Penn basketball leaving turbulence behind

 

See if you can find Steve Donahue in this picture. Rest assured, he hates two-point jumpers just as much 33,000 feet up in the air as he does on 33rd Street.

“Hey AQ, where have you been?” The question has arisen this season from many emails and tweets.  First, for those of you who have missed my pithy, yet pedantic,and occasionally puerile persiflage (800 Math, 790 Verbal), my apologies, and no, I have not retired. Instead, I have merely taken a step back to observe the rapid reshaping of the Ivy hoops landscape. Overall, this brief offseason has been arguably more tumultuous than the season itself. Yale captures the league outright for the first time in 54 years and then bags a tournament win over Baylor. Princeton does their “I got this. Oops, no I don’t!” routine in the NIT. Kyle Smith, after winning the CIT, triumphantly leaves Columbia (“Thank you and good night!”) as perhaps the torchbearer of a strange, new breed of Lions coach — a winning one. (I am hoping that they lose the secret formula for this perverse brand of eugenics, no doubt developed in some arcane lab on the Morningside Heights campus, before that institution actually gets used to victory.) Paul Cormier, after two straight ROYs, abruptly gets canned in Hanover which only proves that you can never go home again especially if that home is in New Hampshire, on the Dartmouth campus and you’re hired as its basketball coach. And Bill Courtney, well…even the muskrats at the bottom of the gorge could see that one coming.

So what about my beloved Quakers?

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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).

Read morePenn falls to Navy despite a comeback with a twist

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.

Read morePlus/minus analysis for analytics-friendly Penn basketball

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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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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Steve Donahue: The Reconstructionist

Does this look like a man ready to turn around Penn basketball? Why yes, yes it does.
Does this look like a man ready to turn around Penn basketball? Why yes, yes he does.

It is ironic that Steve Donahue has become our new head coach.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with the choice.  After all, this has to be his dream job. A Philly guy with Quaker DNA who has a deep respect, if not love, for the hoop traditions of the city, returns as leader to the campus that once nurtured his coaching skills as a young assistant.  In fact, he was so enamored with his new position that in his introductory press conference he said, “This place is one that has everything I ever wanted in an institution.  I am a Big 5 coach. There are only five of us. To imagine that I am one of them, at this institution, is just incredible.”

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Steve Donahue is safe, and Penn won’t be sorry

Steve Donahue won three Ivy championships at Cornell. Few coaches share such a rich Ancient Eight pedigree. (Reuters)
Steve Donahue won three Ivy championships as head coach at Cornell from 2008 to 2010. Few coaches share such a rich Ancient Eight pedigree. (Reuters)

“You are better safe than sorry,” Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun said at her Tuesday press conference … in an alternate universe.

But that’s what most people are thinking: Steve Donahue was the safe hire. The safest of safe hires. For those people, Calhoun may as well have introduced him as he sat encased in bubble wrap.

But does safe mean it’s the wrong hire? If you think so, I’ll just refer you to the aphorism in my lede.

Read moreSteve Donahue is safe, and Penn won’t be sorry

The case for Jerome Allen

(Laurence Kesterson/AP)
(Laurence Kesterson/AP)

For the next three weeks, there will be no shortage of people calling for Jerome Allen to be fired and replaced as Penn basketball’s head coach. The reasoning is simple: With Allen at the helm over the past five and a half seasons, the Quakers have gone 63-99 and appear on their way to another below .500 season along with a third straight bottom half of the Ivy League finish.

But no matter the reasons his many detractors will provide for his ouster, there are definitely reasons to keep Allen aboard for next season. The following isn’t an opinion piece advocating for Allen but simply lays out the main factors Athletic Director Grace Calhoun will have to look into before making her final decision after the season.

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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.

Read moreJust who or what is Penn basketball?