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Hoops Notebook: Huge Second Half Fuels Lions

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10578404.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Patrick Chambers normally enters the locker room at halftime with a handful of things he wants to see out of the Nittany Lions in the second half.

Down 45-32 at the break against hot-shooting Akron in the BJC on Tuesday night, he only needed to say one thing to the team at the break. It was a crystal clear message to the Nittany Lions. And it was a message the group took to heart.

"We always like to give them five things that they need to adjust or work on and we didn't need five," Chambers said. "They (Akron) shot 60-percent from two and 42-percent from three, we were throwing the ball all over the place, we were walking around and there was no energy or juice, so sometimes it just comes down to wearing the jersey. Taking pride in wearing the jersey, taking pride in everything we've been through here the last three and a half years. At some point that has to come out, there has got to be a fire in those bellies in that locker room that's tired of it and I think that's what you saw in the second half."

Penn State roared out of the halftime break with a game-altering 16-0 run in the opening 6:55. Ross Travis ignited the surge with a dunk on the opening possession of the half, and the Nittany Lions never looked back in a thrilling 78-72 win over the Zips. Penn State shot 64 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes and held Akron to just 21 percent shooting. The Nittany Lions played with a purpose and were not going to be denied.

"We're tough to play for 40 minutes," said senior D.J. Newbill. "The first half was over. Coach always says, forget what happened in the first half, we have another half to play basketball. Coach made some adjustments in the lineup. He made some defensive adjustments and we went zone in the second half. That helped, because their cuts were getting shots. We came out hitting and getting stops. The stops led to easy offense, which we weren't getting in the first half."

Newbill a Model of Efficiency
Newbill's efforts in Penn State's first six games of 2014-'15 have been nothing short of stellar. The senior guard is averaging 24.5 points per game, which leads the Big Ten. But what's more impressive than Newbill's scoring is how efficient he has been. The Philadelphia native is shooting 49 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc, 84 percent from the foul line, and he is averaging 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Newbill has been as clutch as he has been efficient, as well. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 tallies against Akron in the final 11:35 of the ballgame. What stands out most to Coach Chambers is Newbill's unselfishness and ability to make those around him better.

Taylor Steps Up

Tuesday night's game may not have been junior Brandon Taylor's best shooting night, but it's hard to remember a bigger sequence of shots in the forward's Nittany Lion career than his back-to-back threes in the second half on Tuesday. Taylor's consecutive triples handed the Lions their first lead in the second half and played a huge role in the dynamic of the game. He finished with 14 points and seven boards.

"Yes, he got hot at the right time. He got hot and they (his teammates) were feeding him too. D.J. (Newbill) passed up a three to give it to him which just shows you what he's all about," Chambers said. "He sees a hot hand and he gives it up. He is a special kid. But he (Brandon Taylor) hit some big ones and I knew he would. I just felt the last two days he shot the ball really well here and he was disappointed with his performance in Charleston, so I felt like he was going to come out and make shots. Now 4-11 is not a great clip (from three), but he made shots when we needed him to make shots."

Bucknell Up Next
After enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with one another on Wednesday, focus has shifted towards a trip to Bucknell on Friday (4 p.m.). The Nittany Lions will wear throwback uniforms to honor Penn State's first color combination - pink and black - against the Bison. The Lions will also wear the throwback uniforms against Virginia Tech next Wednesday (7:15 p.m.) in the BJC during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Friday's game at Bucknell will mark Penn State's first trip to Lewisburg since 1976.



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2014-'15 Men's Hoops Blog - Penn State vs. Akron

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014-'15 men's basketball season. Tonight, the Nittany Lions face Akron inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

Live Blog 2014-'15 Men's Hoops Blog - Penn State vs. Akron
 

VIDEO: Lions Looking to Build on Charleston Trip

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10573218.jpegUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On the heels of back-to-back wins to cap off a trip to the Charleston Classic, the Nittany Lions (4-1) will continue their stretch of seven games in 14 days on Tuesday night when they take on Akron (3-1) inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

Penn State bounced back from a heartbreaking 106-97 double overtime setback against Charleston last Thursday with a pair of victories. D.J. Newbill's game-winner at the buzzer sealed a 72-71 win over Cornell on Friday. Penn State finished off the trip to Charleston with a gritty 63-61 win against USC.

"Obviously, we wanted to win that first game so we put ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but I thought we competed against Charlotte," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "I think Charlotte is a really good team. We competed. We played hard. We left everything out on that court...We've got to just continue to develop and continue to get better."

Newbill was tremendous for the Nittany Lions in Charleston. The senior guard set a tournament record with 83 total points in three games (27.7 ppg). That mark included a 35-point effort against Charlotte. The scoring numbers speak for themselves, but Newbill played with great efficiency. He shot 50 percent from 3-point range, 47 percent from the field and 85 percent from the foul line over the weekend.

While the senior guard was tremendous, Chambers noted on Monday that he is looking for more consistency from the post players as the Lions prep for two games this week.

Akron enters Tuesday's game after knocking off South Carolina to finish its trip to Charleston. The Zips defeated USC (66-46) before a setback to Miami (79-51) sent them to the third-place game in the consolation draw. Freshman Noah Robotham leads the Zips in scoring at 12.0 ppg.

Penn State and Akron have met six times prior to Tuesday's matchup (4-2, PSU). Tip is slated for 7:30 p.m. following the Lady Lions' matchup against St. Bonaventure at 5:30 p.m.

"It was great in Charleston, but there is no place like home," Newbill said.




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VIDEO: Nittany Lions Eager for Challenge at Charleston Classic

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a pair of wins to open the season, the Nittany Lion basketball team (2-0) is set to embark on its first challenge away from the Bryce Jordan Center.

Penn State will kick off a span of three games in four days at the Charleston Classic on Thursday against Charlotte (ESPNU, 5 p.m.). While the Nittany Lions are pleased to notch two victories to begin the 2014-15 campaign, head coach Patrick Chambers knows what type of test lies ahead.

"Charlotte is going to be an incredible test for us," Chambers said. "They have a group of seniors, a great point guard, a great coach. I just want to see us go down there and compete, compete at a very high level against some of the best talent."

Penn State's depth played a big role in the opening two games on the schedule. No fewer than nine players enter the Charleston Classic averaging 11 minutes of playing time or more. Playing three games between Thursday and Sunday is something the Lions are looking forward to. And the schedule plays into the strength of the Lions' deep bench.

"It takes us all back to the good old AAU days where we play back-to-back games each and every day," senior forward Ross Travis said.

"When the opportunity presents itself that you can play more than one basketball game in a span of a few days, it's a lot of fun," guard John Johnson said.

The Lions enter the second weekend of the season with six players averaging at least 5.0 points per game. That list is topped by senior D.J. Newbill, who enters the Charlotte game averaging 17.5 tallies per contest. Freshman guard Shep Garner is averaging 13.0 points per game after his first two games in a Penn State uniform.

"I'm definitely pleased with the contributions that we have been getting from different guys," Chambers said. "That's a good thing. But now, we go on the road to a neutral site. We've got to see where we are. We will see who can step up in that type of environment."

The added depth has given the players on the floor a great deal of confidence.

"During the past three years, we haven't had that much depth," Travis said. "This year is different. We've got a whole bench that we can go to. We have guys ready to come in and contribute right away."

Communication is a big point of emphasis for Chambers and the Nittany Lions this week, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

"I think our communication has been alright in the first two games," Travis said. "There is always room for improvement. I feel like communication is the key to our success this year. The more that we can communicate, the more of an impact we can have on a game."

Looking ahead to Thursday's contest, Penn State will meet a Charlotte team that is 1-0 after knocking off Elon (73-60) on the road. The Nittany Lions and 49ers have met just twice before (1981 and 1983).

"They have four starters back. They have a great coach," Chambers said. "They are tough, physical basketball team. They play in a great conference, so they know how to be successful. They had a successful year last year, so I expect a veteran team to come at us hard and try to take advantage of a neutral court game."

The winner of the Penn State-Charlotte game will play the winner of the South Carolina-Cornell contest on Friday at 7 p.m. (ESPNU). The two losing teams will meet in consolation action on Friday at 9 p.m. (ESPN3). Each team will also play on Sunday regardless of the outcomes on Thursday and Friday.


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Nittany Lions Lock Down Fordham with Strong Defensive Effort

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10543030.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Relentless.

That has been the approach that Patrick Chambers has preached to his players throughout his tenure as head coach of the Penn State men's basketball team.

On Sunday against Fordham, the Nittany Lions defense embodied that word, shutting down the Rams for much of the evening in a convincing 73-54 win.

The Nittany Lions held the Rams to just 29 percent shooting from the field, marking the first time Penn State held a team under 30 percent since a 72-45 win over New Hampshire on Dec. 23, 2012. The Lions also forced 17 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 40 to 37.

"Just five guys playing as one," senior guard D.J. Newbill said. "Talking and communicating and just playing hard. We were out there helping each other and our rotations were on point."

While they limited the Rams throughout the game, the Blue and White's defense was particularly sharp in the first half, as they hold Fordham to a mere 20 percent shooting performance (6 for 30).

As eye-popping as that stat is, the number that really exemplified the Lions' effort on that end of the court is 10:30. That's the amount of time Penn State held the Rams without a field goal during the middle of the first half.

It was that stretch that changed the course of the game. When Chris Sengfelder scored at the 16:22 mark, the Rams were leading 10-5. By the time Manny Suarez finally ended the drought with a 3-pointer with 5:52 remaining, the Lions had a 25-16 lead and a hold on the game.

For Chambers, the highlight of those ten minutes wasn't simply getting stops. It was seeing his players actively communicating with one another.

"When you see us talking early and often, man we're really good on the defensive end," Chambers said. "We're really solid.

"There was a situation out there, we were playing zone, Ross Travis, Julian Moore, I think all five guys were talking. If we can get to that level, now you're back to being the best defensive team in the league. I'm talking about the Big Ten and that's what we're striving for."

One player that especially represents that mindset is sophomore guard Geno Thorpe.

While not one of the team's top scorers (he finished the game with four points), Thorpe is as tenacious and dogged as they come. In 16 minutes of playing time Sunday, he registered two steals, grabbed three rebounds and picked up an assist on what was arguably the play of the game.

With Penn State leading 22-11 eight minutes in, the 6-foot-3 guard dove for a steal near midcourt, then flipped the ball to Newbill who slammed home an emphatic dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

"Geno might not have been big on the score sheet but he does so many things that helps us out," Newbill said. "He's always in passing lanes, he's always guarding the best [scorers].

"And that steal just kind of raised the momentum. The crowd went crazy, the team was pumped up. Now everybody's like, 'let's go,' and getting the energy back. That's what Geno does for us."

Thorpe was one of three players on Penn State to finish with multiple steals, as Travis and guard John Johnson each had two as well. On the offensive end, four Nittany Lions, Newbill (18), Shep Garner (12), Johnson (11) and Brandon Taylor (11) reached double-figures.

Still, it was their work when the Rams had the ball that impressed Fordham head coach Tom Pecura.

While his players came out with energy and even led for the first 5:11 of the game, Pecura said that the Lions were ultimately too much for his young squad to handle.

"I think that their intensity and physicality, you know all of a sudden [we're] shooting a little quicker or we're hesitant because they've closed down hard the possession before," Pecura said. "They did a great job rotating...they're well drilled in that and I think that had a lot to do with it."

Penn State has now held opponents to just 30 percent shooting and 51 points per game in its first two contests. Despite this, Chambers knows they can be even better.

Although they've started off well, there is still plenty of basketball to play and a number of challenging Big Ten opponents to face. With five upcoming games between Nov. 20 and Nov. 28, the Lions will begin to find out how far along they are.

"We're still a work in progress, we can be a whole lot better," Chambers said. "But a ton of positives. I thought we were consistent throughout. Overall, for 40 minutes I thought we played consistent." 

2014-'15 Men's Hoops Blog - Penn State vs. Fordham

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014-'15 men's basketball season. Tonight, the Nittany Lions face Fordham inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

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Newbill and Garner Show Cohesion in Lions' Opening Season Victory

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10534939.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Entering the 2014-'15 season, there was little doubt about the type of production D.J. Newbill would give the Penn State men's basketball team.

A year after leading the team in scoring and being named second team All-Big Ten, Newbill was fully expected to lead the Nittany Lions' offense. The question was, who would complement him in the team's backcourt?

After one game, the Lions may have found the answer in true freshman Shep Garner. Against Morgan State, the 6-foot-1 guard looked mature beyond his years in a 61-48 Penn State victory.

"He is fearless," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "I'm proud of the way he competed. We obviously needed his production tonight."

In the first game of his college career, Garner not only started, he also finished second on the team with 14 points while shooting an impressive 67 percent (6-for-9 shooting) from the field.

More importantly, he jelled extremely well with the senior Newbill, as the guard duo combined for more than half of the team's points (31 of 61) and were the only Nittany Lions to make more than one 3-pointer.

Newbill, who led the tem in scoring with 17 points and added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure, praised the freshman for his assertiveness on the court.

"I told him before the game, 'you earned the right to start, so take advantage of this opportunity,'" Newbill said. "I thought he played great and he played with confidence. There's not much more to say about that."

For a player less than a year removed from high school, Garner seemed extremely relaxed about stepping into a starting role.

Although he missed his first two shots and didn't score his first basket until the 8:13 mark of the first half, the Chester, Pennsylvania, native settled down as the game went along, only missing once more the rest of the way.

"I was excited, you know, first college game was like a dream come true," Garner said. "I just couldn't wait to get on the floor with my brothers and play with them."

During a game in which the Lions struggled to shoot early on, the strong performances of both guards was greatly needed.

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the Lions trailed the Bears 16-9 and had converted just three field goals in 11:47 of playing time. In a 43 second span, Garner got on the score sheet with a nifty layup and Newbill drained a 3-pointer to narrow the deficit to 16-14.

From that point on, Penn State gained control, going on a 13 to two scoring run that led to a 31-25 halftime lead.

"It was the first game, and I feel we were just super excited," Newbill said. "We were just excited to be out there playing another team and we kind of just had to relax. It's just something we gotta work on."

In the second half, the pair stayed hot, combining for the team's first seven points of the period in a four-minute span as the Lions began to pull away.

Garner, who would finish 4-for-4 on the night on 2-point shots, hit a pair of 3-pointers and combined with Newbill to shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc.

Afterwards, the first-year player praised the senior captain for his help in preparing him for a starting role.

"I learn so much from him," Garner said. "From when I first got here, I just picked his brain all day long. I probably get annoying sometimes. He played point guard here for a whole year so I ask him every question I can to get as much information as possible."

As the year progresses, it is likely that the two guards will take turns playing on and off the ball, as Newbill has significant experience playing both point and shooting guard.

It is that kind of versatility that Chambers believes is a paramount to the team's future success. While Newbill's production is a constant, the Lions will need variety of players to perform behind him in various roles.

That's why the fourth-year coach was so happy for Garner on Friday. The freshman was handed the opportunity to prove himself and exceeded expectations.

"The kid earned the right to start because he gets it done on both ends of the floor," Chambers said. "It just shows his, and ours - as a team and a staff and a program - our confidence in him to make plays."

Garner was not the only member of his family to have a standout performance Friday night. His mother, Kim, sang the national anthem before the game.

For a player getting his first start, hearing his mother's voice was a great way to lessen the pressure.

"My mom sang the national anthem for my team in high school, so I was kind of used to it," Garner said. "At the this stage, you wouldn't think your mom would sing the national anthem. It was exciting." 

2014-'15 Men's Hoops Blog - Penn State vs. Morgan State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of the 2014-'15 men's basketball season. Tonight, the Nittany Lions open the season against Morgan State inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

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VIDEO: Nittany Lions Enter Season with Confidence

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two days after inking the highest rated recruiting class in program history, the Nittany Lion basketball team will open its 2014-'15 season inside the Bryce Jordan Center against Morgan State on Friday (7 p.m.).

Confidence is high for the Lions entering their 119th season on the hardwood. Penn State returns four starters this season and has its eye set on taking the next step.

"We are healthy. We are getting better. Like I've said, we have a good mixture of veterans and youth," head coach Patrick Chambers said. "It's definitely been a process and a learning environment with older guys helping younger guys. It's been one of the better preseasons I've had since I've been here."

Depth will play a big role in Penn State's success this season. Led by senior D.J. Newbill, who finished second in the Big Ten in scoring last season (17.8 ppg), the Lions have the capability to utilize a deeper bench. Chambers spent the preseason evaluating how deep the rotation will go, but he expects the Lions to use upwards of nine players on any given night.

"These last couple weeks, I've played 10, easy," Chambers said. "But I think the non-conference is really going to tell our rotation and what everybody is confident with. And what we all trust. I think that is the most important thing. I feel like we should be able to go to our bench and get better. That's what I feel like. It could be eight. It could be nine. It could be 10."

Newbill enters the season as the most experienced player for the Nittany Lions at the point guard spot. But the distribution of minutes at point is something Chambers will continue to evaluate as he determines what will give the Lions the best chance to be successful.

"Throughout the game, there is definitely going to be times and good chunks of time that he will play the point," Chambers said. "We are just not dead set on saying that he is going to start that way...We will put together the best five that will give us the best chance."

Shooting the basketball at a higher percentage was a big point of emphasis for the Lions during the offseason. Fundamentally-speaking, Chambers indicated this week that he has seen individual growth across the Nittany Lion roster when it comes to shooting the basketball.

"We are shooting at a very good clip right now," Chambers said. "Shooting is something we worked on all spring, all summer and all fall. Brandon Taylor is shooting at a high clip. Shep Garner is shooting at a very high clip. Obviously, D.J. is...Payton Banks, John Johnson...The thing we are working on is (getting) uncontested ones. These last few years, we have taken some tough ones, contested ones and not great ones. If we can get away from those, I think percentages will go up."

That being said, the team has spent a great deal of time working on its passing, footwork and prep work leading up to shots. Focus is on the small details in hopes of creating better shooting opportunities.

"I definitely feel like as a team, we are getting the ball moving a lot more," Taylor said. "We aren't doing as many pick and rolls at the top of the key. Even if it gets late into the shot clock, we are still passing it running our sets or our motion offense."

Another are the Nittany Lions will stress this fall will be getting the ball into the post more consistently, giving the offense the look of an inside-out operation.

"As a team, one thing that we haven't been able to do as much as we have wanted to the last three years is put the ball inside as much as we would like to," senior forward Ross Travis said. "One of the changes you will probably see a lot this year is us working inside-out."

"I think, as a team, the bigs have made tremendous gains," Taylor said.

A consistent presence in the post is something that has Newbill and the guards excited about.

"It just takes pressure off the guards," Newbill said. "We can trust them with the ball to make good decisions. You try to get some easy buckets from them with their back to the basket."

Chambers has high expectations for the post play this season.

"I'm really pleased with our big men, their development and their skill," Chambers said. "Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack, Julian Moore and Alan Wisniewski - they make us a really good team. Something that we haven't had. It takes the pressure off the guards to make all of the plays. These guys are high IQ guys, and they are very skilled. I'm excited about them and how they are going to grow over these first two months heading into the Big Ten."

Friday's opener kicks off a busy stretch for the Nittany Lions. Penn State will play seven games in a 14-day span, including four away from the Bryce Jordan Center.


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Taylor and Travis Ready to Accept Larger Roles

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9777707.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There's been a changing of the guard for the Penn State men's basketball team.

Not just the guard position, where the departure of all-time assists leader Tim Frazier leaves a void, but also with the leadership of the team in general.

Sure, returning All-Big Ten guard and leading scorer D.J. Newbill is looked at as the leader of the program. But Newbill can't carry the Nittany Lions alone, and that's where Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis come in.


Taylor and Travis aren't unfamiliar names with Nittany Lions fans by any means, as both forwards are returning starters. This year however, Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers will need them to take the next step as both players and leaders.

"D.J. was a huge leader last year for us, and after meeting with coach, me and BT have to step up and assist him," Travis said. "Especially with a big younger class coming in. Our job is to help D.J. and step up and be more vocal leaders and really take charge there in practice.

"The voice doesn't always have to come from coach, it can come from us as well. Just being out there and being a vocal leader is one of the main things we're going to go out there and do."

It's clear that Chambers thinks highly of both players, as he has named them team captains along with Newbill and senior guard Kevin Montminy.

At media day, the pair looked comfortable talking about their new roles as they sat beside Newbill, a spot that last year was regularly reserved for Frazier.

While it is no surprise for Travis to be named a captain since he is a senior, it will be a slightly different adjustment for Taylor, who is still just a junior.

"For me, it's just learning from [Newbill and Travis] and trying to be the best leader I can be," Taylor said. "It's just learning from the older guys who have been here before, to help the younger guys, because I was a freshman not too long ago."

Being vocal and assertive will certainly be a big part of the duo's responsibility this season, but it will not be everything. The Nittany Lions will need both of them to produce on the court as well.

While both are forwards, they each bring a different skill set to the court. Travis is a banger that has used grit and determination along with every ounce of his 6-foot-7, 235 pound body to lead Penn State in rebounding the past two seasons with 7.2 boards per game over that stretch.

Taylor, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 235 pounds, averaged 4.9 rebounds last season but has the ability to score both in the paint and from outside, having registered 14 double-digit scoring games last season.

The key for them this year will be consistency, as they look to lessen Newbill's scoring burden now that Frazier, last year's second leading scorer, has graduated.

"During the offseason, I worked on a little bit off ball-handling because I can help now, I can dribble a little bit," Taylor said. "Then just working on my intermediate game and working on my post and becoming a better post player because that's something we need here and something we haven't had the last few years."

Consistent scoring down low is definitely something the Nittany Lions need and an aspect that Taylor (9.2 points per game last year) and Travis (8.4 points per game) will both try to work on throughout the season.

It is also a role that Chambers believes Taylor is especially suited for, especially after an offseason in which he trimmed down his physique in addition to working on his game.

The fourth-year coach compared the Tabernacle, New Jersey, native to Draymond Green, the former Michigan State star and current Golden State Warriors forward.

"I compare him to Draymond Green, who could really post up a lot of people, and Brandon worked on that early in the summer," Chambers said. "First part of the summer he chiseled down, he's right around 13 percent body fat where he was up in the 20s when he came in [as a freshman]. He worked on getting stronger and his post-up game, because we need him in the post to get us some easy baskets."

In addition to Taylor and Travis, the Nittany Lions will have plenty of help down low from 7-foot-1 junior center Jordan Dickerson, 6-foot-10 forward Julian Moore and 6-foot-9 junior forward Donovon Jack, who will see plenty of minutes in the frontcourt.

With four players who all started games last year and Moore fighting for starting spots, it isn't guaranteed that Taylor and Travis will start every game. Still, that doesn't change their roles on the team.

"How we handle the reps is just us taking the time and watching the younger guys and what spots they're in," Travis said. "The earlier we make corrections now the less we'll have to make them during the games."

More than half of the Nittany Lions (nine out of 14 players) are either juniors or seniors, and it's that experience that Chambers believes separates this Penn State squad from past teams. A big part of that experience is the duo of Taylor and Travis, and it's their development that could take the Nittany Lions to the next level this season.

"I think right now, I think they're enjoying developing as leaders," Chambers said. "We're spending a lot of time together after practice. We'll have meetings in my office, so far it's been once a week, and we're making really difficult decisions on how to handle life, on the court and in the locker room. It's going well so far."