Season Preview: The Penn State Nittany Lions

In the fourth edition of the IlliniBoard.com Season Preview, Brumby looks at the Penn State Nittany Lions. Read more to see what is expected of Ed DeChellis' Nittany Lions.

How bad were things last year for Ed DeChellis and the Penn State Nittany Lions? Very bad. The Nittany Lions finished the 2003-2004 campaign with a 9-19 record overall, 3-13 in the conference. Not all of this can be put at the feet of DeChellis because he was left a program in disarray by Jerry Dunn. DeChellis only has three players on this year's roster left over the Dunn era at Penn State, but he would give anything for another Crispin brother to miraculously appear in Happy Valley.

DeChellis will have to replace three starters from last year's team, including seven footer Jan Jagla, who left the Penn State to pursue a career in professional basketball in Germany. The key returnees for DeChellis are both of his starting guards and forward Aaron Johnson. The Nittany Lion attack will surround these three players, but especially guards Marlon Smith and Ben Luber.

Last season as freshmen, Luber and Smith were first and third in the Big Ten in overall minutes, respectively, so they are battle ready heading into their sophomore campaign. From his time as the head coach at East Tennessee State, DeChellis is known for pushing the basketball up and down the court, and that is what he wants Luber and Smith to do this season. Last year, the Nittany Lions were a slower team than DeChellis likes, but their best player was also the seven footer Jagla. This year, the only true threat the Nittany Lions have inside is Aaron Johnson, so the pace should quicken to be closer to the way DeChellis coached teams have played in the past.

Having two freshmen guards hurt the Nittany Lions last season, both offensively and defensively. Not only did Penn State struggle to score points, they struggled to stop any one from scoring points against them. When you combine these two facets of the game together, you got on very bad team, both on paper and on the court.

  Penn State
Pace Factor 63.25
Defensive Efficiency 105.19
Offensive Efficiency 91.78
+/- Differential -13.42
Points per Shot Attempt 0.97
Points Per Possession 0.92


The Nittany Lions were the only team in the Big Ten to score less than one point per possession last season and to score less than one point per shot attempt. Their efficiency differential between their offense and their defense was the largest in the Big Ten as well. Last season Penn State was simply a very bad team. They were so bad defensively that Illinois' Brian Randle dunked over three of them in a blow out win in Champaign as conference play started.

SEASON PREDICTION
Luckily for DeChellis and the one Penn State basketball fan, things can't get much worse than they were last season. Luber and Smith are battle tested, and they both should be better this season. They should cut down on turnovers, and the team should improve offensively because of it. After a year of playing defense in the Big Ten, they should also improve in that regard as well, but it will not be enough to change the +/- efficiency differential to a positive number, or a record that is above .500.

Aaron Johnson is a solid player in the middle, but he is the only player in Happy Valley that has any experience manning in the inside against Big Ten competition. Red Shirt Freshman forward Brandon Hassell is known as a face up power forward who has solid ball handling skills and the ability to shoot the perimeter jump shot. For Penn State to improve dramatically offensively, Hassell will have to take some pressure off the Johnson on the inside, but that does not seem likely. If Hassell, as predicted is not able to be effective offensively, DeChellis may just decide to go with a four guard attack and try to run teams out of the gym, but he hopes he will not have to go with that attack.

Things cannot get much worse, so in his second season, DeChellis should be able to pull the Nittany Lions out of the Big Ten cellar, thanks mostly in part to how bad the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be.

Predicted Conference Record: 4-12 - The ninth and tenth men on many team's benches are circling Penn State on their calendar because it means they will get to see significant minutes.

Predicted All Big Ten Team Members
Honorable Mention - Marlon Smith


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