Many years ago, a young man strode confidently onto a verdant campus in West Philadelphia. His eyes sparkled, his body lithe and sinewy, his mind was sharp and able. He had grand thoughts of becoming an engineer; to create wonderful machines to better mankind or perhaps destroy it, whichever job would pay him more. But there were parties to attend, beautiful women to meet and get rejected by, as well as many other diverse forms of collegiate debauchery to engage in. Still, life was good. That is until one semester when he took thermodynamics. Ah yes, thermodynamics, a trial by fire. It really brought the heat.
The Quaker Basketball season began in terrifying fashion. Twenty minutes into a brand new Zach Rosen-less year and down 24 to UMBC (KenPom: 314), the team looked disorganized, confused, lost, and the seemingly stillborn year was spinning hopelessly counterclockwise down the can. Then just as I was about to upchuck on to the shiny Palestra floor, nothing short of a miracle happened. The defense suddenly stiffened, shots started falling, and Captain Miles Cartwright took charge, dropping in 21 points while passing the ball to his teammates with aplomb. The Quakers showed grit, character, moxie and, after finally emerging with a 80-75 win, disaster (not to mention widespread fan alienation) was averted. Never, in all my years of watching Penn Basketball, had I witnessed such a comeback. Amazing.
Then of course came the next five games against Delaware, Fairfield, Drexel, Lehigh and Fordham. Looking at the schedule, I don’t think anyone would consider any of these programs to be particularly sphincter-tightening. In fact, I can’t remember The Quakers having such a relatively easy non-conference line up. Nevertheless, they lost all five games. It was a tough week for Penn Basketball but I still think it’s all good. Here’s why.
Let’s consider the positives first.
This just in…CNN reports that FDA investigator Jeff Novitzsky is abruptly calling off his doping investigation of Lance Armstrong. When finally reached for comment at his home in Boulder, Colorado all Novitzsky would offer was “Armstrong?
I’m done chasing millionaires in spandex.” Then he added mysteriously,” I have a new assignment in Philadelphia. All I’ll say at this time is the Justice Department is already involved. Gentleman, we’re about to bring down the Ivy League.”
The emergence of Fran Dougherty is clearly the best thing to come out of this season so far. I mean, what is this guy taking? For two years he was what freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry is right now; a big stone-hands donkey who couldn’t be trusted with the ball. Now he’s a one man inside-outside shooting machine. What the hell happened? Averaging about 24 points per game so far, the guy is the sole reason Penn is even competing this year.
Miles Cartwright is also having a decent early season. Although horribly foul prone, he too has stepped up his game a notch from last season.
Last year we didn’t need depth, we had Zach Rosen. Although they are all young, this year we have a lot of fresh legs, ball handlers and height. Jerome Allen has recruited well. Naturally the newcomers all need to get used to the speed and physicality of the college game, but if you look deeply, you can see the nucleus of a good team beginning to form. The Quakers played very well against a bigger, more experienced, physical Drexel team, last year’s CAA champion, before eventually losing by only two points. So whatever the coaching staff is doing, they seem to be moving their charges in the right direction.
The League is Weak:
This is about the weakest year I can remember. (I’m sorry, but beating up on D-III schools like Columbia and Harvard did last week doesn’t count. To me, it’s the ultimate in round ball masturbation.) Yes, Columbia did beat Villanova (the best win that program has had since Alexander Hamilton suited up for the Lions in 1766), but overall, no one is particularly scary. This includes the favored Tigers and Crimson. Of the two, at this point I’d give the edge to the Crimson, but they too are young and eminently beatable as was witnessed by the St Joe”s game (ouch). Do I therefore think Penn will win the Ivy title? No, I do not. Still, they are probably good enough to contend or at worst make it ugly for some of the favorites.
And now the negatives…
I don’t want to dwell too much on what’s wrong because frankly there are too many problems to talk about. The most obvious miscues are the defensive lapses, the turnovers, and the ridiculous amount of fouls (31[31!] against Delaware alone). Henry ”I’ll hack if I want to” Brooks is particularly bad. He might as well just jam his knee into his defender’s jewels early in the first half and get his DQ over with as soon as possible. The lack of defense is even more troubling. The only player seemingly up to the task of guarding his man is junior Steve Rennard. While the rest of the team scatters randomly across the hardwood like unguided missiles, Rennard clamps
down on the opposition with all the unbridled animal fury of a crazed seagull attacking a little girl with Fritos at the beach. All of these vexing problems are certainly understandable and expected with such a young and undisciplined team.
However despite the growing pains, I see glimmers of hope for Penn Basketball. Apparently so does Drexel coach Bruiser Flint who said, “Those guys are going to be good, they’ve got some good young players. They’re going to be back sooner than people think,” a very nice compliment even if it comes from a guy whose Mom named her kid “Bruiser.” Believe me, no one was saying that when Glen Miller was the coach.
I’ve been drinking the Quaker Kool-Aid for a long time and see this season as all part of the rebuilding process. The pieces are there but Coach Allen can’t do it alone. The team clearly needs to take it upon themselves and play beyond their youthfulness. If they can do that, it still may be a fun season after all. Just like thermo, it will be a trial by fire and the Quakers need to bring the heat.
Stay Red and Blue my friends,