Bold predictions about Penn State basketball don't usually turn out to be correct predictions. Sure, the program has had its moments in recent history. An NIT championship in 2009 and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2011 sure were nice, but most of the time under Ed DeChellis or Pat Chambers this team is in the bottom half of the conference standings with the opportunity to sneak up and bite someone every once in a while.
Of course, if I was predicting a 6-12 Big Ten record for Penn State, that wouldn't exactly qualify as bold, so here are five unlikely but entirely possible things that could happen to the Lions this year.
Penn State will enter conference play with an undefeated record.
I got more in-depth with the non-conference schedule over here, but if you don't feel like clicking, here's a recap: The schedule is not very strong. George Washington is likely the toughest opponent the Lions will face, and that game is in State College. Penn State does take part in the Charleston Classic this season, but the bracket isn't the most intimidating in the world. Chambers's squad will be favored to reach the final game, and if they get there, the best team they might see is Miami (FL). The Lions are bound to slip up somewhere along the way, but the opportunity to go undefeated through December is certainly there.
D.J. Newbill will be a First Team All-Big Ten player.
After working double duty as point/scoring guard during 2012-13, Newbill flourished with Tim Frazier running the point last season. As Penn State's starting shooting guard in 2013-14, Newbill shot five percent better from the floor, six percent better from three-point range, and scored about a point more per game than in his first campaign with the Lions. Since Newbill was working off the ball, he also saw his turnovers reduced by about half. All things considered, it was a terrific season for Newbill, but can he improve again with Frazier now in the NBA?
If new point guard Devin Foster handles his duties adequately, then Newbill will be freed up to become an even more efficient scorer. If that happens, it will be hard to not count him among the top three guards in the Big Ten.
Ross Travis secures All-Big Ten honors.
With Frazier and Newbill both playing up to their capabilities last year, it wasn't guard play that kept the Lions from bigger and better things. Rather, the forward rotation left something to be desired. For the Lions to be an NCAA Tournament contender in 2014-15, one of the big men needs to step up and become a major factor. Travis is the closet to being that type of player. He's already a great athlete and a terrific rebounder (seven per contest in 2013-14), but he needs to work on finishing at the rim and establishing a consistent jump shot. If Travis can do those things this season, he'll be a double-double threat in every game.
Pat Chambers wins Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Penn State's best player just graduated and expectations are relatively low this year. That's a perfect setup for Chambers to take home some hardware if his team can make itself relevant in March. There are plenty of question marks on this team, though. Will Travis or another forward step up to become more than a role player? Can Newbill maintain last season's efficiency without Frazier alongside him? Can Foster help fill the point guard role? How will freshman combo guard Shep Garner fit in?
Not all of these things need to go right for Penn State to have a successful season, but if some of them do, Chambers might find his team in a surprising spot at the end of the trail.
Penn State qualifies for the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The boldest prediction of all! The weak non-conference schedule might hold the Lions back, but if they sweep it (or come very close) and go .500 in conference play, there's a chance for them to reach the big dance. Probable? No. Possible? Yes. And that hope is something that the Nittany Lion basketball fan clings to as we get deeper into fall.