Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Penn State Men's Basketball Preview

Being a Penn State fan in UConn territory is, at times, strange. The oddest time of all comes during basketball season. Ever year the Huskies seem to be a perennial Top 10 team and with the hope of a national championship. Then there are my beloved Nittany Lions, a team that hasn't been to the postseason since the run to the Sweet 16 in 2001 and hasn't won more than 9 games in a season since then. The Lions have won a combined 31 games since the 2001-2002 season, the season after the Sweet 16 appearance, and has won only a total of 16 games under Ed DeChellis. The Lions have been in a continual struggle since DeChellis took over with a mass exodus of transfers (DeForrest Riley-Smith, Sharif Chambliss, etc.) in and before year one and a crippling number of injuries last season. Now with seven true freshmen on the roster and only six returnees from last season's squad, perhaps the Nittany Lions will finally be able to keep together a solid base to start building on.

The unquestioned star of the team is swingman Geary Claxton. Claxton, from West Haven, Connecticut, was passed over by UConn but has come to Penn State and became an instant star. He may be the best player in the Big Ten that you have never heard of. He's an excellent shooter and is the Nittany Lions' most consistent scoring threat. Claxton will once again need to play well if Penn State is going to stay competitive in a tough league like the Big Ten.

Ed DeChellis managed to land yet another decent class this past year, led by David Jackson, a Junior College transfer, Maxwell Dubois, Jamelle Cornleya and Joonas Suotamo. Jackson has a chance to play right away at the point and Cornely is being looked at as possibly another Claxton. Suotamo, from Finland, can play power forward and possibly center. Serbia and Montenegro countrymen Nikola Obradovic and Milos Bogetic will also be in the mix for playing time. Bogetic may have a chance to play regularly from the get-go as the tallest player on the team at 6-10. Though with Brandon Hassell playing well lately last season and looking impressive on the Big Ten traveling squad this summer, Hassell likely already has the lock on the center position.

The six returners, sans the injured and now redshirted Danny Morrissey, will all have a chance to play a lot this season. There was a noticeable increase in playing time and talent level last season for these five players- Geary Claxton, Brandon Hassell, Travis Parker, Mike Walker and Ben Luber. This may very well be the starting five that takes the floor against Cornell tonight.

Here is the projected starting line up that I would use, at least in the early part of the season.

PG- David Jackson
SG- Ben Luber
SF- Geary Claxton
PF- Travis Parker
C- Brandon Hassell

Alright, prediction time. Ed DeChellis has his work cut out for him. With the football team headed to a New Years'Day or better bowl game, he has bought himself at least a year as no one will even notice the basketball team until January and if the losing continues, no one will even bother to do that. I think this team will be hard pressed to break the ten win plateau, something that has not happened since the Sweet 16 season. At best, Penn State should win 8 or 9 games. But if DeChellis can get this team some early wins against Clemson and Texas A&M and then upset Pitt, perhaps there will be hope for an NIT bid. Penn State usually comes up with a win no one expects them to get. Last season it was at Rutgers, a couple of years ago it was Indiana, perhaps this year it could be Pitt. A win like that would give this team a lot of confidence headed into the Big Ten schedule.

Here's how I see the Big Ten shaking out:
1. Michigan State
2. Illinois
3. Indiana
4. Iowa
5. Ohio State
6. Wisconsin
7. Michigan
8. Minnesota
9. Purdue
10. Northwestern
11. Penn State


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