Opposition Q&A: Talking Penn State with Eric Gibson

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Eric Gibson has been a long time friend of the blog and (this is meant in the nicest way possible) is one of the few die hard Penn State basketball followers around. He’s written at various venues over the last several years but has most recently been following Pat Chambers’s squad at Black Shoe Diaries. Gibson agreed to answer a few questions about Penn State, and I did the same over there, in preparation for tonight’s Big Ten opener.

Everyone knew this would be a rebuilding year for Penn State under new head coach Pat Chambers. Give me two things that have went surprisingly well this season.

One thing that has been great is how everyone has fully bought into Coach Chambers and his vision for the program. We only had one defection over the offseason, so it’s been nice having a full roster in a rebuilding year. Chambers is big on what he calls ‘attitude’ or playing hard or whatever coach-speak you wanna use. These guys are all about the team and give maximum effort all game long. They can be a little reckless diving for balls they really shouldn’t be, but it’s fun to watch them get after it. Then obviously Tim Frazier maturing into one of the best players in the league has been fantastic. We knew he was going to be the leader, since he was the only one with game experience, but I don’t think too many people saw 17 points and 7 assists coming. His numbers are comparable to Darius Morris’ last year.

Now give me two things that have been struggles as expected…

The offense has been downright dreadful at times. Frazier had a couple of 0-12 games against St. Joe’s and Lafayette, and the entire team couldn’t recover from it. They settle for way too many threes despite having no consistent 38%+ shooter. There’s no reliable inside presence, although Sasa Borovnjak has had moments. Not many guys on this team can create their own shot. They’re also pretty bad at the foul line. Defensively, this team still has some trouble rotating and closing out on shooters. They’ve improved statistically, but they still give up 35% of opponents’ 3PA.

Tim Frazier is the focal point of Penn State’s offense, what does he do well, where does he struggle?

Tim is as quick and athletic as ever. He’s very tough to stay in front of on defense, so he’s great at getting into the lane and drawing the defense. He’s capable of finishing inside, getting to the foul line, and finding the open man. But he is also capable of getting caught in traffic and turning the ball over. Plus, he’s still a subpar jumpshooter as he’s missed his last 14 three point attempts.

No one but Frazier averages over 10 points per game but what player is most likely to develop into a consistent secondary scorer?

Jermaine Marshall has already stepped into the role of a second option. He began the season suspended by Chambers for reasons still unknown, but likely academic. He rejoined the team right around the start of the season, so he was eased into the rotation. In his last 6 games, he’s averaged 14 points and 6 rebounds a game. He’s not going to blow by you, but he’s got great body control in the lane and has a fearless mentality.

The Nittany Lions have impressive rebounding numbers to date, is this a product of competition or is Penn State a legitimate force on the boards? What players are the best rebounders on the roster?

The competition has been below average, but they did hold their own against Kentucky on the glass. We’ll find out how good they are in conference play. We’ve gotten great rebounding from our guards, particularly Frazier and Cam Woodyard. True freshman Ross Travis holds the best rebounding %, but his minutes have been inconsistent. I don’t think it’s a fluke, though. This team really goes after loose balls and rebounds.

What must happen if Penn State is going to upset Michigan?

Any road upset is going to require some great shooting from behind the arc. Penn State certainly will shoot their fair share of 3’s, even if they only make 31% of them. If PSU can get hot and make say 10 of their inevitable 20+ attempts, they might be able to generate enough offense to pull the upset. Not very likely, though. That also assumes they maintain the defense they have played in the non-conference season, which will be no easy task either.

How many Big Ten games does Penn State win this year?

I thought Iowa and Nebraska would be better, and luckily, PSU has 4 games against them. We have also owned Northwestern the past 5 years or so, and we play them twice as well. I’m still in between 3 or 4 conference wins, like I was at the beginning of the year. This team isn’t completely hopeless (although they surely will be on some nights).

  • Mattski

    Looks like there’s a real possibility Horford is gone for the season, according to Mark Snyder’s piece in this morning’s Freep online: 

    http://www.freep.com/article/20111229/SPORTS06/112290447/Michigan-s-Jon-Horford-likely-out-a-significant-time-with-foot-injury 

    From the article’s discussion of the across-the-board implications, re: who gets on the floor and in what position:

    “‘It shortens (the rotation) quite a bit,’ Beilein said of Horford’s absence. ‘We’re trying to get Blake (McLimans) more minutes, it puts Evan (Smotrycz) more in a 5-man (center) position.’

    The issues might not be only at center. By playing Smotrycz bigger, Zack Novak may play more forward, which means Stu Douglass plays more shooting guard along with Carlton Brundidge at the point and the deeper bench players, including Colton Christian and Eso Akunne, will see more time.”

    Wish Horford had received the redshirt last year!

    • Mattski

      Article also says they might consider lifting Bielfeldt’s redshirt status. 

    • Hokeisit

      I wish Horford was well too…but isn’t it a good thing that Horford can take the redshirt this year?

  • mikey_mac

    Thanks to Eric Gibson … great info as usual.

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