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Penn State Nittany Lions Have Big Ten’s Best Backcourt

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Tim Frazier

Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

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 TenAaron 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.

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Pittsburgh Basketball: Panthers Get Much-Needed Battle vs. Penn State

The Pittsburgh Panthers went the first seven games of the season without a less-than-impressive game performance. But even after a lethargic start against Penn State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Panthers showed off their resilience in a 78-69 victory at the Petersen Events Center, Tuesday.

Pittsburgh had been beating opponents by 25 points per game (83-to-58) in the team’s first seven affairs and were rarely challenged. Penn State took to Pittsburgh early by double-teaming and trapping guards on the perimeter. At first, this definitely slowed Pitt’s roll and the guards all seemed frustrated and flustered. Midway through the first half, Pitt had five turnovers and only five made field goals. The Panthers trailed by seven points with two minutes remaining in the half.

However, the tough-natured style coach Jamie Dixon‘s teams have been known for started to creep through before the half ended. Pittsburgh began attacking the post with drives — Michael Young was fouled and Lamar Patterson scored on a layup — which helped open up a three-pointer for Durand Johnson. Penn State still led at half, but it was evident Pitt decided the game needed to be a battle in the paint.

Pitt’s aggressiveness on offense may be the team’s greatest trait this season. Pittsburgh continued to go at Penn State’s frontline in the second half and finally broke through when Talib Zanna delivered a huge block on defense and Patterson scooped in the paint for two. Penn State hung around, but Pitt found an offense to rely on for the remainder of the game. Zanna scored on the next possession as Patterson drove-and-dished, Josh Newkirk nailed a short jumper and Cameron Wright swept in for a layup to give Pitt a 56-49 lead. Penn State actually took a lead later, but Patterson nailed a three-pointer that gave the Panthers a lead they would go on to hold because of some solid defense and drives to the paint on offense. Zanna finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.

This is a great sign going forward for the Panthers. Even when Penn State bullied Pittsburgh around, the Panthers stayed confident in their plan. Pitt continued to chip away, did not let the threat of a home upset disrupt the game-plan and walked away a stronger team because of it.

Pittsburgh desperately needed a game like this and with the ACC season still a month away, this could stand as the wake-up call every team needs when the schedule is not filled with tough out-of-conference games. Pitt will probably roll through its remaining December opponents and when conference play tips-off, the Panthers will be a team no one will want to mess with.

Gregory T. Philson is an ACC college basketball writer at Follow him on Twitter @GTPhilson, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.


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