Just who or what is Penn basketball?

The philosopher speaks. (philly.com)
The philosopher speaks. (philly.com)

PHILADELPHIA – Who are we?

Generally, it’s a question asked in philosophy classrooms across the country by students wearing ugly plaid sweaters, and knit caps on their heads.

The only similarity between Penn coach Jerome Allen and the typical hipster philosophy student is the glasses, but last night, after his team won its first Big 5 game in three years against St. Joe’s, Allen was asking the same question.

And it’s a fair one to ask about this Penn squad, albeit troubling when coming from the man who should know better than anyone else. The Quakers’ effort seems to fluctuate from night to night. When the Palestra has been packed recently, against Villanova last weekend and against the Hawks last night, Penn brings a higher level of energy. Then, when no one is around to watch, the Quakers lay eggs, like the one they laid against Monmouth on Wednesday.

Last night, their leader, Tony Hicks, went from taking zero shot attempts in the first half to shifting completely in his approach in the last twenty minutes of the contest, driving to the rack at will.  Darien Nelson-Henry took control in the second half, but missed two free throws late that could’ve put the game away sooner for the Quakers.

But “Who are we?” may not be the right question to ask, because it doesn’t solve the Quakers’ problems. In fact, when looking at the difference in regards to level of performance from night to night, it’s quite clear who the Quakers are: an inconsistent squad, both on the micro and the macro level.

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Penn collapses at Princeton, because of course it did

Jerome Allen is 0-6 all-time against Princeton at Jadwin Gym. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Jerome Allen is 0-6 all-time against Princeton at Jadwin Gym. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

So, so, so much hasn’t changed.

When Penn amassed a 56-41 lead at arch-rival Princeton with 14:14 remaining, it seemed too good to be true.

That’s because it was.

The Quakers promptly let that lead slip away en route to a 78-74 loss, allowing Princeton to change the pace of the game into a more uptempo affair as the turnovers (17) and fouls (25) piled up for Jerome Allen’s team. Tony Hicks once again wilted down the stretch, barely catching rim on a long-range jumper as the shot clock wound down, missing a wide-open corner three and double-dribbling down with the Quakers down three in the best online casino game’s final minute.

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Penn registers another Ivy Rookie of the Week

Freshman guard Darnell Foreman was named Ivy Rookie of the Week Monday for his nine points, two blocks and two steals in 28 minutes at Navy and 11 points, eight boards and two steals at Binghamton. The Quakers won both games, their first two victories of the season.

Forward Mike Auger and guard Antonio Woods also received Rookie of the Week honors earlier this season, putting Penn in the highly unusual position of boasting three different rookies of the week – just three weeks into its season. In part due to junior guard Tony Hicks’ foul trouble, Woods is averaging the most minutes per game of any Quaker (30.4), and four of the top eight Quakers in minutes per game are freshmen. The ultra-young Red and Blue will have a chance to string together three consecutive wins for the first time in three seasons tonight against Marist at the Palestra.

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Penn basketball deserves better leadership

(philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
(philadelphia.cbslocal.com)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – This one was bad. Really bad. I can say so because I was there, in the high school gym with the undersized, poor shooting opponent, seeing for myself how bad the Quakers have become. No victory (and I’ve seen hundreds of Penn basketball games) has thrilled me more than this loss has skewered me. Losing to Wagner (for the fourth time in four years by the way) hurts like no other. Why? Because although the wait staff may change at this Penn hoops restaurant, the same lousy food is still being served, year after year.

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Penn basketball appears headed in the right direction

Tony Hicks fouled out against Temple and the Quakers still have a lot of growing pains ahead, but Penn is playing team basketball again. (ctpost.com)
Tony Hicks fouled out against Temple and the Quakers still have a lot of growing pains ahead, but Penn is playing team basketball again. (ctpost.com)

So Penn loses to Temple in the first Big 5 matchup of the year. Although not at all unexpected, the result was well below the 14.5-point spread that Las Vegas predicted (not to mention the 22 points that less knowledgeable pundits foresaw). Still, even though Tony Hicks fouled out with most of second half yet to play, Mike “The Moose” Auger didn’t suit up because of a fractured foot and coach Jerome Allen was forced to play his most inexperienced players for the majority of the game, I found something quite surprising — unlike the last few years, this contest was highly watchable. The Quakers didn’t dig themselves into a giant hole in the first 10 minutes. They were athletic, they hustled and they looked like there was some semblance of team basketball being played. In short, this game seemed like a step, albeit small, in the right direction.

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Mike Auger wins Ivy Rookie of the Week, status uncertain for Temple

Penn freshman forward Mike Auger was named Ivy Rookie of the Week for his 28 points and 17 rebounds combined in two losses to Rider and Lafayette this past week. Auger has been an offensive rebounding force in his first handful of collegiate games and has already developed obvious chemistry with Tony Hicks at the offensive end of the floor.

Auger-related news isn’t all good for Quaker fans as Penn gets set to play Temple at the Liacouras Center, though. Auger left Penn’s loss to Lafayette midway through the second half and according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, his status is uncertain for tonight’s Big 5 matchup with the Owls.

“I would hope that he’s physically ready to go,” Allen told the DP. “It is of the utmost importance that he spends as much time as he possibly can connected with the group on the floor. Hopefully he’s fine, but it hasn’t been determined yet.”

Mike Auger flashes as Penn basketball falls to Lafayette

Penn started out the first half a step slow in its search for its first win of the season while hosting Lafayette, trailing 45-30 at halftime – a hole the Quakers wouldn’t be able to climb out of even after cutting the Leopards’ lead to 62-60 halfway through the second half.

“We didn’t trust the system,” coach Jerome Allen said. “We didn’t know the objective of what we were trying to run and all our actions weren’t credible threats. Give Lafayette some credit but there was a direct function of our focus and attention to detail.”

The Quakers allowed Lafayette let loose from beyond the arc as the Leopards canned six of 10 attempts from deep in the first half.

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Talent isn’t everything for Penn basketball

Several years ago, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun was asked what the single-most important ingredient is to build a winning college basketball program. His response was immediate and succinct: “Talent. You cannot win without it no matter how good a coach you are.”

Does Penn have talent? It appears so, but it is far too early judge the freshman class based on only two games. I will say that overall they look eager, athletic and, as a group, promising. As for the veterans, Tony Hicks’s ability is undeniable. However, during his tenure at Penn he has become the Carmelo Anthony of the Quakers – shoot first and ask questions later. Darien Nelson-Henry is talented as well but still looks very much like a work in progress, flashes of brilliance interspersed with long stretches of underachievement. Unfortunately, he is more often the “Big Donkey” than the mighty “Big Hyphen” who can single-handedly dominate games. The rest of the veterans – Louis, Jones, Howard and Lewis – can also play but frequently look lost in “the system.”

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More than just growing pains are holding back Penn basketball

There will be a lot written and said about Penn’s growing pains throughout this season.

People will lament coach Jerome Allen’s ability to develop young talent, watch as freshmen like Mike Auger and Antonio Woods develop good and bad habits and yell when Sam Jones heats up from three one night and can’t knock one down the next.

But all of that won’t matter one bit if the elder statesmen of the team don’t clean up their own bad habits.

Allen admitted following Penn’s loss to Rider on Tuesday night that he wanted to get these freshmen, so vital to the development to the Quakers’ program and Allen’s job security, some winning experience as soon as possible.

The only problem is, his veterans, the players who should be carrying the team, are inhibiting the growth that the freshmen have been able to experience over the course of two games.

Had junior Darien Nelson-Henry been able to close out Delaware State in the waning minutes on Saturday night, Woods, Auger, Jones and Darnell Foreman would have experienced what it feels like to win in their first collegiate game.

But what happened on Tuesday didn’t just rob the freshmen of a winning experience. It put them in a position where it was hard for them to develop.

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Penn basketball dealing with deja vu

It wasn’t deja vu until it was.

For a while, it was another vision entirely, this 2014-15 Penn basketball team.

Who was this Darnell Foreman with the uncanny floor vision? This Sam Jones with the spot-up sharpshooting? This hustle and offensive rebounding tenacity across the board?

Penn trailed 14-5 early but got it together to build a seven-point lead with eight minutes to play at home against Delaware State, one of the worst teams in Division I last season.

And that’s when the deja vu set in. The rebounds started drying up. Jones’s shots started rimming out, giving him a 3-for-11 night from the field. Foreman continued controlling the point but not the ball as Tony Hicks took over, settling for and missing perimeter shot after perimeter shot as the second half wore on. Then Hicks airballed a three-pointer in the final minute, missing what would have been a game-winning shot as time expired and failing to successfully take the game into his own hands in overtime.

It became the Tony Hicks show, and it didn’t work. Sure, Hicks’s stat line was fantastic – 31 points, five three-pointers, five rebounds and three assists. Sure, this game could have easily went either way.

But it didn’t. It slipped away once again, this time to a no-name visitor that lost more games last season than even Penn.

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