Penn State was one of the weakest teams in the conference and showed that by finishing dead last in conference play. They were a complete non-factor in the Big Ten race and were probably the team with the least impact on the race as well. Teams like Iowa and Illinois were pretty weak as well, but at least they pulled off a few upsets during the year. Looking back, the most significant win on Penn State's schedule was their victory over Purdue in early January. Their struggles are also clearly seen in their poor finish in many statistical categories.
Points Allowed Rk
Penn State did struggle statistically, but they did have some exceptional players and could have very likely pulled off some upsets in close games that would have made them more of a factor. They played Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana close over the season and all three teams were in the Big Ten race. Along with this, if they would have been able to win one or two of these games the entire direction of their season could have changed. They probably wouldn't have been in the Big Ten race, but they might have finished better with momentum from a win over a solid Big Ten team.
The best thing Penn State has going for them is youth. Last season, four of their five starters were sophmores or younger. That's pretty amazing youth for a Big Ten team. Tim Frazier was their best player, but he will be back. Obviously, this youth showed in their poor performance last season, but that's something that should improve for next year. When you have numerous freshmen in your starting lineup, they should be better and more consistent for next season as a team.
Along with this, their team plays with fire and seems to be pretty well coached. I think Michigan fans remember the near upset in Michigan's final regular season game last year. Penn State is a team that will play hard whether they have the lead or not and that's a reason I think they will be in good shape for the long run. Improving age, experience, and coaching is something that should pay dividends. They may not be set-up for next season, but 2013 or 2014 might be seasons where they're a relatively big factor and make a NCAA Tournament run.
However, Penn State's major challenge is changing what has become a losing tradition with little talent. Penn State doesn't bring in a lot of top talent and that can be seen from their latest recruiting class. They have a couple guys that could turn out decent from this class, most notably 6'9" power forward Donovan Jack, but they aren't exactly bringing in the blue chip athletes. They will have to largely rely on Frazier to carry them at times. I'm predicting a slight improvement, but I think they're going to end up near the bottom of the Big Ten again.
Penn State Predictions:
Big Ten Finish: 11th
Ability To Compete With Top Teams: Very Low
Upset Status: 1 Major Upset
NCAA Tournament Status: No NCAA or NIT bid