Now or never season for Jerome Allen? Now or never season for Jerome Allen.
That being said, this is a very young roster as seven of Penn’s top 10 scorers from last season are gone, which means that Penn’s nonconference play may not be as telling as it was a year ago when it was clear very early on – like, the season opener – that the Quakers were in trouble. This roster needs time to gel, and it will have to gel before the program starts stringing together wins with any consistency. So it’ll be a while before we can properly evaluate what pieces Allen is working with here.
It was funny during the Ivy preseason teleconference hearing Ivy League Associate Executive Director Scottie Rodgers bring up to almost every Ivy head coach except Allen the challenging nonconference schedules they had assembled for their respective programs. That’s because Penn faces an ultra-soft out-of-conference slate featuring the likes of Delaware State, Navy and Niagara (again) early on, with the non-Big 5 highlight being a road matchup with Vanderbilt three days before Christmas. This no-name schedule is by design and very smart, giving this vulnerable roster – and program – a chance to find its way against not too stiff competition.
#1 Shawn Simmons – Guard 6-4, 170 Fr.
A rookie guard on a roster chock full of 1s and 2s. Will struggle for playing time.
#2 Antonio Woods – Guard 6-1, 180 Fr.
When Woods verbally committed to Penn in November, it wasn’t entirely clear whether he’d be joining Penn basketball or football after receiving offers either as a quarterback or athlete from Indiana, Northwestern, Cincinnati, Akron, Illinois and Toledo, with West Virginia offering him as a defensive back. He appeared to run the point and use his long arms well defensively at the Adidas All In Classic last year and his athleticism is undeniable, prompting Allen to mention him during the Ivy preseason teleconference as a candidate for running the point this season.
#3 Darnell Foreman – Guard 6-1, 175 Fr.
Leading Pitman (N.J.) to a state title last season gives Foreman plenty of momentum going into his Penn career. He’ll give coach Jerome Allen a solid combo guard option and another dark horse candidate to see time at the point, a position that has lacked stability since Zack Rosen’s graduation in 2012.
#4 Jamal Lewis – Guard 6-0, 160 Jr.
With Jamal Lewis, you get solid on-the-ball defense at the point, with Allen frequently deploying him as the team’s lone full-court defender in the last two seasons. What Lewis doesn’t give you is offense. Lewis started five of the first six games of last season before giving way to Tony Bagtas, who was booted from the program prior to his March 24 arrest for 10 on-campus burglaries. Lewis’s lack of offensive prowess has contributed to Penn’s problems at the point, but he’s a steady hand that will definitely be in the rotation this season. Penn alum and Ed Rendell apparently loves him, so that must be worth something.
#10 Darien Nelson-Henry – Center 6-11, 265 Jr.
Ah, the Big Hyphen himself. Conditioning issues aside, Nelson-Henry had a promising sophomore campaign, posting the best field-goal percentage in the Ivy League and establishing himself as a post presence that the entire offense could revolve around. He will have to log more than 21 minutes per game this season, which means no more getting gassed in the second half and fading as games progress. Look for his offensive efficiency to continue and his shot-blocking trajectory to keep trending upwards. First-team All-Ivy? Maybe, but only if he improves in getting open on the block and snaring rebounds that are within his reach in the paint.
#11 Tony Hicks – Guard 6-2, 180 Jr.
More than anyone else, Hicks will determine Penn’s ceiling this season. If he can be the most productive Quaker on the court on a consistent basis, Penn will pleasantly surprise in 2014-15. If he stays poised and disappears for multiple games at a time, Penn will suffer a third straight single-digit season, guaranteed. Last season, Hicks self-destructed far too often for a sophomore expected to do big things, failing to score at all in an 89-88 loss at Rider that heralded another season of underachieving for the Quakers and notching just a single point at Villanova after posting 33 against Niagara. The peaks and valleys are too extreme here, and when Hicks is out of control, he’s really out of control, shoving a Wagner player into press row in a home loss to the Seahawks and throwing something just short of a punch at ex-Lion Meiko Lyles at Columbia, getting ejected from the latter contest. Hicks needs to settle down, settle in and drive the ball left to the hoop, over and over and over again. I’ve heard from my good friends at the Daily Pennsylvanian that he has looked like a new player so far this preseason, stepping up as a leader and showing comfort running the point, although he looked spotty at the point during the Red and Blue Scrimmage. Only time will tell how much Hicks has settled down and in.
In the meantime, it’s curious that Hicks is now listed as #11 after playing as #1 the last two seasons. I hear he’s also got a new haircut. So many changes.
#13 Dylan Jones – Forward 6-8, 215 So.
Jones scored 10 points in just 15 minutes against St. Joe’s last year but otherwise didn’t garner enough playing time to foreshadow much going into his sophomore campaign. He is a long, strong rebounder and should log more than the 6.2 minutes per game he got a season ago, but expect him to get pushed by freshman Sam Jones (no relation).
#14 Matt Poplawski – Guard 5-10, 165 So.
Poplawski had a solid season for the Quakers, earning an All-Ivy honorable mention – in soccer. Indeed, perhaps the lowlight of a dismal season for Penn basketball was Poplawski’s promotion from the JV squad in February, a move that reeked of desperation as the Red and Blue wilted in conference play. Now it seems he’s kissed the JV goodbye. Good for him, the Bo Jackson of Penn.
#15 Camryn Crocker – Guard 6-3, 170 Sr.
A season-ending injury wiped out Crocker’s 2013-14, but he’s been perhaps Penn’s best ball distributor besides Miles Jackson-Cartwright in the last two seasons. That counts for something. So does the fact that I shared history classes with two Penn basketball players – Zack Rosen and Crocker, and Crocker spoke up a lot more in class than Rosen. Invaluable expertise right there.
#21 Matt Hanessian – Guard/Forward 6-6, 215 Jr.
Another JV call-up, the jury’s out on Hanessian, but here’s further proof that junior varsity basketball means something at Penn.
#22 Mike Auger – Forward 6-7, 225 Sr.
Auger told the Daily Pennsylvanian last year that he expects to be a small forward and emphasized his rebounding skills repeatedly, so expectations already held that he would get a chance to crash the boards early on for a program that has needed an extra layer of toughness in the paint for a long time. Then he wowed so much at the Red and Blue Scrimmage last weekend that Carter Coudriet of the Daily Pennsylvanian wrote, “Allen may have found the cornerstone to his rebuilding project in Auger.”
#23 – Greg Louis – Forward 6-7, 215 Sr.
I remember when Greg Louis notched 19 points and 11 boards at Delaware two seasons ago. That performance looked like a mirage for a while, but he seemed to have at least some momentum before losing last season to injury. If he can stay healthy, he’ll give Penn another rebounding and shot-blocking presence next to Nelson-Henry in the paint.
#24 – Matt Howard – Guard 6-4, 185 So.
Matt Howard was on his way to a promising start when his rookie campaign was abruptly cut short by a broken foot in February. His injury immediately followed an impressive weekend against Cornell and Columbia, notching 15 points on the weekend and provided strong perimeter defense. Matt Howard is Penn’s wild card this season on both sides of the ball and could help jumpstart this team with his aggressive driving to the paint and outstanding athleticism.
#30 – Patrick Lucas-Perry – Guard 5-11, 165 Sr.
PLP has always been something of an enigma. In 2012-13, he averaged 5.0 points in just 16.3 points per contest, the third-highest points per minute total among all Penn guards behind only Tony Hicks and Miles Jackson-Cartwright. He shot 44.7 percent from three-point range, an offensive spark plug for a team that failed to reach even the 60-point plateau often in nonconference play and in more than a third of its Ivy matchups. But he never got more than sporadic playing time and then played in just five games last season due to injury. PLP will give Penn a sharpshooter this season for sure. Best-case scenario, his three-point prowess keeps defenses honest that otherwise will sag in to challenge DNH and guard against Hicks’s frequent dribble-drives from the top of the key.
#34 – Sam Jones – Forward 6-7, 175 Fr.
Bank shots, anyone? Maybe this isn’t that Sam Jones, but scouts have said that he has a reliable step-back shot and can attack off the dribble to boot. As I wrote for The Daily Pennsylvanian’s sports blog The Buzz in November, he has a high release point and less than stellar ballhandling skills. But he’s got the potential to make an instant impact as one of Penn’s greatest offensive weapons this season. Of course, so did Tony Bagtas, once upon a time.
#40 – Dan Dwyer – 6-8, 225 Fr.
Dwyer told the DP in July that his coaches would like him to be a shooting big man while DNH holds down the post, an intriguing combination if Dwyer can work his way into the rotation. Penn always wanted Henry Brooks to be a big guy who could hit perimeter jumpers and produce away from the basket. Maybe Dwyer can actually fill this job description.
Sadly lost amidst this program’s back-to-back 20+-loss seasons was the inspired play of Fran Dougherty and Miles Jackson-Cartwright, class acts who led this team admirably last season. Dougherty’s work ethic in particular was exemplary, and Jackson-Cartwright’s competitive fire was obvious in every game he played. For that matter, Hicks and Nelson-Henry are strong competitors too, but it takes much more than that to cohere into a team, in the true definition of the word. Jerome Allen’s rosters haven’t seemed to be teams in a long time, and even if Hicks and DNH carry this team to the best of their considerable abilities, this team is not an Ivy contender. Can it avoid a third straight single-digit winning season? The answer isn’t likely to be much fun for Quaker faithful either way.