If you’re a Penn State men’s basketball fan, close your eyes.
No, smarty-pants, not-so missed shots and layups won’t blight your vision.
After D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall accounted for 56 points in the Nittany Lions’ 81-72 loss to No. 18 Michigan State, it’s hard not to wonder what next season could look like with a healthy Tim Frazier.
Just ask Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
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“He’s building a program here,” Izzo, who notched his 200th victory as a Big Ten head coach with the win, said of Penn State coach Patrick Chambers. “I’m looking at that player in the suit (Frazier) that was there today, and that player would make a big difference on that team.
“Those of you up here don’t forget that,” he continued. “Because those two wing guys and then a player of his caliber at the point — it’s going to be an impressive team next year. I think they’re really going to get a lot better.”
Of course coaching is a fraternity, and exchanged flattery should sometimes be taken with the same healthy skepticism that online dating should engender. But, when a coach with six Final Four appearances opines, it’s safe to listen.
So drift off. Allow yourself to daydream about Tim Frazier bounding up the middle of the floor on a surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon, flanked on either wing by Newbill and Marshall.
Clearly, Big Ten wins will be hard to come by for the Nittany Lions (8-9, 0-5 Big Ten) this season, but the experience this team is earning might just serve it well next year.
Take Newbill, a sophomore who lost his mother, Tawanda Roach, to cancer in September. When Frazier went down in November, Newbill — a natural shooting guard — was then forced to fill the void at point.
The only player currently on the roster asked to do more was Frazier last season. Newbill leads the team in scoring (15.9), is second in rebounding (5.9) and first in assists (3.9) and minutes played (35.8). Frazier led the team in all four last season plus steals.
With a full season as floor general and team captain to his name, Newbill could be even more dangerous as a junior with Frazier in the backcourt. Before this season began, Chambers said the duo could be the best backcourt in the nation.
That hypothesis will have to wait until next season to be tested, but for now, Newbill is beginning to show why his coach spoke so boldly.
Against the Spartans, the Philadelphia native scored 27 points, mostly on frequent forays into the lane by astutely using his size and strength as he turned the corner in pick-and-roll situations.
“The biggest problem I had with our play was the way we defended ball screens was a joke,” Izzo said after the game. “Give Marshall and Newbill a lot of credit they just muscle-dribbled us...”
When he wasn’t hitting high-percentage shots (8-of-12), Newbill was still collapsing the defense, getting to the foul line (11-of-15) and dealing out six assists.
Marshall, who had career-highs in points (29) and rebounds (10) against the Spartans, came into the season with Chambers riding him about becoming a leader. He looks to have accepted the coach’s prodding and was even named team captain just before conference play began.
With Marshall (661), Newbill (556) and Frazier (1,035), Penn State could have three 1,000-point scorers by late next season. John Johnson, a 6-foot-1 guard and Pittsburgh transfer will also be eligible after the fall 2013 semester, while another season of experience for freshman Brandon Taylor and sophomore Ross Travis could also pay dividends next year.
However, the experience a team earns during a season filled with losses might not be what it wants to carry over to next season.
Coaches frequently talk about their teams needing to learn how to win. Losing can also be learned behavior. If it happens often enough players begin to expect it.
Teams who frequently taste victory make “winning plays” at critical times, while teams accustomed to losing find ways to turn the ball over or miss shots late.
Losing can also be a divisive force in the locker room, sapping the will to compete and enhancing the desire to hunt for individual statistics.
Chambers’ task isn’t just to get his team to win and develop the program, it’s also to triage and treat the symptoms of losing if losses continue to mount.
Penn State will host a vulnerable Nebraska team (9-9, 0-5) on Saturday. After that, the Nittany Lions will travel to No. 2 Indiana and then host No. 11 Ohio State. The Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions are both on five-game slides.
A win for either, for a night at least, would stave
off some of those losing symptoms and perhaps give fans of both something to smile about in seasons otherwise filled with frowns.