Reading the Ivy tea leaves – Penn roundup

Thanks to everyone close to the Penn basketball program in some capacity who shared their thoughts on their hopes and expectations for the Quakers this season:

A.J. Brodeur, Penn basketball class of 2020: I think this year for Penn, people need to watch out for the freshman class. There’s a lot of talent there that was under-recruited in high school in my opinion. Also, Steve’s style of play focuses on letting the players play with offensive guidelines and concepts rather than always running defined plays and offenses. It’s worked for him in the past and I’m excited to see where it takes the Quakers this year. I think Penn basketball will definitely turn some heads this year.

Ryan Betley, Penn basketball class of 2020: This upcoming season, I am looking forward to seeing how coach Donahue’s offense works and how the guys on the team buy into it. It’s a big style change from the previous coach, but I think it makes a lot of sense: Shoot rhythm threes and get the ball inside. In addition, I’m intrigued to see how the freshman class performs, knowing I will be teammates with them for the next three years. I know the expectations aren’t that high but I think Penn can still be a sleeper in the Ivy League this year. #GoQuakers

Jonathan Tannenwald, Soft Pretzel Logic/ producer, Penn ’06: I’m more intrigued by the arrival of a new season at the Palestra than I have been for a few years. Steve Donahue has clearly brought a new and different spirit into the program. He (along with athletic director Grace Calhoun) has embraced sports science and basketball analytics in a way that we’ve never seen before on 33rd Street, and has made a welcome investment of time in being a public presence on campus.

Will any of that land Penn the caliber of recruits it needs to knock off Harvard? Or improve Donahue’s defensive coaching acumen, which is perhaps the biggest flaw on his résumé? Probably not. But even if they are small moves, they could add up to a big improvement. First, get the players to be smart with the ball and disciplined without it – tasks which might become easier now that Tony Hicks is gone, by the way. Then get out there on campus and sell the students on coming to the Palestra for the season-opening men’s-women’s doubleheader.

If the Quakers can win a few games early and build up some momentum for Princeton’s visit on January 9, the energy might just last until Harvard comes to town on February 6. And if it all comes together right, an upset of the Crimson would send a message to fans and recruits alike that the program is on its way back toward the top.

Mike Wisniewski, Olympic research assistant, NBC Sports, former Daily Pennsylvanian sports editor, 2012-13, former producer

 As far as Penn basketball is concerned, I think it’ll been an exciting year for those following the program. Steve Donahue is the coach I’ve been pining for the last few seasons, and I have high hopes for Penn under his tutelage. He’s clearly a coach who knows how to win in the Ivy League, which is a talent that doesn’t always translate into success in scholarship programs (and vice versa). Tony Hicks opting not to return to the team for his senior season will be blow at the beginning, but considering Penn isn’t realistically going to compete for an Ivy title anyway, it’s great in the sense that it will give the younger players a chance to grow and hopefully shine. If Hicks didn’t want to be here anyway, it’s what’s best for both parties.

Rich Kahn, Voice of the Palestra: The guys look to be in great shape and I’m really looking forward to seeing coach Donahue’s up tempo brand of basketball. I think the fans are going to love it!

Ian Wenik, IHO writer, Daily Pennsylvanian sports editor, 2013-15: Want to know what’s got me most excited about Penn basketball this season? Just look at the athletic department’s official Twitter feed.

You’ll see pictures of new coach Steve Donahue and his assistants all over campus. Since Donahue’s come aboard, the athletic department has made a huge effort towards making the program a visible part of campus life, at the very least.

And that’s huge, considering how much attendance has dropped after three straight seasons with single-digit win totals. All of this self-promotion — the friendly social media wagers with the women’s team, the brand-spanking-new Penn athletics Snapchat account — has brought in an encouraging amount of goodwill. . In the final years of Bilsky/Allen, the team had become an afterthought in student life. Frankly, the Palestra is a pretty depressing place to be in when it’s three-fourths empty and there’s only 15 students in the risers.

That’s about all you can ask for from a team that’s still a year or two away from seriously contending for a top-three finish in the conference. I had the Quakers topping out at 5th this season before the Tony Hicks news broke. Now, I would pin them at 6th, above Dartmouth and Cornell. The wins won’t be there this season, but making the Penn student population at least aware of the team’s existence is a good first step.

Jeff Shafer, former Daily Pennsylvanian sports editor, Penn ’06: Lots of unknowns for Penn this season. One thing we do know is they now have a professional college coach. That is absolutely going to help in the long run. Who knows what Donahue is going to be able to do with the pieces he’s inheriting from the prior regime. For the most part there are glimmers of talent. If those elements can be formed into any sort of cohesive team, Penn has a shot to go .500 against one of the more abysmal schedules I’ve seen in a while. This team isn’t ready to win the Ivy League; John Wooden couldn’t do it with this lot. But they at least appear to be on a reasonable trajectory, and Donahue knows how to teach his players to be better. Big improvement.

Matt Howard, Antonio Woods and Sam Jones could make for a solid core, but they are going to need to add more reliable scoring and create more disruption on defense. Losing Tony Hicks may be a blessing in disguise. Sure they need scoring, but this team also needs an attitude adjustment. I’m optimistic that they will embrace more of a team concept on offense, and that should carry them over lesser opposition. The Ivy race figures to be more even this year. I would put down 7-7 for the Quakers, keeping it interesting a little later than last year.

We are coming off the worst stretch in the history of the program, and that’s 120 years. It’s encouraging to finally see the athletic department showing some signs of life when it comes to basketball, but they have a long way to go to get back to what most fans expect.

Ryan Weicker, Penn ’08: I love the start of every basketball season, but this is the most excited I’ve been for the start of a Penn season since Rosen’s final year in ’11-12. Unfortunately some of that has dampened a bit after the surprising Hicks news broke last Friday. Still, the sophomores showed a lot of promise last year and I’m high on the incoming freshman class so there will be plenty of important minutes to go around.

It’s a shame that Hicks won’t play this year because this year’s Ivy is probably the most wide open it has been in years which made me guilty of entertaining some ‘Penn as dark horse champion’ thoughts. Really, what I’m looking forward to this season is progression. The last few years have been hard – felt like one step forward, two steps back most of the time. With the youth of this year’s team there’s going to be plenty of growing pains, but I’m hopeful by the time the Ivy season rolls around, the team will be clicking and competitive every night. But really, as long as the team doesn’t turn the ball over on 23 percent-plus of their possessions again, I’ll be happy. Plus, we know with Donahue there shouldn’t be too many games in the 40s anymore. Please don’t let there be games in the 40s anymore.

Hurrah, hurrah!

David Burrick, Former Daily Pennsylvanian Executive Editor/Sports Editor, Penn ’06


I’m not one who believes Penn will compete for an Ivy title this year, even prior to Tony Hicks leaving, but I am looking forward to seeing the program take demonstrable steps towards rebuilding. Specifically, I’d love to see the following things …
  1. A general sense that the players are running an organized offensive and defensive system: Too many times under Jerome Allen, Penn’s players appeared to not know what they were doing on the court. While there will certainly be bumps in the road in year 1 under Steve Donahue, I expect a much more disciplined approach, particularly on the offensive end, this season.
  2. The emergence of at least two freshmen/sophomores who the program can build around in the coming years: Jake Silpe is an obvious candidate, with others like Antonio Woods, Max Rothschild, Mike Auger and Sam Jones are also in the mix. Interestingly. Tony Hicks’ departure will help on this front.
  3. Continued momentum on the recruiting trail: Penn has had some nice pick-ups in the summer recruiting season, but the program has a history of some more under-the-radar recruits signing in the winter/early spring that have impacted the program (Mark Zoller and Ibby Jaaber come to mind). Assuming Steve Donahue follows more of the Fran Dunphy recruiting model (solid, dependable players) vs. the Tommy Amaker model (high profile players), Donahue needs to hit on a few diamonds in the rough in the coming six months.
  4. Signs of a return to normalcy at the Palestra: Penn’s home arena, with its history and the crowds it is capable of drawing, is the program’s best recruiting advantage. I respect what Steve Donahue and Grace Calhoun have done in their early days to build some excitement around the program with students and alumni and I expect to see at least a small bump as a result. However, we all know that winning is what will ultimately bring the crowds back.
Forget about Penn’s record (which I expect to be not-so-great this year), if progress is made on all of the above in the coming season, the program will be on its way back to normalcy.

Rob Browne, Penn ’88, friend of IHO: As an alumnus and a fan, my main goals are to be proud of the team and find enjoyment in watching them play. Having coach Donahue gives the team a mature and experienced leader, who will hopefully erase the bunker mentality of the recent past by continuing to engage the student body, the alumni and the media.

It has been incredibly frustrating to watch a team that had a difficult time settling on a starting five, fouled excessively, turned the ball over at an alarming rate and got blown out of too many ball games. Additionally, over the last few years, there have been too many instances of players being disciplined by the coaching staff. No matter the record, I truly hope that the coach can settle on a consistent rotation with people playing at their appropriate positions, while instilling athletic and emotional discipline.

In the new post-Hicks world, looking at the schedule, I think another 9-19 (4-10) season may be more likely.

Barry Leonard’s last paragraph in the Cornell preview could certainly apply to Penn as much as it does to the Big Red.  However, based on last year’s results, the reported talent from this incoming group and the presence of coach Donahue, I think the Quakers’ future will be brighter as they make a significant jump next season.

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