So far I believe most Penn hoops fans should be encouraged. There are many positives to take away from this young season both from within the team and from the status (bad) of the Ivy League. So let’s take a peek at them both, shall we?
The Quakers have institutional growth from last season. Incremental to be sure, but growth nonetheless. They are undeniably better. Their movement without the ball has been great, the scoring is more balanced, fouls and turnovers are down, there is finally some defense and the team has most importantly shown grit. Eleven points down against Navy three years ago and we would have been finished. This year, the team stormed back before eventually losing. They do not quit. The contest at Central Connecticut State was one of the best games I have seen the Quakers play since the Fran Dunphy years. These are all encouraging signs showing that coach Steve Donahue is putting his stamp on the program.
In terms of personnel, I think it is safe to say A.J. Brodeur is the real deal. He already seems more competent than Darien Nelson-Henry was as a senior. He doesn’t play like a freshman whatsoever. The transfers Matt MacDonald and, especially Caleb Wood, are providing much needed firepower and leadership. Finally, Matt Howard, the lone starting refugee from the Jerome Allen years, remains as dependable as always.
This all bodes well so far as the League overall looks much weaker than anticipated. Harvard is a mess, Princeton is delightfully underachieving, and the rest are all a big fat “meh.” The only bright spot is Yale, which seems to be playing at a relatively high level. Thus the Quakers, I think, should definitely be in the thick of the Tournament race. Nice.
Finally, all of their games so far have been on the road and a 2-2 record (predicted by me), is not terrible for a rebuilding team.
The Quakers are young and thin, both literally and figuratively. They don’t have much of a dependable or experienced bench and there is no one that can adequately replace Brodeur when he is tired or in foul trouble. Bigger teams (Miami) will give them trouble and force them to take the outside shot.
Which brings me to my next issue which is the shooting, though improved, can be streaky. Jackson Donahue has underachieved in this category and has thus has been a bit of a liability as of late. MacDonald also is a better shooter than he has displayed so far. If the team as whole can put a solid shooting performance together on the same night, the Quakers will be a tough out. This of course may be their only hope against Villanova.
It is very unusual for an Ivy squad to host the National Champions however next week the Quakers, for the first time in 31 years, get their chance. I suppose a blow out by the “Cats” is what most are anticipating, but a full Palestra and a Big 5 matchup can bring out the strange in both squads. We’ll see. In addition, with this home game Penn will begin the second most difficult home schedule in the nation. Therefore, my hopes are appropriately tempered for the month of December.
Regardless, I am encouraged by the team in general. At present they are winning the games they should win (perhaps Navy is an exception), and losing those they should lose. This consistency is demonstrative of good coaching. Remember the famous “I don’t know who we are” quote from Allen? I do not suspect Steve Donahue will be saying that anytime soon. SD knows what his charges can do and what they cannot and is clearly working hard to rectify their flaws. The Quakers are currently 183 in the Ken Pomeroy ranking, the fourth-highest Ivy (Harvard is a pleasurable 168). The team will indeed have a bunch more losses before the Princeton game, but that is to be expected. (I just don’t understand those fans who seem to think that Penn, during the “good ol’ days” prior to 2007, never lost a game. They lost. Trust me, I was there.) Still, all that matters is the Ivy schedule in which I think, barring injury, the Quakers will have adequately matured and will be competitive.
Ya know, I think they’ll be okay.
I believe in Steve.
Stay Red and Blue my friends.