In 2011 the Nittany Lions mustered a 19 win season and a NCAA Tournament appearance in what would be the last game of then head coach Ed DeChellis before he left his alma matter for Navy (and failing to reach double digits in all three seasons since taking over). The cupboard wasn't exactly left full heading into the 2011-12 season and the end result was about as expected, with Penn State tying for last. They repeated their last place conference finish once again in 2012-13 before eventually working their way up to a tie for tenth place this season and a bid to the CBI Tournament.
The question is where is Penn State heading into the next season. It's easy to see that the team improved this season and easily fieldied their most competitive team in Patrick Chambers tenure here, but the teams hard work and effort still only netted them 16 wins and a sub .500 record. Even more problematic is the team will be losing Tim Frazier, one of the Lions most dynamic guards and team leaders. Of course the team will return the second part of their dynamic backcourt duo in D.J. Newbill, coming off of a season where he average almost 18 points per game, but the performance of the frontcourt never solidified or became consistent enough to win games. The end result was Penn State was only carried as far as Frazier and Newbill could carry them and now one piece is out of the equation.
Even more problematic is the departure of freshman guard Graham Woodward, the expected replacement for Frazier. In his first season on campus Woodward averaged a little over 12 minutes per game in 31 appearances, only scoring 88 points but earning some valuable experience. Now the Lions will have to hope for the best from either Pittsburgh transfer John Johnson, underclassmen Geno Thorpe or one of the teams 2014 recruits. It's not the end of the world, but it's an unnecessary blow that weakens the overall depth of the team. The reality is this team will likely be carried once again by D.J. Newbill. Without Frazier, though, the development of the frontcourt will be key for the team to match this years improvement and continue to build from here. Especially when you take into consideration the parity in the league this year, something not guaranteed next season.
As for the 2013-14 season, it was interesting to say the least. The Lions fell early to Bucknell in what I'm pretty sure was the first loss by a Big Ten team this season, but followed it with a six game winning streak topped off with a win over St. Johns. Of course Penn State couldn't knock off Ole Miss or Pittsburgh, but outside of a suspicious loss to Princeton in overtime, the teams 9-4 start out of conference wasn't half bad. Once Big Ten play started, though, the wheels fell off the bus with six straight losses, including a late loss to Purdue after a foul that should have never been made in the first place.
Then things got interesting.
Penn State added their first conference win late in January, knocking off Nebraska by four at home. This wasn't seen as much at the time considering Nebraska was still seen as a relatively bottom feeding Big Ten squad. Then Penn State decided it wanted to pick up a marquee win and turn some heads, heading into Columbus and knocking off the Buckeyes in overtime. The Big Ten was about as unpredictable as could be this season and nothing highlights this more than the fact that Penn State beat Ohio State not once, but twice. They even managed to head into Bloomington and knock off Indiana, while dropping close contests versus a good chunk of the conference. And of course who could forget their road trip to Evanston on my birthday, holding Northwestern to 32 points...on their home court...on senior night.
Of course while the Nittany Lions were a wrecking ball versus Ohio State and split a series with Indiana, they for some reason couldn't handle Minnesota, losing all three of their games versus the Gophers, including back to back losses to close out the Big Ten season. Like mentioned above, the team only went as far as Frazier and Newbill could carry them...and the duo's 11 of 34 shooting performance in the Big Ten Tournament was the last straw.
While Penn State couldn't hit .500 and wasn't capable of sneaking into the NIT, a longshot that seemed liked the best case scenario at the beginning of the season, Chambers team did land a CBI bid like Purdue did the year before. And like my beloved Boilermakers, it went exactly the same. After taking advantage of 40 free throws, Penn State was able to down Hampton by four points and advance to the quarterfinals where they would draw Siena, a team that (at the time) had a sub .500 record and had lost not once, but twice to the Boilermakers during the regular season. Unfortunately for Penn State, though, the team had a horrible shooting performance and only hit on 29.8% of their field goals, as well as a poor 54.5% from the charity stripe. With Newbill going 5 of 18 and no one else reaching double digits, the Nittany Lions were held to 52 points and lost by two in the CBI Quartfinals in a game most Penn State fans quickly wished to forget.
So now where does that leave Penn State heading into next season? On one hand, the team made some gains this season. On the other side, the loss of Frazier could be detrimental to Chambers squad in 2014. Of course no one is questioning the Nittany Lions effort or the work they're putting in, as these guys are clearly putting it all out there every night and trying to get better, but outside of Newbill there's little returning that's guaranteed to do much next season. Guys like Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis could emerge next season, but they spent most of this year going through the motions. Even more problematic is the lack of help coming next season, with their current 2014 recruiting class only featuring a pair of three star guards in Shep Garner and Isaiah Washington. The reality is this teams success will be heavily linked with the development of their returning frontcourt.
That leaves us with the 2013-14 season, one which saw Penn State show quite a bit of improvement but ultimately little to show for it. While there were considerably more highs than the last few seasons, it was still a frustrating experience with little overall success. Now the team losses one of it's best players and will likely be in contention for the Big Ten cellar once again. But hey, at least you guys swept Ohio State and knocked off Tom Crean's Hoosiers in Bloomington, likely one of the key losses keeping Indiana out of the NIT and creating quite a bit of entertainment from the fallout.