Penn men aim to repeat with the help of new recruits

Following an 0-6 start to Ivy play in 2017, the Penn men’s basketball team went 6-2 through the remainder of the conference schedule to claim the final spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament. Despite having home court advantage and never trailing to undefeated Princeton during regulation, the Quakers could not find a way to close out the game and lost in the semifinals. Heading into 2017-2018, the expectations were that Penn, while not ready to challenge for the top of the conference, would build upon their immediate success and have a much more comfortable time at securing the four seed. The preseason media poll reflected this idea, with the Red & Blue being picked fourth with 88 points, 28 points behind third ranked Princeton and 31 points ahead of fifth place Columbia.

The Quakers entered the Ivy schedule at 9-5 with highlight wins on the road at Monmouth (in 4 OT) and Dayton.  However, Penn’s 85-72 home loss to Toledo (KenPom #113) on December 29th was a troubling way to enter the January 9th conference opener against the Tigers.  Penn put any concerns to rest, snapping an eight-game losing streak to Princeton on its way to a 7-0 start to the league schedule.  Following a loss at Harvard, the Quakers won its next four, including a three point home win against the Crimson.  A controversial last second 80-79 loss at Yale left Penn tied with Harvard going into the regular season finale.  A 99-93 over Brown gave the Red & Blue (24-9 overall, 12-2 Ivy, 1-3 Big Five) a share of the Ivy title, its 26th overall championship and first since 2007.

In the semifinal, again at the Palestra, Penn avenged its recent loss to Yale by beating the Bulldogs 80-57.  In a classic final against Harvard, the Quakers held on for a 68-65 victory for their first Ivy Tournament championship and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  With a shockingly low 16 seed, Penn was sent to Wichita to take on Kansas.  They held their own through the first half, but eventually lost by 16 to the #1 seed.  The Quakers return four-fifths of the starting lineup, but have to replace several key figures from their rotation if they want to repeat.  Looking at Steve Donahue’s (no relation to Jackson) newest recruits, it is possible some of those pieces have recently arrived in West Philly.

Penn loses five players to graduation.  Darnell Foreman, the starting point guard and emotional leader who kept the Quakers in the Ivy title game by scoring 19 first half points, averaged 29.9 minutes, 10.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists over his 33 starts.  Caleb Wood, an 11-game starter in his junior year who embraced his sixth-man role last season, was fourth on the team in points (10.2 per game), second in made threes (64), third in three point shooting (37.9 percent) and sixth in minutes (19.6 per game).  Two-time captain Matt MacDonald, who started 15 games and averaged 22.6 minutes per game in 2016-2017, had a reduced role last year with 1 senior day start and 5.0 minutes per game.  Sam Jones, a three point specialist who started 23 games and averaged 24.8 minutes per contest in 2015-2016, also saw a reduced role with one senior day start and 4.6 minutes per contest.  Dan Dwyer played in eight of the team’s first 10 games, averaging 4.6 minutes a game, before missing the rest of the year due to a rare medical condition, Meckel’s Diverticulum.  Following successful surgery, the 6′ 8″ forward from Illinois moved to Long Island to play for Hofstra as a graduate transfer.

Last year’s Quakers dominated on the defensive end, ending the year with an adjusted defensive efficiency of 99.4 (#72, nationally). They had a defensive assist rate of 39.6 percent (#3), forcing its opponents into a lot of hero ball situations.  As a result, teams had an effective field goal rate of 47.0 percent (#21), which included 30.0 percent from three (#2) and 48.0 percent from two (#89).  Penn also did a great job limiting teams’ three pointers (19.4 attempts per game; #47 and 32.7 percent of its overall shots; #36) and second chance attempts (defensive rebounding rate of 77.4 percent; #12).

The offensive numbers, while not as stellar as the defense, were still very solid.  The Quakers did well holding onto the ball with a turnover rate 16.7 percent (#57) and opponent steal rate of 7.5 percent (#48).  Adding those results to an assist rate of 56.0 percent (#80) got Penn a lot of open shots, leading to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate, a 53.3 percent effort from two (#53) and a 34.8 percent rate from three (#173).  Typical of a Steve Donahue team, there was a strong reliance on the three ball with the team shooting 42.0 percent of its overall shots from the outside (#72), as well as averaging 24.8 attempts (#59) and 8.6 made baskets (#78) a game.

While the numbers were very good overall, there were some areas of concern, with Penn’s offensive rebounding rate at 23.8 percent (#310) and its free throw shooting at 65.7 percent (#332)  With the rebounding rates in the last two years set at 27.9 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively, last year’s result may have been an aberration.  Fortunately for the Quakers, their positive shooting numbers did not cause the low rebounding numbers to be a huge concern.  However, Penn’s troubles at the line appear to be a more systemic and troubling issue.  The Red & Blue, under two different coaches, have had five straight years shooting at, and below, 67.5 percent.  If the Quakers aim to stay on top of the Ancient Eight, they will need to continue its dominant defensive effort while finding a way to improve its shooting from the charity stripe, as well as recover the 32.4 percent of points and 36.8 percent of made threes that were lost to graduation.

Penn returning core four consists of junior forward AJ Brodeur, junior wing Ryan Betley, senior guard Antonio Woods and senior forward Max Rothschild.  Brodeur, who shifted from the five to the four spot last year, averaged 31.0 minutes, 13.1 points (11th, Ivy) on 53.6 percent shooting (3rd), 7.2 rebounds (2nd), 2.5 assists (14th) and 1.2 blocks (3rd) per game.  He was a unanimous first team All-Ivy selection, as well as being named Ivy Tournament Most Outstanding Player and second team All-Big Five.  Betley averaged 33.5 minutes (8th), 14.3 points (10th), and 2.5 made threes (4th) per outing, while shooting 42.3 percent overall, 39.1 percent from three (12th) and 77.0 percent from the free throw line (10th).  For his efforts, he was named second team All-Ivy and All-Big 5.

After a season and a half away from the team due to an academic suspension, Woods returned in 2017-2018 to start  32 games at the two guard spot.  The 6′ 1″ Woods, who often defended opponents’ toughest perimeter player, averaged 28.2 minutes, 7.7 points on 43.1 percent shooting, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest.  After spending his sophomore season as the primary backup to Brodeur at the five spot, the 6′ 8″ Rothschild was brought into the starting lineup in his junior campaign.  He responded with 22.4 minutes, 7.5 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds (8th) and 2.4 assists per game.

Penn welcomes four members of the Class of 2022, including three guards and one forward.  Bryce Washington is a 6′ 4″ guard combo guard from Southfield Christian School in Detroit, who had offers from Brown, Pitt, Buffalo, Toledo, Central Michigan, Oakland, Detroit, Kent State, Drake, UIC, Colgate and Air Force.  The three star (ESPN) recruit had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game with school records for points in a season (573) and a career (1,685).  In his last two campaigns, he was named the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference MVP, as well as first team Class D All-State by the AP, Daily Tribune and Detroit News.

Alex Imegwu is a 6′ 6″ wing from Seton Hall Prep in Central Jersey, who chose the Quakers over Delaware, Lafayette, and Fairleigh Dickinson.  He averaged 16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds over his 27 game season, helping his team to the Super Essex Conference title.  According to Josh Verlin of City of Basketball Love, Imegwu, a strong three point shooter (66 baskets; 2.4 per game in ’17-’18), has worked on expanding his repertoire.  “I’m a very good 3-point shooter, but I was able to create a really good mid range game as well, create a lot of shots off the dribble,” the athlete told  CoBL. “I can shoot it from anywhere on the court, but I can also get to the rim, dunk the ball, all that stuff.”

William “Griff” Ryan is listed as a guard on the Penn roster, but the 6′ 5″ athlete played both front and back court positions at New Trier High School in the Chciago suburbs.  He was named to the Central Suburban League All-Conference team, while his school won conference and regional titles.  His versatility is a big asset, as noted by his high school coach, Scott Fricke.  “He could guard virtually anyone on the floor,” the coach told the Chicago Tribune.  “We switch a lot on screens and it was nice to know that whoever he got switched on — whether it was a big or a guard — that he could easily handle it. He’s the kind of player you need on your team.”

Michael Wang, or Wang Quanze, moved from the Shanxi Province of China to California at the age of 14 to live with a friend of his mother and attend Matter Dei High School in Santa Ana.  Listed a a three star recruit by ESPN, he chose Penn over Texas A&M, American, San Jose State and Campbell.  The 6′ 10″ 215 power forward put up 14.1 points and 6.4 boards per game this year, as he was named first team All-CIF Southern Section.  This summer, Wang (pronounced “Wong”) suited up for the Chinese national team at this summer’s FIBA U-18 Asian Championship.  In helping China to a third place finish, he averaged 29 minutes, 20 points (50 percent from two, 33 percent from three and 55 percent from the line) and 13 rebounds over 7 games.

For a big man, Wang has a complete offensive game.  According to an Orange County Register article from this past March, his high school teammate (and Harvard four star first year recruit) Spencer Freeman said, “He’s so versatile.  A 6′ 10″ guy who can shoot, dribble and pass.”  Echoed Coach Donahue to the Daily Pennsylvanian, “He was one of those kids that we saw on the AAU circuit in the Nike EYBL, and I couldn’t believe his skill level at that size to be honest.  He really passes well and shoots well and has a good post game. It really jumps out at you.”  Quaker fans should expect to get a good look at the big man, as the coach told the DP, “I think that he’s someone that we expect to come in and be a pretty main contributor early in his career.”

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