Penn basketball has got heart

The sudden resurgence of the Penn Quakers men’s basketball team has been one of the biggest stories of the Ivy League season. After an 0-6 start to conference play, including a four-game stretch where they lost by 12 at the Palestra to (preseason eighth-place) Brown, gave up an early 15-point lead in a defeat at Harvard, were upset by previously winless Dartmouth and got beat by 15 points at home to Princeton, many people (including this writer) were ready to write off the 2016-17 campaign. After the last two weekends, the team has regrouped and is now tied with Columbia for the final spot in the Ivy League Tournament.

Over the last four games, not only has the team played its best basketball of the season, the performances may have been the program’s most dominant in the last decade. The numbers that Penn has put up have been staggering.

Below is a team and player comparison between the first six games of the conference schedule and the recent four-game winning streak. League rankings for the first six games are in parenthesis. For the last four contests, the rankings are based on comparisons to the present conference stats:

Penn:                1st 6                 Last 4               Opponent:         1st 6                 Last 4

Points               60.2 (8th)          79.8 (1st)                                  69.7 (3rd)          63.0 (2nd)
Pt Diff              -9.5 (7th)           + 16.8 (1st)
1st Half             29.2                  40.5                                          35.0                  24.8
2nd Half            31.0                  39.3                                          34.7                  38.3

FG%                 41.2% (8th)       50.0% (1st)                               43.8% (5th)       36.9% (1st)
FG Made          21.5                  29.0                                          23.2                  20.8
FG Attempt       52.2                  58.0                                          52.8                  56.3

3 PT FG%         29.4% (8th)       39.1% (1st)                               38.0% (8th)       35.7% (5th)
3 PT Made        5.8 (8th)            10.8 (1st)                                  8.7                    8.8
3 PT Attempt     19.8                  27.5                                          22.8                  24.5

2 PT FG%         48.5% (T-5th)     59.8% (1st)                               48.3%               37.8%
2 PT Made        15.7                  18.3                                          14.5                  12.0
2 PT Attempt     32.3                  30.5                                          30.0                  31.8

FT%                 63.6% (8th)       67.7% (7th)                               79.3%               77.3%
FT Made           11.3                  11.0                                          14.7                  12.8
FT Attempt        17.8                  16.3                                          18.5                  16.5
Fouls                17.5                  16.5                                          16.7                  16.8

Total Reb          30.8 (8th)          39.8 (1st)                                  34.7 (6th)          30.3 (1st)
Reb Diff           – 3.8 (8th)          + 9.5 (1st)
Off Reb                        8.8 (6th)            10.5 (3rd)                                  9.7                    8.8
Def Reb            22.0 (7th)          29.3 (1st)                                  25.0                  21.5
Off Reb%         26.1% (6th)       32.8% (1st)                               30.5% (7th)       23.0% (1st)
Def Reb%         69.5% (7th)       77.0% (1st)                               73.9% (6th)       67.2% (1st)
Assists             10.0 (8th)          18.8 (1st)                                  13.0                  12.8
Turnovers          13.5 (5th)          15.3 (8th)                                  12.5 (5th)          15.5 (2nd)
TO Diff             – 1.0 (5th)          + 0.2 (5th)
Steals               4.3 (7th)            7.3 (2nd)                                   5.8                    6.0

8 Man Rotation (1st line is 1st 6 games, 2nd Line is Last 4 contests)

Player              MIN      PTS      FG%     3PT%   FT%     REB     AST      TO

Foreman           34.2      12.7      49.2%   41.7%   72.2%   4.2        3.0        2.2

27.5      10.0      53.6%   45.5%   62.5%   4.0        3.5        1.8

Brodeur                        29.7      9.5        38.6%   00.0%   52.0%   6.5        1.2        2.7

32.5      12.8      61.8%   25.0%   72.7%   8.0        3.0        2.5

Howard             27.5      7.7        35.7%   11.8%   63.6%   4.8        0.7        1.7

34.0      12.3      50.0%   37.5%   63.6%   7.8        2.0        2.5

Donahue           23.8      7.2        39.5%   29.0%   57.1%   1.0        1.3        1.5

20.3      7.5        34.4%   36.4%   66.7%   1.3        2.3        1.5

Betley               21.6      6.0        40.0%   25.0%   66.7%   3.0        0.5        1.0

29.3      16.3      55.0%   46.4%   88.9%   5.8        1.8        1.0

Goodman         7.6        2.2        33.3%   50.0%   00.0%   0.6        0.7        0.8

28.3      11.8      53.1%   46.2%   58.3%   3.5        3.0        2.0

Rothschild        13.8      5.2        60.9%   00.0%   50.0%   3.2        1.2        1.2

15.3      5.5        50.0%   00.0%   44.4%   5.3        1.0        2.0

Jones               14.3      6.3        46.2%   54.5%   70.0%   0.8        0.3        0.0

14.0      5.5        44.4%   40.0%   00.0%   1.3        1.3        0.3

The Quakers have picked up the pace, improved their ball movement and shooting percentages to score almost 20 more points a game. This has led to an incredible point differential swing of +26.3. Most importantly, the Quakers have started out strong, scoring 11.3 more first half points and going from a – 5.8 first half deficit to a + 15.7 lead.

Defensively, the squad has been able to pressure teams within the arc to strengthen its already solid two point shooting defense. In rebounding, they have greatly improved with offensive and defensive boards leading to a differential swing of +13.3. While Penn’s turnovers are still similar to the early part of the conference slate, the team’s pressure and faster guards have added 3.0 additional steals a game.

With regards to personnel, the biggest difference has been coach Donahue’s ability to finally settle on a eight-man rotation. While this entire groups has played very well the last few weeks, the performance of four players stand out. First-years Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman have used their speed and shooting accuracy to add energy to the entire team and frustrate its opponents. Another first-year, AJ Brodeur has recovered from early conference struggles as he has adapted to league play and back-to-back games, while finding accurate outside shooters to help neutralize the constant double-teams. Senior captain Matt Howard has also rebounded from his early conference problems, some brought on by an illness, to showcase his well-rounded skills.

It is hard to say how things suddenly jumped to league-leading levels after 19 games. Maybe coach Donahue lit a fire after the disappointing loss to Princeton. Maybe the team just needed to get healthy. Maybe a young team just needed experience. Or, perhaps a Penn basketball fan has made a Faustian bargain to ensure the Quakers presence at this year’s Philly Phinal Four. While the team has taken to singing the Red and Blue along with the fans at the end of each game, don’t be surprised if the crowd at the Palestra suddenly breaks into “Heart” from Damn Yankees.

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