There was some cautious optimism surrounding the Penn State Nittany Lions basketball program prior to last season. Head coach Pat Chambers insisted that the backcourt of senior Tim Frazier and sophomore D.J. Newbill would be the best backcourt duo in college basketball. Unfortunately, just a few games into the season, Frazier ruptured his Achilles — thus ending any chance the Nittany Lions had of contending.
The loss of Frazier last season was seen as a negative at the time, but now that Frazier is back for the 2013-14 season, it is possible that the injury could have helped the Nittany Lions this year. Two things happened last season while Frazier was recovering from surgery: Newbill had to learn to play point guard, and Frazier became the equivalent of a coach for the rest of the team.
Newbill will be returning to his natural position of shooting guard this season. This will probably make Newbill feel much more comfortable and will take a lot of pressure off of his shoulders. He struggled with his shooting percentages last season, I think a lot of that was simply because he was exhausted — both physically and mentally — from playing pretty much 40 minutes per night at the point guard position. He will be able to look for his own shot a lot more this season.
Frazier essentially transitioning into a coach last season allowed him to learn a lot about the game of basketball. He was able to sit and observe every game and every practice. He was able to watch some of the best point guards in the Big Ten — Aaron Craft, Keith Appling, Trey Burke, etc. — on a nightly basis. Frazier also participated in film studies with the rest of the team and coaches, and even broke down the film at times like he was the head coach.
The third and final way that Frazier and Newbill playing together will help both of them is that neither will have entire defenses built around stopping one of them individually. Last season, teams built their entire game plan around stopping Newbill. This season, Frazier and Newbill will be able to feed off of each other. Through just six games, they have both lived up to expectations.
Frazier is averaging 18.3 points, 7.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game this season while averaging 34.3 minutes. He is also shooting for an excellent 54 percent on his shots while shooting 78 percent from the free throw line. Newbill is right behind Frazier with 18 points per game, while also averaging 7.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 47 percent shooting.
Finding a better backcourt duo in the Big Ten, or even college basketball in general, would be difficult. Frazier and Newbill give the Nittany Lions the chance to do very good things this season. They will go as far as the duo can carry them.