Let me begin by offering coach Steve Donahue and the entire Quakers team an unconditional retraction. After their loss to Princeton two short weeks ago, it appeared their inconsistent play would keep them out of the Ivy League Tournament – to which I said, “Well, that ends that.”
I wasn’t the only skeptic. The chat rooms were replete with disgusted posting about how the Quakers’ season was finished. (To be fair though, they always say that even when Penn is 20-4.) In this very forum, Peter Andrews opined on Ivy Hoops Online’s On the Vine podcast that Penn was grossly overrated simply “because it was Penn.” Additionally, Rob Browne intimated that the team’s current tailspin and “very little player development” had effectively ended Donahue’s “honeymoon period” as coach.
These, of course, were all logical assumptions (except for Peter Andrews’). Although the Penn coaching staff had assiduously elevated the team’s ball handing and defense as the season progressed, inferior outside shooting helped result in a loss at Dartmouth and shocking defeats versus Brown and Princeton at home. Opponents could easily defend the Red and Blue by forcing them to actually hit a three-point shot, which they could not do with enough consistency. What’s more, the Quakers’ only dependable scorers were freshman marvel AJ Brodeur and senior Matt Howard. They’re good, but not good enough to win on their own. So it was over.
Okay, we were all wrong.
What has transpired in the last two weekends is nothing short of a reanimation of the Quakers team. Penn has won four straight league games: a thriller over Columbia, two by blowout (Brown and Cornell), and a surgical dismantling of third-place Yale on the Bulldogs’ own floor. It has indeed been a remarkable and exhilarating run and has now made the once Ivy winless Quakers the feel-good story of this first ever Ivy Tournament season. So what happened?
After a season of tinkering, Donahue has finally found his rotation:
AJ Brodeur: Super stud freshman center. Already has set the Penn record for blocks in a season and there are still four games left. Leading candidate for Ivy Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. ‘Nuff said.
Darnell Foreman and Matt Howard: Hearty survivors of the darkest days of Penn hoops. Jerome Allen recruits who are now fulfilling the promise that their former teammates and coach could not.
Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman: It is clear that the addition Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman have made all the difference. Since they both have been playing significant minutes, the Quakers have won. They are perhaps the best duo to come out of the Philly area since Hall & Oates. Goodman is a slashing, lightning-quick guard who penetrates the lane with abandon, a la Zack Rosen. Betley, this week’s Ivy Rookie of the Week, has really been the key to this resurgence. He is the sharpshooter Donahue had been looking for. After bombing Brown for 28 points, he had another 12 against Yale. In a classy move, the freshman then dedicated his award to the rest of his freshman class.
Why it took Steve this long to find the right personnel, who know and who cares. The upshot (no pun intended), is teams can no longer afford to double team AJ and expect to shut down the offense. It’s that simple.
So what does the future hold? Well, the Quakers have won nothing yet, but it is still thrilling for Penn fans to finally have them back in the Ivy Tourney conversation. Yale Sports Analytics gives them a more than 65 percent chance of playing in the postseason. (This is up from single digits just two weeks ago.) They have four games left, and anything can happen. Clearly, Saturday’s match up with Columbia is the most important game Penn will play since Rosen took on Princeton at Jadwin Gym for a shot at an Ivy playoff and lost in 2012. Nevertheless, the Quakers currently have the one intangible quality that makes them extremely dangerous: momentum. Should their surge continue, then perhaps Penn won’t be watching the tournament games from the stands as I had suggested. Instead, they may be defending their home floor for the 2017 Ivy Tournament Championship.
Stay Red & and Blue My Friends,