Just a note: not all Penn State fans are evil, vicious, unintelligent cretins. Ben Jones, for example, is not. (Some, however, are. Kidding, of course. But when Danny O'Brien, Maryland's ACC Rookie of the Year winner, is getting in the "hate Penn State" act, well, it's time to hate Penn State, if only for a few days.)
Anyway, back to Mr. Jones: the blogger for both Black Shoe Diaries and Victory Bell Rings caught hold of us a few days ago and was nice enough to virtually sit down with us and exchange questions on tomorrow's Maryland-Penn State matchup in Happy Valley. Y'know, the regular blogger-type thing. Check out our own answers to his questions at Victory Bell Rings. But first, read on for an insider's perspective on PSU hoops:
1. Talor Battle has been the star of this team since his sophomore season. How has he progressed since leading the Nittany Lions to the NIT title a few years ago? What's his game in a nutshell?
Talor's biggest adjustment in his game has been his ability to know when to share the ball rather than carry the team on his own. Battle sometimes gets a bad rap for trying to do to much, but over the end of last season he started making a better effort to get the team involved. It has been the same this season and I think the most noticeable by-product of that has been Jeff Brooks' production.
In a nutshell though, Battle's game is getting to the rim, and trying to draw a foul. He's a better outside shooter than his numbers might lead you to believe, too; he's one of those players who might be having a bad game, but still has the knack of hitting a shot when Penn State really needs one. If Talor starts off slow, it doesn't mean he won't get going later on.
2. At the beginning of the season, it seemed that PSU's hopes rested on their frontcourt players, especially Andrew Jones and Jeff Brooks, developing into scoring and rebounding presences. Statistically, it looks like Brooks has made the leap, while Jones hasn't. How's the frontcourt looking so far?
The frontcourt is getting there. Jeff Brooks has been a great surprise this year, he's one of those players who in the past has shown flashes of really good play, and then followed it up with just bad basketball (ed's note: sounds a lot like Cliff Tucker). So far this year though he has played extremely well and it's really given guys like Battle and David Jackson less of a load to carry.
Andrew Jones has been a bit of a disappointment offensively, but in his defense Penn State doesn't try and run offense through him. Looking over the tape from the last game, Jones got the ball 5 times in the paint all game, 2 of which was while he was facing the basket. Penn State triess to run their offense from the outside, so there isn't anything saying Jones couldn't get going, he just doesn't get a lot of touches. To his credit, he has been an outstanding interior defender, which Penn State will need to slow down Jordan Williams.
3. The biggest weakness on this team, as I see it, is the lack of depth. Unless you're loaded with incredible talent, playing 7 guys in crucial road games is a no-no for high-major teams. Maryland's going to come in and run - a lot. Gary Williams is probably hoping that the faster tempo can force Ed DeChellis into going deeper into his bench than he'd like. Are the role players past, say, Taran Buie really that bad? Is there any name we really need to know off the bench?
It's not that they're bad, more like Penn State just gets away with using 7 guys (ed's note: losing by 13 =/= getting away with it to me, but to each his own). If there was a name you should know that we haven't mentioned yet though, it's Tim Frazier.
Frazier very well could be the fastest guy on the court, and he is an excellent passer. Penn State shouldn't mind running that much, it's actually what they'd prefer to do and between Frazier, Buie, and Battle they can do it. Penn State has used 3 guards at the same time and run the floor this year, so it's not a totally foreign concept to them. It'll just come down to how well they can do it. As far as the rest of the bench goes, Billy Oliver and Cam Woodyard are usually the first off the bench after Buie. They're used more to give players a rest than anything else, but Oliver does have a nice outside shot so you can't just ignore him.
4. Two years ago, PSU won the NIT. Last year, however, was an disaster of a season, going 11-20 and 3-15 in the Big Ten. Is there a mentality that there's kind of a ceiling on PSU hoops right around that good NIT team/bubble NCAA team line, or is there optimism on the potential of the program?
We could go all day with this one. I think something that is worth noting about last season is that Penn State lost 8-9 games by 5 or less points. If they just shoot about 10% better from the line they could have been looking at a 9-10 win season in the Big Ten. It's not like Michigan State pounded them into the court each game. Penn State had a legitimate chance to contend in the Big Ten, but they couldn't finish out close games.
As far as the program's future, Ed DeChellis seems to have gassed out on the coaching level. Guys like Tom Izzo are just one step ahead of him, and while Izzo is on a different level than a lot of coaches, Penn State is just coaching with a mid-major mentality, which doesn't do so well in the Big Ten. This year ought to be DeChellis' last year if he can't get it done with the 5-6 seniors he has, but knowing our athletic department he could very well get an extension. That's not to say I'm anti-DeChellis as much as "lets move on". While DeChellis is here Penn State's best chances seem to be in the bubble region. Penn State has hired some young, big name coaches in other sports this past year, so there is hope they'll do the same with Football and Basketball when the time comes. If that's the case, all bets are off.
5. Last one: give me a prediction. Score appreciated, not required.
From what I've read on the Maryland side of things you're assuming this should be an easy win. While I'll admit it's hard to pick against Maryland in this one, I expect this game to be a lot closer than most of you give Penn State credit for. Like I mentioned before, Penn State played almost all of their games in the Big Ten close, and this version of Maryland isn't going to do anything so different than what Penn State saw all through conference play last year.
If Maryland sleeps on Penn State in the second half, they will lose. Talor Battle is too good, and the rest of the team knows how to stay in games. If they had hit their free throws last year a little better, Maryland fans might not feel as good about this game. I'm not going to pick Penn State, but I wouldn't underestimate the potential Penn State has in making you work for it. Final score ought to be in the mid 60 or 70 range.