Keeping the faith through Penn basketball growing pains

I love a man with a plan.  The first few games of 2015 for the Penn Quakers have undoubtedly shown that first-year Penn coach Steve Donahue has a system.  He is also doing his best to implement that system with young players that are not necessarily the best fit. The early results are therefore quite predictable: a few wins, a few competitive losses, a few bad losses and one game in which they were predictably “Cornelled.”™ (Cornelled: adv. A punishing, demoralizing and humiliating loss where a team surrenders 100 points or more.) So, despite their weak schedule, not a horrendous start for the Quakers.

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Antonio Woods is Penn basketball’s second wind vs. Temple

PHILADELPHIA – For the first time in the Steve Donahue era, Penn basketball lost a Big 5 game.

Temple held the Quakers at an arm’s length the entire game before a late Red and Blue rally led by sophomore guard Antonio Woods fell just short in the 77-73 loss at the Palestra Wednesday night.

There are plenty of reasons for Penn’s ultimate defeat. Thirteen turnovers. Key offensive rebounds for the Owls. Poor shooting from beyond the arc in the first half to build that early deficit.

But there are also a few key positives to take out of this game, chief among them the performance of Woods. Antonio took over down the stretch, putting together what is now a patented dominant second half in a last ditch effort to bring the Quakers back, just as he did against Lafayette and Navy.

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Penn falls to Navy despite a comeback with a twist

PHILDADELPHIA – For the first time all season, Penn basketball has lost consecutive games.

The Red and Blue were thrown off from the opening tip by Navy, a squad which won its seventh consecutive game after an 0-2 start. The Quakers (4-3) got off to a slow start before staging a late comeback, only to be undone by a layup from Navy sophomore Shawn Anderson and some missed free throws by sophomore guard Antonio Woods in the final minute.

I’ll get to the comeback in a second, but the more notable part of this game was the beginning. This is the fourth straight game that Penn trailed at the half and the end of the first half exposed some weaknesses, particularly with the Quakers’ depth.

A turning point came when both Woods and senior center Darien Nelson-Henry each picked up two fouls, all within a two-minute span. The duo account for a lot of Penn’s offense, and it showed in their absence (they each subbed in for a few possessions later in the half, but were limited).

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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with UW Dawg Pound’s Lucas Shannon

With Penn’s matchup at Washington less than 24 hours away, it’s time to go behind enemy lines with Lucas Shannon, hoops editor of UW Dawg Pound, the SB Nation Washington Huskies community.

Check out a flipped Q&A at UW Dawg Pound in which I let Husky fans know what to expect from the Quakers.

Ivy Hoops Online: UW Dawg Pound editor Kirk DeGrasse said you didn’t have high hopes the Huskies would win vs. Texas Friday, but they did. What did this young team show you against the Longhorns that was a pleasant surprise?

UW Dawg Pound: I shared his sentiment.  Like many other Husky fans, I didn’t expect the Huskies to knock off the Longhorns, so the win itself was a pleasant surprise.

The team as a whole showed that they are already able to fight through adversity. They had to travel nearly 5,000 miles for the game as it took place in Beijing, (though to be fair, Texas had to travel 7,000 miles for the game) and overcame a tough shooting night, and were able to scrap out a hard fought victory. This team is obviously very raw and needs to clean up their play a bit—they coughed the ball up 17 times — but the fact that they were able to travel across the world and beat a relatively experienced Texas team is impressive.

Read moreBehind Enemy Lines: Q&A with UW Dawg Pound’s Lucas Shannon

Plus/minus analysis for analytics-friendly Penn basketball

Utilizing the box score and play-by-play from Penn’s matchups with Robert Morris and Central Connecticut State, this post uses unofficial plus-minus numbers for the Quakers in their first two games this season, both wins at home. Keep in mind that these numbers are a short sample size and do not yet include Penn’s win at Delaware State Tuesday.

Steve Donahue has made much of the fact that he is an analytics-friendly coach, emphasizing to his players that they seek high-percentage shots in the paint first and foremost before subsequently trying for three-pointers if they cannot get off layups. He has also said that he likes to go 10 deep in the first half, using as much of his bench as he can.

That means a lot of lineups for a coach who relies on a lot of analytics, which merits some further analysis of our own. We already established that Penn’s worst lineup against Central Connecticut State was also its most used lineup, as the starting lineup of Jake Silpe-Antonio Woods-Matt Howard-Sam Jones-Darien Nelson-Henry posted a -11 rating in 11:49 together on the court. Donahue used 19 different lineup combinations with 14 different players in that game.

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Crunching the numbers: Penn-CCSU plus/minus

Utilizing the box score and play-by-play from Penn’s matchup with Central Connecticut State, this post uses unofficial plus-minus numbers for the Quakers in their 77-61 win. Keep in mind that these numbers are a very short sample size.

While Sam Jones put on a show against Central Connecticut State by going 5-for-9 from three-point range http://wp.me/p5jSrX-1QV, he wasn’t the only Penn player to post strong plus-minus numbers. Of the 10 players to get three minutes or more of playing time, seven posted positive plus-minus numbers, including a game-high +23 from Darnell Foreman.

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Sam Jones on fire for Penn basketball

PHILADELPHIA – Early in the second half, Penn basketball had yet to hit its stride against Central Connecticut State, tied at 36. Where was the three-point barrage that had just two days earlier taken Robert Morris by storm? Was this sluggish offense reality setting in?

But then Sam Jones hit a three. And then another. AND THEN ANOTHER.

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The Steve Donahue era begins with Penn finishing

PHILADELPHIA – Eight months since he took the post as the head of Penn basketball, Steve Donahue’s team was up 17 against a Robert Morris squad that returned four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad. Penn had only coughed up the ball five times in the first half. Almost every shot that the Quakers took was within the bounds of Donahue’s system. It was as good as Donahue could have scripted it.

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Q&A with Robert Morris coach and former Penn guard Andy Toole

Penn basketball leads off its season this Friday against Robert Morris, a team coached by none other than former Quakers guard Andy Toole (“03). Since winning two Ivy titles as a player at Penn, Toole’s career has taken off. After time as an assistant at both Lafayette and Robert Morris, Toole took over and has already eclipsed 100 career victories at the age of 35. He also led the Colonials to an NCAA Tournament bid and a victory in the First Four.

Before his squad opens its year against the Red and Blue, Toole took some time to talk about the matchup and his time at Penn with Ivy Hoops Online. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

Read moreQ&A with Robert Morris coach and former Penn guard Andy Toole

Penn Season Preview – Where the Whānau Is

There’s a new word surrounding Penn basketball this season: whānau.

What does this word mean and what does it have to do with the Quakers program under new coach Steve Donahue? The word means family in the Maori language.

Yet, as Donahue says, it means much more. It also refers to one’s extended family and their community, something that the Red and Blue hope to embrace in the 2015-16 season.

Embracing the community is a necessity after the Quakers’ recent lack of success. Penn is coming off possibly the worst three-year stretch in program history, a period that led to the ouster of coach Jerome Allen and the tenure of Donahue. A Penn assistant from 1990-2000 and the former head coach of Cornell and Boston College, Donahue brings a new wave of optimism and excitement to his former school.

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