Three keys to the season ...
1. TIM FRAZIER’S HEALTH
Frazier matters more to this team than any player. Without him, D.J. Newbill plays out of position at point guard and everything else falls down a notch from there. Frazier is a skeleton key — he fits into every aspect of this team. Before his season-ending Achilles tendon injury last year, he was contributing an assist on 45 percent of available possessions. Even with Frazier, Penn State might not be able to win eight or nine Big Ten games; without him, Penn State won’t be able to win more than three or four. How healthy is he? Coach Patrick Chambers said Frazier’s vertical jump is higher and called him fearless. Mentally, he said, Frazier’s basketball IQ increased significantly after acting as a de facto coach last year.
2. IMPROVEMENT INSIDE — AND EARLY, TOO
Last year, Penn State had almost nothing to count on in the paint. Then late in the year senior Sasa Borovnjak morphed from someone who struggled to catch the ball into a reliable third scoring option. His size (6-9, 240) is gone, and transfer Jordan Dickerson (7 feet) won’t be eligible until next year. For now, forwards Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack will have to play bigger. That trio averaged about 11 rebounds between them last year. Improvement is necessary for Penn State to succeed in the Big Ten.
Chambers might be the most positive coach in the country. He preaches intensity and hustle, believing these mental aspects will translate to the court, where Penn State rarely finds itself in the winner’s circle. Somehow Penn State needs to gain enough of this confidence so it can finish the close games it so often loses. Once this happens, maybe the Nittany Lions will start winning. If that happens, maybe fans will start coming to the Bryce Jordan Center. Everything is connected; it’s all about starting the chain of events. Penn State has not been able to do that for some time, though.
AT A GLANCE
2012-13: 10-21, 2-16 Big Ten.
COACH: Patrick Chambers, third season, 22-41.
PROBABLE STARTERS: G — Tim Frazier, Sr., 6-1 (21.7 ppg, 5.8 apg); G — D.J. Newbill, Jr., 6-4 (16.3 ppg, 5 rpg); F — Ross Travis, Jr., 6-6 (7 ppg, 7.4 rpg); F — Brandon Taylor, So., 6-7 (5.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F — Donovon Jack, So., 6-9 (1.7 ppg, 1 rpg).
SCHEDULE (Home games in caps)
NOVEMBER — 9, WAGNER, 4 p.m.; 13, BUCKNELL, 7 p.m.; 16, Penn, 2 p.m.; 19, LaSALLE 7 p.m.; 24, LONGWOOD, 1 p.m.; 26, MONMOUTH, 6 p.m.; 29, St. John’s (Barclays Center), 7 p.m.; 30, Georgia Tech or Ole Miss (Barclays Center), 2 or 4:30 p.m.
DECEMBER — 3, Pitt, 7:30 p.m.; 7, MARSHALL, 4 p.m.; 11, Duquesne, 7 p.m. (Consol Energy Center); 14, PRINCETON, 2 p.m.; 22, MOUNT ST. MARY’S, 2 p.m.; 31, MICHIGAN STATE, 5 p.m.
JANUARY — 4, Illinois, 2:15 p.m.; 8, MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.; 11, INDIANA, noon; 14, Michigan, 8 p.m.; 18, Purdue, 7 p.m.; 23, NEBRASKA, 8 p.m.; 29, Ohio State, 7 p.m.
FEBRUARY — 2, PURDUE, 11:30 a.m.; 6, Michigan State, 9 p.m.; 9, ILLINOIS, 4:15 p.m.; 12, Indiana, 7 p.m.; 15, IOWA, 1 p.m.; 20, Nebraska, 7 p.m.; 27, OHIO STATE, 7 p.m.
MARCH — 2, WISCONSIN, noon or 4 p.m.; 6, Northwestern, 7 p.m.; 8, Minnesota, 5:15 p.m.