Penn basketball – where’s the progress?

NEW YORK — I covered Penn-Columbia after being graciously invited by friend of IHO Rob Browne to speak about Penn and Ivy basketball at a Penn Club event in New York prior to Saturday’s game. Here the gist of what I said:

“So we all know that the Palestra is a lot emptier these days than it used to be. And I think most people realize that that is because the team is not winning. While it’s true that Penn basketball does not have the same presence it once did on campus, especially among students who aren’t sports-oriented in the first place, crowd atmosphere was rarely a problem in Zack Rosen’s senior season, the only legitimate run Penn has made at an Ivy title in the past eight seasons.
When Penn wins with consistency, it draws with consistency. When it doesn’t, what you see is what you’ve been getting this season, which is an almost complete lack of rollouts, a disappointing student section and large swathes of the crowd that only get up for the halfcourt shot competitions. From talking with hundreds of alums and reading the sometimes vitriolic message boards over the past three years, what’s been most disconcerting about the program’s recent downturn for alums is that they fear the Palestra isn’t relevant anymore. The Cathedral of College Basketball hasn’t been home to a perennial March Madness competitor for quite some time, it’s no longer the hub of the Big 5 like it once was, and a lot of folks just don’t show up anymore. The Palestra is still easily one of the most special places in collegiate sports, but is it as relevant as it could be? That’s a question that irks a lot of people close to the program.
The answer to that question could start to take on a different complexion tonight when Penn takes on Columbia. the Lions present a solid opportunity for Penn to complete the weekend sweep. Maodo Lo, Columbia’s star guard, can be great but he’s also streaky. Columbia’s frontcourt does not provide strong interior defense and it can be exploited. That frontcourt is very hit or miss. Luke Petrasek, Jeff Coby and Cory Osetkowski all have the ability to break out for a double-double or at least get in double figures and present a legitimate offensive threat. But as we’ve also seen, casino online they can totally disappear.

Tonight offers Penn to get off the schneid a little bit. It can secure an Ivy weekend sweep on the road for the first time since Zack Rosen graduated. It can rise above .500 in Ivy play for the first time since Zack Rosen graduated. It can already tie its season win total from last year. When Penn achieves some consistency in all of these areas, it will win. Tonight, Penn can take a step toward filling seats at the Palestra and being a premier program again, however small, by getting above .500 through five Ivy games in a very winnable contest at Columbia.”

I did tell the crowd Columbia would prevail in a low-scoring struggle. I was so wrong.
Columbia shot the lights out, going a stunning 15-for-26 from beyond the arc en route to an 83-56 romp over Penn, its second straight rout of the Quakers at Levien Gym. The Lions came in as the second-best three-point shooting team in the league, with treys clearly being part of their modus operandi.

Instead of doubling Lo high to cut off his passing lanes, Penn didn’t seem to do much of anything in defense.

“We just wanted to keep him at the point of attack,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said of Maodo Lo, who scored 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field, including two three-pointers. “He made a couple of tough shots, but the majority of the time, the shots he made, the scouting report wasn’t executed. We went underneath the screen and he shot high.”

When asked after the game if he found anything surprising about Penn’s perimeter defense, Columbia coach Kyle Smith vaguely referred to Penn’s pressure and past defensive efforts, but Penn had no real answer for Columbia’s three-point shooting. Defenders actually started backing away from Lions trey shooters, even as the shot clock wound down. Columbia was on fire, but Penn just looked confused.

Now I’m confused too. I told dozens of faithful Penn followers at the Amsterdam Restaurant that Penn was well-positioned to make real progress. But…

“Tonight, we had four freshmen on the floor at one time. The core of the group is babies, or infants,” Allen said. ”Tonight, I’m not quite sure what we will take out or it.”

My take is that heralding any progress for Penn, however small, isn’t wise. Another sour Ivy split. Another blowout at Levien. Another see-saw weekend for Tony Hicks, who went just for 1-for-11 after notching 25 points in a heroic effort at Cornell.

Sure, you have guys like Sam Jones, who toughed it out throughout a 23-point performance with torn ligaments in his elbow. The future with freshmen like Jones, Antonio Woods and Mike Auger is actually pretty bright.

But for now and until further notice, the norm is inconsistency. I learned that tonight. Again. Same as it ever was.

6 thoughts on “Penn basketball – where’s the progress?

  1. What can I say at this point, after so many embarrassing losses, a win no longer helps The Cause.” Unfortunately, as much as I think JA is a great person and was a superb player, he has proven to be a terrible coach. I think he has done irreparable damage to the Penn Basketball brand by staying in his position too long. I also think calling his players “babies or infants” is demeaning. They aren’t children. They are young men who play basketballl while pursuing an Ivy League education. Shouldn’t they at least be given that level of dignity in a press conference? What is also irritating is everyone can see the talent that clearly being mishandled on the court. Without proper coaching even a 5 star athlete will falter.

    Unles.s she is completely clueless, there is no way Grace Calhoun can look at this situation and think there will be any growth or improvement. Jerome has been given more than a fair chance It is simply time for someone else to lead the “children.”

    The AQ

    • To be honest, Allen’s “babies/infants”comment was just about the youth of a lot of his players, and wasn’t at all demeaning taken within the context of his other comments. I understand the program is dealing w/ growing pains, but how Penn lost to Columbia is as is disconcerting as itswin over Cornell was encouraging.

      • Is it surprising though? I tweeted before the game that if Penn holds form they should tank and they did. It wasn’t a guess. They have been following inspired efforts with blowouts for years now. Look at the last few weeks: Strong showing vs. Villanova/ Monmouth blowout, Dartmouth win/Harvard blowout, Cornell win/Columbia blowout. Something’s wrong somewhere………. What’s more disconcerting is DNH is disappearing. They run a lot of the offense through him and as he gets older he is becoming less effective. He has really regressed when he should be blossoming in his junior year. On the plus side, the talent is seemingly there and they do seem to like each other. I could see that when i was at Wagner. You could also see it at Cornell when they would wrapped their arms around each during huddles. JA is clearly still taking time to find himself as a coach in a program with high and immediate expectations. I think he has now run out of time.

        • That “on again, off again” has indeed been predictable for a while now, and this season it’s been, well, like clockwork.

  2. Thanks Mike for coming out and seeing the alums! It was great to finally meet. I only wish the game had made it worth all your effort.

    An absolutely emotionally draining weekend following Penn basketball. On Friday afternoon, I figured that Penn would get beaten by a much improved Cornell team and then get blown out by a vastly superior Columbia group.

    As a result, Friday’s start, going down 12-0, did not come as a surprise. The surprise, though, was how they regrouped to win a close one on the road. I have to state that I got caught up in the emotions of the game. I figured that a win at home against Dartmouth, where they held on late, was a good sign. A comeback win on the road against a better team was a very good sign. With those results, maybe, just maybe they could find a way to sweep Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell for six league wins. Add in a surprise against Princeton or Columbia and the Quakers could find themselves 7-7.

    After the Cornell win and the Columbia disappointment against the Tigers, I thought Penn could play the Lions close. Although a win was unlikely, I thought that they could pull off the shocker if Columbia had another low percentage game.

    By 7:15pm reality set in that this team is just not ready to compete with the top 3 or 4 teams in the league. After Cornell’s incredible comeback against Princeton, I wonder if they are really ready to compete consistently with Cornell as well.

    Now with two weekends in the books, Penn has had positive results against the lower rated team on Fridays and gotten crushed by the more highly rated team. It will be interesting to see what happen this weekend with Yale first and Brown on Saturday. Hopefully, the Quakers will put up a decent effort and not let the game get out of hand in the first 5 minutes against Yale. With Brown, I hope the young Quakers have enough energy to take on a team that has played Yale, Cornell, Harvard and Dartmouth tough over the last few weeks.

    I know this is a bit crazy to be concerned about a battle for 5th place, but that is where things stand for Penn these days – trying to find any positives.

    With regards to Coach Allen, to paraphrase a learned IHO editor, if Penn is fine with continued improvement to .500 then the coach stays. If the school wants to be more than that, then the decision will be different (please feel to correct if I did not hear things correctly).

    I will continue to stay Red and Blue, as I watch the games next weekend and continue to hope at least for a split. Maybe one of these weekends, the team or, at least an individual or two, will have some consistency.

    • The Empire State trip was pretty wacky for Penn and Princeton alike. As I said to you last night, Penn could very feasibly get to 7-7 in Ivy play, and that would be some measure of progress, however unsatisfying it may be for most Penn followers. But then what? If AD Grace Calhoun believes the program has the potential to get well beyond 7-7 in the next several years with this group of freshmen under Allen, she’ll retain Allen. If not, she won’t.

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