There was actually some buzz regarding the Nittany Lions at the outset of the long basketball offseason because of the players they were bringing back from 2013's underwhelming 21-loss squad. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall were set to be top two returning scorers in the entire conference, and when you add in Tim Frazier, well, that's quite a collection of talent. Of course, Marshall had to spoil everything by attempting to pursue a pro career and ending up at Arizona State instead, but there is still hope for Penn State thanks to its senior leader.
The biggest story of the upcoming Penn State season is the return of Frazier. The outstanding point guard, who scored 18.8 points per game and handed out 6.2 assists per game in 2012, was lost just four games into the 2013 season with a torn Achilles tendon. While Newbill and Marshall stepped up to fill the scoring void left by Frazier, there was no replacement last season for the senior leader's passing, decision making, and dribble penetration. Even though he's listed generously at 6'1", Frazier is a complete player who is disruptive on defense as well as when he has the ball in his hands. He'll be a huge boost to the Nittany Lions in 2014 if he has his quickness back, and an improved jump shot could put him in the conversation for first team all-conference.
Another player whom head coach Pat Chambers would like to shoot better this season is junior combo guard Newbill. The versatile and athletic Philadelphia native started his career as a point guard at Southern Miss before transferring to Penn State as a sophomore. He was supposed to play alongside Frazier as a shooting guard, but when Frazier got hurt, it was up to Newbill to handle the ball most of the time. While Newbill performed with admirable effort, He could only manage a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2013 as the full-time floor general. Now with Frazier back in the fold, it will be interesting to see how Newbill's game changes. There's little doubt he'll still be counted on to drive to the basket and draw fouls, but will he be able to stretch the floor in 2014? Last year Newbill shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc overall, but down the stretch he was a more efficient player. If that improvement carries over to this season, Newbill can be a quite a threat for Penn State's opponents to deal with.
Penn State have may have lost Marshall to Arizona State and Nick Collela to graduation, but Chambers has brought in plenty of newcomers to cover those minutes and then some. Perhaps the most important addition, at least for this season, is graduate guard Allen Roberts. Thanks to the grad student loophole in the NCAA rule book, Roberts will be eligible to play this season after transferring from Miami of Ohio. Last season with the RedHawks, Robert led the team with 12.3 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three-point range. Chambers expects him to be PSU's best shooter as soon as he steps on the floor, so it would be a surprise if Roberts didn't see a lot of minutes off the bench this winter.
Also transferring to Penn State this season is junior guard John Johnson, who was a freshman at Pitt during the 2012 season. Although he wasn't on the floor too often that season, when he was, he shot a lot of three-pointers. Johnson made 33 out of 86 field goals from beyond the arc, so if nothing else he should be another player who can stretch the floor for the Nittany Lions. Because he transferred to State in December of 2012, Johnson will be eligible to suit up starting on December 22 of this year.
The additions of transfers is all well and good, but there's nothing more exciting than the seemingly limitless potential of a freshman who has set to suit up for a regular season game. Luckily Penn State has two of those who appear poised to help the team in 2014 and beyond. The first is point guard Graham Woodward, who Chambers may be in love with. I'm not sure if it's because of the youngster's "Minnesota swagger," or the grittiness that is inherent in undersized Midwestern point guards, but Woodward could be in for a lot of playing time in 2014, especially if he can stretch the floor. If nothing else, he'll be someone that Penn State can hand the ball to if Frazier ever needs a break.
Also a promising freshman is athletic combo guard Geno Thorpe. Being from Pennsylvania, Thorpe obviously lacks that Minnesota swagger, but he makes up for it with athleticism and scoring ability. Chambers says that he'll play Thrope some at the point, but as long as Woodward pans out, I would expect Thorpe to be like the Newbill to Woodward's Frazier. No matter what position Thorpe ends up playing this season or in the future, it's nice to have two versatile guards on hand that can carry the program into the future.
Biggest Question: Just how awesome is Tim Frazier?
With Frazier, Marshall, and what amounted to a bunch of scrubs, the Penn State basketball team won 12 games in 2012. Last season with Newbill, Marshall, and a slightly more competent supporting cast, the team won 10 games. Yeah, haha, the Lions have been bad lately, but it's a near certainty that 2014 will be the team's best season since the magical 2011 campaign. Even if Frazier can't repeat how amazing he was two seasons ago, the rest of the team is the deepest it's been in years (that 2011 team, while awesome, had no bench to speak of).
Depth is something that Penn State hasn't had in a while. It certainly wasn't a staple of the Ed DeChellis era. However, with Woodward and Thorpe in the fold, there's hope that the 2014 Lions can actually have a bench of sorts. It would certainly be nice if Frazier didn't have to play 40 minutes a night and have the ball in his hands for every moment of every game. Even if that was the case, though, the players that Frazier is passing the ball to this season are more talented and experienced than the guys from 2012. With a little help from his friends, Frazier could have his best season yet.