Reason for hope: A look ahead to 2022-23 for Penn men’s basketball

Penn men’s basketball is set to return nearly every significant rotation player from this season in 2022-23, led by Jordan Dingle.  (photo by Erica Denhoff)

I spent the first few minutes after Penn’s 67-61 loss to Yale in the Ivy Madness semifinals at Lavietes Pavilion mourning.

Watching Jelani Williams use his jersey to dab tears from his eyes, accept a hug from trainer Phil Samko and walk into the locker room for the final time as a Quaker.

Trudging in the freezing rain for an unpleasant 45-minute tour of Harvard’s undergraduate and law school campuses.

Watching Jordan Dingle highlights on Twitter and then, eventually, pulling up the video of Penn’s postgame press conference from my Cambridge hotel room as night fell.

Coach Steve Donahue told Ivy Hoops Online’s Richard Kent: “I think we’re really close to building another really strong team [which] can compete not only in the Ivies, but nationally.”

As I thought about that quote, that mourning switched to hoping. The Quakers stand to return every single rotation player of significance save for Williams, assuming no departures via the transfer portal.

Below are some snap thoughts on where every returnee could fit on a 2022-23 team that will have higher expectations.

Jordan Dingle, G

Even though it occurred right in front of my face, I didn’t fully comprehend the behind-the-back dribble move Dingle used to school Yale’s Bez Mbeng before draining a three until I watched it a few times on replay.

That was a move you simply don’t see from players in the Ivy League. You see that move in NBA Street if you’re trying to rack up enough points for a Gamebreaker.

Without trying to be too hyperbolic, Dingle’s ceiling is high enough that he could become the greatest Penn player any Quakers fan without an AARP Magazine subscription has ever seen.

Dingle has racked up 880 points in two seasons of play, putting him on pace to shatter Penn’s all-time scoring record. AJ Brodeur, the current record-holder, put up 813 through his first two campaigns while playing in 10 more games.

Heading into next season, Dingle should be the overwhelming favorite to earn Ivy Player of the Year honors. At his current trajectory, would you bet against him winning that honor twice, just like Ibby Jaaber, Ugonna Onyekwe and Jerome Allen did?

The Quakers lived and died with Dingle in 2021-22. He took 36.1% of his team’s shots, per KenPom, sixth-most of any player in Division I. It’s also a record for any Penn player in the Steve Donahue era. Brodeur, the prior record-holder, topped out at 29.7% in the 2018-19 season.

Donahue spoke openly during early season play about his concerns that the team would rely on Dingle too much and wear him down. It’s an excellent point. Penn needs to find a way to develop consistent secondary scoring options around Dingle.

Heading into next season, I wonder if the Quakers will use Dingle as the primary player carrying the ball up the floor and initiating the team’s actions. The honor frequently went to Williams this past year.

I also wonder how much of Penn’s offense will revolve around clearing out and giving Dingle space to drive one-on-one. I don’t think there’s a single player remaining in the Ivy League right now who is capable of consistently guarding Dingle in an isolation situation.

Dingle may prioritize his three-point shooting in the offseason. His numbers (33.5% shooting from deep on 197 attempts) were solid overall, but not necessarily stable on a game-by-game basis. Case in point: Dingle shot 8-for-10 from deep at home against Harvard, converting some insanely high-degree of difficulty shots. The next week at Yale, he went 1-for-10 beyond the arc despite getting a lot of good looks.

I’m sure a decent chunk of that can be chalked up to variance. But I also know that if Dingle devotes significant time and energy to improving an aspect of his game, the results will show.

That’s best typified by the fact that Dingle went from a liability at the free throw line his freshman year (58.3% on 60 shots) to an asset this past season (81% on 100 shots).

If that three-point number can bump up to, say, 38%, watch out.

Clark Slajchert, G

The only other Penn player consistently able to create his own shot off the dribble last season was Slajchert, who demonstrated a scorer’s mentality.

He shot 37.5% from three during Ivy play (10th-best in the league) and 55.4% from two-point range (17th-best in the league). His buzzer-beating floater just outside the restricted arc to deliver a win against Brown was Penn’s best individual play of the year.

Slajchert had strong handles throughout the season and displayed considerable ability to get good looks in the lane while weaving through taller traffic, all while coming off the bench in all but two games this past season. He’s likely the best candidate to be Penn’s second-leading scorer after Dingle.

The question: in what capacity? Both Slajchert and Dingle are relatively ball-dominant players. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s worth thinking about before automatically slotting Slajchert in as the starting two-guard next to Dingle next season.

That scenario’s plausible, but it may be just as likely that Slajchert retains his sixth-man role and becomes the team’s primary creator of offense whenever Dingle takes a breather.

Jonah Charles, G

“Chuck Nasty” finished the season as Penn’s best three-point shooter by percentage. He finished the year with 53 makes on 136 attempts, good enough for a 39% clip.

Charles’ outside stroke is gorgeous to watch, and I think he could be one of the better spot-up shooters in the country.

The issue is that teams caught wise pretty early on to the fact that whenever Charles was on the floor, pretty much the only time he would shoot the ball in the half court would be coming from a stationary position. Charles only took 17 two-point shots all season, all but three of which came before the calendar flipped to 2022.

His role also decreased as the season went on. Charles played in 48.7% of Penn’s minutes all season, but only 30% of available minutes in league play.

Charles’ skills as a pure shooter demand a role in the rotation next season. But something needs to change, whether it be the coaching staff coming up with new screening actions to free Charles for catch-and-shoots or Charles driving more when the ball gets in his hands.

George Smith, G

Smith excelled as a perimeter defender, which helped him seize a starting role once Ivy play began.

Watching the semifinal matchup against Yale, I was highly impressed by how Smith was able to stick with Azar Swain throughout the game, successfully navigating through a host of complex screens on multiple occasions.

Smith was also highly efficient on offense throughout Ivy play. He shot 62.2% on two-pointers during the conference slate, 10th-best in the league, per KenPom. Smith also shot 86.1% from the free throw line during Ivy play, a Swainesque figure.

Touted as a strong three-point shooter as a recruit, Smith will need to post better long-distance numbers next season. He shot 17.9% from beyond the arc in Ivy play on 28 attempts. Granted, that’s not a particularly significant sample size, but Donahue’s offense thrives on having multiple three-point shooting threats on the floor at all times.

Look for Smith to start the season as Penn’s primary two-guard.

Ed Holland III, G/F

Holland had the most impressive recruiting pedigree of any member of Penn’s 2022 freshman class but played just 21 minutes all season.

Heading into school, Holland looked a bit like a slightly smaller version of fellow Friends’ Central product DeAndre Hunter, who is now in the NBA.

With little college tape to work off and no working crystal balls in existence, it’s tough to forecast what Holland’s role next season will be. But I can’t imagine that a player good enough in high school to get offers from Providence and VCU is going to spend four years sitting on the bench.

Lucas Monroe, G/F

I often describe Monroe to my friends as “bouncy,” and with good reason. Monroe grabbed 22.9% of all available defensive rebounds while on the floor, per KenPom. That was the 99th-best defensive rebounding rate of any player in Division I.

The Quakers as a whole struggled defensively last season. I think Monroe will need to be the key to a turnaround. I viewed him this past season as a capable on-ball defender against players a little taller and a little shorter than his 6’6” listed height.

Monroe is also sneakily efficient on offense despite a relatively low usage rate. He shot just a hair under 55% from two-point range on 91 attempts while only taking 14.1% of Penn’s shots.

I would expect Monroe to be one of Penn’s first players off the bench next season.

Max Martz, F

I don’t think Penn fans appreciate just how much of a step forward Martz took in 2021-22. A brief rundown (all stats provided by KenPom):

  • Penn scored 118.8 points per 100 possessions with Martz on the floor. That made him the 151st-most efficient player in all of Division I.

  • He shot 63.5% from two and 37.5% from three in Ivy play. Those figures were 4th and 9th-best in the conference, respectively.

  • He turned the ball over on just 7.5% of his possessions, the 13th-best figure in all of Division I.

Martz was forced into the four-position due to Penn’s spate of frontcourt injuries and held up reasonably well. I think he’s going to be far more comfortable defensively playing in the three role, and he may find it easier to back those types of players down on offense.

A smart, efficient player capable of stretching the floor, Martz is the perfect fit for Donahue’s system. I view his progression as an overall bellwether for the state of the team. If his current trajectory holds, Martz will merit serious consideration for All-Ivy honors next season.

Michael Moshkovitz, F

Moshkovitz certainly led the Quakers in nicknames earned. Known to his teammates as “mosh pit,” monikers bestowed on Moshkovitz in my friend group this past season included: “the mensch off the bench,” “the Semitic swingman” and “the Hebrew high post.”

Like Martz, Moshkovitz’s role was altered by Penn’s frontcourt injury issues. Originally a rotational reserve, Moshkovitz was forced into the starting five role after both Max Lorca-Lloyd and Nick Spinoso went down.

There was a decent amount to like out of Moshkovitz in the five slot. He seemed comfortable operating at the top of the key in Penn’s five-out motion sets and his assist rate of 20.5% on possessions he used was fourth-best in Ivy play, per KenPom. Moshkovitz also demonstrated some nifty moves when isolated in backdown situations, perhaps best exemplified by his 6-for-10 two-point shooting performance during Penn’s loss to Princeton at Jadwin Gymnasium.

However, Moshkovitz ran into some issues defensively. He committed 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes in Ivy play. Recency bias may come into play here, but it appeared that his fouling issues worsened as the season went on.

Matched up against Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan in the last game of the season, Moshkovitz fouled out in just 15 minutes of action. He picked up two quick fouls in the Ivy semifinal against Yale, forcing Donahue to shuffle his lineup.

It’s worth noting that many of Moshkovitz’s fouls were the result of aggressive play. Moshkovitz demonstrated plenty of grit and hustle throughout the season and it is obvious why he is so beloved by his teammates.

Moshkovitz’s role next season is murky. One would imagine that the return of Max Lorca-Lloyd would eliminate the possibility of him starting at the five. Moshkovitz’s skills as a distributor could be enough to keep him in the starting lineup as the four; a shift to the four could also give him more manageable defensive matchups.

At a bare minimum, Moshkovitz will be one of the first big men off the bench.

Nick Spinoso, F

Penn got virtually nothing from Spinoso throughout Ivy play, but the freshman came up big in the Yale semifinal. He scored 14 points on eight shots and was Penn’s most efficient offensive player in the loss.

Donahue revealed postgame that it took Spinoso a while to regain his full mobility after he injured his ankle against Arkansas in November. That comment caused me to re-evaluate his Ivy performance in a new light.

Against Yale, Spinoso showed some elements in his game that reminded me a little bit of AJ Brodeur. Specifically, I liked Spinoso’s confidence in his three-point shot and the intense emotion he displayed while on the floor.

One game is, well, one game. But a big man who can shoot is invaluable to any offense. Spinoso shot 7-for-12 from three-point land over the course of the season.

Again, sample size. But it’s obvious Spinoso will have a rotational role next season.

How much? That’s TBD.

Max Lorca-Lloyd, F

If Penn is going to reach the heights Donahue talked about, it’s going to need a big senior season from Lorca-Lloyd, who arrived at Penn with as strong a recruiting pedigree as any Quakers player I can recall from the last decade.

Lorca-Lloyd has had three seasons essentially thrown out the window. Freshman year, he was stuck behind AJ Brodeur and barely played. Covid robbed him of his sophomore season. Foot surgery curtailed his junior season after just six games.

In his limited action, Lorca-Lloyd showed signs that he could be the type of rim protector that Penn’s defense desperately needs. He recorded blocks on 9.2% of his defensive possessions, according to KenPom.

If that rate held up throughout the year, it would have been good enough to put him in the top 40 nationwide. For context, Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Jaylan Gainey ranked 23rd in Division I, logging blocks on roughly 10.7% of his defensive possessions during his 2021-22 campaign for Brown.

It’s easy to see where Lorca-Lloyd fits in on the defensive end. The offensive side is murkier. Lorca-Lloyd only took 18 shots in his six starts, which is a relatively low rate for a player with his pure athleticism. He looked like he was coming on stronger during the Myrtle Beach Invitational, slipping screens several times for vicious dunks.

We never truly got a chance to see how Penn could use Lorca-Lloyd’s above-the-rim capabilities or whether he could operate in five-out sets.

But there has to be some way for the Quakers to unlock his talent, even if the clock is working against them. Lorca-Lloyd said “no thanks” to Scott Drew at Baylor, Chris Holtmann at Ohio State and Kevin Willard at Seton Hall for a reason.

Andrew Laczkowski, F

After initially residing at the end of the bench, Laczkowski earned a bigger role as the season went on.

His game at Columbia, in which he grabbed four offensive rebounds and scored 12 points on eight shots, was his best statistically. However, I was most impressed by his limited minutes against Harvard, in which he recorded an impressive chasedown block.

It’s tough to read that much into a player who only received action in 10.3% of his team’s available minutes. But in the time he got, Laczkowski looked like an aggressive player willing to shoot from outside.

Gus Larson, F

Larson, a long-term project, received virtually no action in 2021-22.

With little to go off from this past season, it’s difficult to project a role for him next season with any certainty. Perhaps he’ll fill into his body in the offseason.

1 thought on “Reason for hope: A look ahead to 2022-23 for Penn men’s basketball”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. (And as an editor at AARP, I thank you for the shout-out.) Jordan Dingle is indeed a rare talent; my memory of players in Penn uniforms goes back to Ron Haigler, and though we’ve had some truly great ones, no one matches Dingle for his versatility, his blending of speed, power and finesse. He showed all of that, and lots of heart, against Yale at the tournament. This team, this year, was often on par with Princeton and Yale, and your optimism for next season seems sensible — especially if Donahue comes through with a couple of impact player among his recruits.

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