Penn State’s trip to the College Basketball Invitational is an investment in the program’s future.
While Nittany Lions are aiming to close the 2013-14 season on a positive note, coach Patrick Chambers said the focus is on player development. That means he’ll adjust his rotation during the tournament with next season in mind.
Freshmen guards Geno Thorpe and Graham Woodward will see more playing time. Chambers wants to see how center Jordan Dickerson handles 20-plus minutes, a workload he’s been given just twice all season.
“I am gonna mix some things up a little bit,” Chambers said. “I am gonna try to get the freshmen a little bit more time than I typically would. I do want to play to win, obviously, I’m very competitive.”
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Penn State (15-17) plays Hampton (18-12) in the first round of the CBI at the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. For a team returning every major contributor besides fifth-year point guard Tim Frazier, the CBI provides an opportunity for next year’s core to gain more experience.
Thorpe and Woodward each saw time in the starting lineup this season, but their minutes fluctuated as they adjusted to the college level. Dickerson, an SMU transfer, has started the last five games, but he’s still developing on both ends of the floor.
And Chambers said sophomores Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack, who started the majority of the season, will both benefit from more practices and games.
“We want to continue to be the best team we can be, try to be the best team we can be at the end of the year,” Frazier said. “Continue to win games, get these young guys more reps, get those guys better, get prepared for next year. We want to end on a great note.”
Frazier was excited to see his Penn State career extended into postseason play.
He’ll also continue to mentor the underclassmen who have played crucial roles throughout his final season.
Thorpe and Woodward started three games and six games, respectively. Though they fell out of the starting lineup, both showed flashes of their potential. Thorpe proved to be a tough and athletic defender, and Woodward was the team’s best 3-point threat, shooting 38.2 percent.
“They continue to fight,” Frazier said of the program’s young players. “You could easily get down on yourself, sometimes they might not play a good amount of minutes a game or not, but they stay together, stay positive and when their number was called, they came in and played as hard as they can and they helped us out tremendously.”
With next season looming, Chambers plans to get those freshmen good minutes in the CBI.
Both will step into bigger roles alongside leading scorer D.J. Newbill.
Chambers praised Thorpe for his late-season effort and his performance against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament. The freshman scored nine points and played 28 minutes, the most since he played 29 in his first start of the season against the Golden Gophers on Jan. 8.
Thorpe averaged just 6.3 minutes per game during an eight-game stretch in the Big Ten before scoring nine points in 19 minutes in the Nittany Lions’ 65-63 win over Ohio State in late February.
He was benched in Penn State’s next game against Wisconsin. But he worked his way back into the mix by the regular-season finale.
“I had a lot of ups and downs this year,” Thorpe said. “And as a team, we experienced a lot. I think my freshman year, I did a pretty good job. I’m satisfied with it, but I’m trying to get better, and we still have season to continue on so I’m just trying to get better and better each game.”
That’s Chambers’ goal for each player in the CBI.
And with each round, the coach will get to measure that development going into next year.
“I get to work with them for at least today, tomorrow and Wednesday and continue to develop, which I think we do a great job of,” Chambers said Monday. “I think we do a very good job of developing our players so if I can get a couple extra practices, a couple extra weeks, who knows, I think that can only help our future.”
Notes: Penn State has lost three of its last four games. Jordan Dickerson is averaging 12.7 minutes per game. Graham Woodward is averaging 12.6 minutes per game, and Geno Thorpe is averaging 11.1 minutes per game. D.J. Newbill is averaging a team-high 17.8 points per game. Hampton has won 10 of its last 12 games. This is the first-ever matchup between the Nittany Lions and the Pirates. ... Hampton’s top player is Du’Vaughn Maxwell, who was the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot-7 forward leads the team with 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The CBI quarterfinals are set for Monday, March 24. The winner of Wednesday’s game between Penn State and Hampton will play at Siena.
Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery