On PSU Per Game: 15.8 (10th)
As shown by the possessions stat, Penn State played at a snail's pace this year. Both Wisconsin and Penn State played slowly but efficiently this past season. Their last place finish in points per game is mainly a product of the slow pace, and their defense managed to keep their opponents' scores down as well. PSU rated in the middle of the conference for most of their other stats, but they managed to keep from excessively fouling their opponents (although pace plays a factor in fouls per game).
Penn State's scoring margin chart is atypical in that they started the conference season barely above zero. The second half of the chart makes a lot of sense: PSU was 9-9 in conference play, and their scoring margin average starts near zero and stays almost constant throughout conference play.
Individual Statistical Leaders in Conference Games
Minutes played per game: Talor Battle, 38.9
Points per game: Talor Battle, 20.3
Rebounds per game: Jeff Brooks, 5.6
Assists per game: Tim Frazier, 5.5
Steals per game: Talor Battle and Tim Frazier, 0.89
Blocks per game: Jeff Brooks, 1.5
Five players averaged over 29 minutes per game last year; no other player averaged over 15. Four of those players were seniors, so next year will probably be a tough one. Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson all had solid senior years. Battle leaves as PSU's all-time scoring leader, and Jeff Brooks shot over 58% from the field in conference play. As far as returning players go, sophomore Tim Frazier had a good year at the point guard position.
Overall, Penn State's 2010-11 season was a success, especially compared to preseason expectations. The players showed a lot of character after suffering through last year's disaster and a rough start this year. It was nice to see Talor Battle finally make it to the tournament in his last year.