Penn State Basketball

Penn State basketball: Chambers expects Nittany Lions to be tournament contenders next season

While the nation catches its collective breath from the NCAA tournament’s opening rounds, Penn State’s players and coaches can only watch.

Or not watch, depending on which member of the team you ask.

“Me personally, I only watched the Philly teams,” said D.J. Newbill at the team’s final press conference on Monday.

“I’m still kind of bitter about not playing,” the Philadelphia native said.

“I really just focused on the Big Ten games,” Jermaine Marshall said. “But like D.J. said, it’s kind of bitter because we just wish we were playing.”

Newbill (16.3) and Marshall (15.3), who led the team in scoring this season, were joined on the dais by Tim Frazier, who led the team in just about every statistical category the year before.

“Personally I tried to watch every single game,” Frazier said. “I love watching basketball and I guess I’ve been sitting so long so I’ve been more of a fan.”

Frazier ran that morning for the first time under his own power after rupturing his left Achilles tendon in November. He will apply for a medical hardship waiver this summer that could grant him another season of eligibility.

Next season, the trio will be important as Penn State tries to improve its standing in a conference currently boasting four teams in the Sweet 16.

Newbill and Marshall finished fourth and fifth in conference scoring respectively, while Frazier finished second as a junior.

With the addition John Johnson, a transfer guard from Pittsburgh, the Nittany Lions will again be reliant on quality guard play.

That’s a roster Patrick Chambers is familiar with. While an assistant coach at Villanova (2004-2009), Chambers watched four-guard rotations take the Wildcats deep into the tournament.

“We’re going to put the best team on the floor,” Chambers said. “The guys that earn it are going to be the guys that play.”

“I’m never going to say never to four guards. I don’t mind playing four guards. I’m not afraid of it.”

However, Chambers voiced concern about the size and strength of conference teams making a smaller squad vulnerable.

“Defending and rebounding is so critical in this league ” Chambers said. “If Ross Travis can keep getting me double-doubles and D.J. can keep getting me six (rebounds) and Tim who had five or six the year prior, well then yeah, you have a good chance to play small.”

Travis, who will be a junior, finished sixth in conference rebounding with 7.2 per game.

The loss of senior Sasa Borovnjak, who emerged as a bona fide threat down low, will be glaring next season. The Nittany Lions received little from other frontcourt men such as Jon Graham and Patrick Ackerman.

It’s unknown what the incoming freshman class will bring. Geno Thorpe and Graham Woodward are guards who will have to be great to usurp veterans.

Payton Banks and Julian Moore are forwards who could push incumbents for time.

Chambers, who has never been afraid to make bold proclamations, is realistic, but hopeful, about the future.

Before this season began Chambers said Newbill and Frazier could be one of the best backcourts in the nation.

With the team’s improved play near season’s end, Chambers was asked if he would at some point boldly declare his team tournament ready.

“I will tell you when I feel like we’re there,” Chambers said. “I will let you know that this is a good team and we have a chance to win 20 games and go to the NCAA tournament and be in the top-5 of the Big Ten. I’ll be that forthcoming. I’m not going to hide anything.

“We have some question marks next year. No doubt But there’s’ going to be a time when we say, yeah, we’re an NCAA tournament team.

“There’s going to be some consistency. And there’s going to be a run here, like some of the other programs that make the tournament year in and year out and there’s not even thought of not making the tournament, or post season let’s say. I hope to get to that soon.”