Last year's season was a disappointment for Penn State's men's basketball team, plain and simple.
The Nittany Lions ended the year 11-20 and went from coming off a season in which they won the National Invitational Tournament championship, to losing their first matchup in the Big Ten tournament.
That's not what Penn State assistant coach Dan Earl expects out of his team and he's looking to put the Nittany Lions back in the NCAA Tournament hunt this season, which tips off Sunday.
Earl talked about this upcoming season at the VFW in Duboistown for the Williamsport Nittany Lion Booster Club on Thursday.
"I think the attitude (this year) is 'Hey, we have to get back on track and get back to having another great season like we did two years ago,' won 27 games overall, most in school history, (and) won the NIT," Earl said. "Obviously, the end goal is the NCAA Tournament and that will be the goal again this year. But I think we have a lot of peices coming back. We lost a lot of close games and we're going to have to figure out a way to change our luck and/or get better so that we can be on the other side of a lot of those close games."
One of the biggest pieces the Nittany Lions have returning for them is senior guard Talor Battle.
Battle's one of the Big Ten's most talented players and brings with him a lot for Penn State. Battle led the Nittany Lions in points (574), points per game (18.5), field goals made (193) and attempted (459) and 3-pointers made (71) and attempted (203).
Battle brings all of that and a leadership role with him every time he steps onto the court.
"Taylor's an exceptional kid, a very good player. He's going to have to continue to grow as a leader and I think he has," Earl said. "Everyone knows what he can do on the court. He obviously scores the ball first, or everybody sees that, but he's also been right there with assists in the Big Ten, right up there and he's an unbelievable rebounding guard, especially at his height.
"So those are the things he'll provide, obviously to be able to score the ball, but his leadership will be invaluable to us."
Earl knows all about how valuable being a team leader is and what it can mean for the basketball team.
Earl was a point guard for the Nittany Lions for six seasons, playing from 1993-94 through 1998-99. Earl played great as a freshmen and his talent never wore off. As a freshman, Earl recorded 113 assists, a freshman record that stood for a decade. Just one year later, he helped lead the Nittany Lions to a 21-11 record and a 9-9 mark in the Big Ten.
In 1995-96, Earl helped Penn State reach the NCAA tournament as a No. 5 seed, going 21-7 and put up a 12-6 mark in the Big Ten play.
"I think just in life you experience different things and I've been this so-called team captain or one of the guys that knows he's going to play a lot and played that role and a leadership role and then I've been trying to make the Nets in one of the last cuts," Earl said. "So just the different pressures and everything. I think the life experiences that come with that, I try to relay to the guys as well as scouting and Xs and Os and recruiting and all those things, but I think that's one of the things that I try to bring to the organization."
Earl said that there's a lot of players that he sees stepping up this year and helping make a contribution to the Nittany Lions.
"I think we mentioned Taran Buie already who is his (Battle's) brother, he's a freshman. He has a chance to play a lot," Earl said. "One of our guards, Tim Frazier, who is a very athletic, very fast point guard for us, played in spurts last year and showed some flashes I think as he matures into a sophomore and kind of knows his role more and figures things out. I think he has a chance to do a lot for us."
Earl also thinks that forward Billy Oliver can help out the Nittany Lions. Oliver's sat out the last two years due to different injuries, but is back this season healthy and ready to play.