March is defined by thin margins.
Penn’s season collapsed with the blow of a referee’s whistle with 90 seconds to go in its Ivy League tournament semifinal against Princeton. If Nick Spinoso’s charge on the Tigers’ Keeshawn Kellman in a one-point game had been ruled a no-call or a flop, would Penn have advanced?
Yale can ask itself a similar question. If August Mahoney — the third-best free throw shooter in the country — converted his one-and-one with 2:18 to go in a three-point game in the Ivy League Tournament final against Princeton, would the Bulldogs have completed their furious second-half rally?
Both those teams could only watch as Princeton went on to go on a magical run to the Sweet 16, the deepest an Ivy League champion has gone in the NCAA Tournament since 2010.
Plenty of Penn fans are probably still bitter, and could you blame them?
But a look at the Quakers’ returning roster indicates that fans’ high expectations for redemption in 2023-24 will be well-justified:
Jordan Dingle, G (Sr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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?”
How he fared: Yeah, that aged well.
Dingle finished the season as the second-leading scorer in the country (23.4 PPG) and won Ivy League Player of the Year.
He finished with a career-best KenPom offensive efficiency rating of 112.7 points per 100 possessions, 444th out of 2,252 eligible players. Among players who used more than 28% of their team’s possessions, Dingle ranked 19th nationally in offensive efficiency, ahead of stars like Memphis’ Kendric Davis, Duke’s Kyle Filipowski and yes, Princeton’s Tosan Evbuomwan.
All of this came despite Dingle being asked again to take a higher proportion of his team’s shots than nearly anyone in Division I. Dingle took 35.1% of Penn’s shots in 2022-23, the fifth-highest rate of any player, according to KenPom; he took 36.1% of Penn’s shots in 2021-22, sixth-most in Division I that season.
Dingle’s offensive game is already NBA-ready. He posted career-best marks in three-point shooting, two-point shooting, free-throw percentage and free-throw rate last season. He can get to the rack seemingly at will and has hops far beyond what any player of his 6-foot-3 height should have.
To become the first Penn player selected in the NBA Draft since Jerome Allen, Dingle will likely need to work on ways to have his incredible athleticism shine through on the defensive end of the floor. Dingle showed flashes of that ability in the Ivy League semifinal game against Princeton, when he generated two breakaway layups off steals.
It’s not a question of if Dingle will pass AJ Brodeur to become Penn’s all-time leading scorer, or if he will become the first player in program history ever to score 2,000 career points. It’s a question of when.
Nick Spinoso, F (Jr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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.”
How he fared: The three-point shooting stroke Spinoso flashed during his freshman year was absent this season (Spinoso went 0-for-10 from deep), but the sophomore had his share of Brodeuresque moments as he seized a starting job in Penn’s frontcourt.
Spinoso, at his best, passes as well as Brodeur did. Maybe even better. He finished with an assist on 28.5% of possessions he used, according to KenPom, putting him 96th nationally in assist rate.
As the season went on, Spinoso also became more confident and aggressive around the basket. He showed some nice footwork in the post and wound up scoring in double figures in six out of Penn’s last seven games. Spinoso even made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the night with an amazing putback dunk in Penn’s 90-69 beatdown of Brown in February.
For all the potential Spinoso has shown, there are still some elements in his game he needs to shore up over the summer. He is a much better finisher with his dominant left hand than his right, and Ivy opponents began selling out to force Spinoso to try and finish shots with his right hand as conference play progressed. Spinoso also struggled at the free throw line throughout the season.
Spinoso’s aggressive passing instincts also result in efficiency issues. He turned the ball over on 27.2% of possessions he used, the highest rate of any regular on the team. Spinoso ended the season with a KenPom offensive efficiency rating of 92.1 points per 100 possessions, below the breakeven mark of 100 points per 100 possessions.
If Penn is going to end its NCAA Tournament and Ivy League championship droughts, it will need Spinoso to take his game to the next level.
Clark Slajchert, G (Sr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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.”
How he fared: Slajchert (13.6 PPG) did wind up as Penn’s second-leading scorer, but there turned out to be little question about his role in the rotation. Slajchert and Dingle started alongside each other all season, and at one point, formed the highest-scoring backcourt duo in the country during nonconference play.
There were several games throughout the season where Slajchert simply took over, such as his 33-point performance against Colgate during the Cathedral Classic and his 31-point showing at Brown in Penn’s Ivy opener.
What kept Slajchert from earning all-Ivy honors was a bad slump in the early and middle stages of Ivy play, when he put up KenPom offensive ratings below the 100 point per 100 possession breakeven mark in eight out of nine conference games after that game at Brown.
But by season’s end, Slajchert appeared to have recovered his shot. He hit four three-pointers on seven attempts in the Ivy semifinal at Princeton, carrying the Quakers back into the contest.
Slajchert excels at hitting high-degree of difficulty shots like wrong-footed floaters, more than compensating for his 6-foot-1 height. He’s a candidate for All-Ivy recognition next year so long as he can maintain a consistent standard of play throughout the season.
Max Martz, F (Sr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “A smart, efficient player capable of stretching the floor, Martz is the perfect fit for Steve 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.”
How he fared: Martz took a big step forward this season and earned All-Ivy honorable mention honors. He proved to be quite reliable as a backdown scorer and consistently moved well away from the ball to set himself up for catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities.
The junior finished with a KenPom offensive efficiency rating of 124.5 points per 100 possessions, good for 51st in the country as of the time of this article. That is the highest any Penn player has finished in the KenPom offensive efficiency rankings since KenPom began tracking individual stats in the 2003-04 season.
At this point, Martz is a fully-developed player who, as explained last year, fits perfectly in Donahue’s system. He’s an excellent tertiary scoring option who can occasionally pop off for 15+ points, which he did eight times last season. He’s a good shotmaker at the rim and beyond the three-point line, the two most analytically important spots on the floor. Martz also adds solid length on defense.
Quietly, Martz also does a great job of taking care of the basketball. Per KenPom, he committed giveaways on just 6.3% of all possessions he used during Ivy play, the best mark of any player in the conference.
For all the message board chatter about Penn’s failure to support Jordan Dingle, Martz is a perfect complementary piece of a winning basketball team.
George Smith, G (Jr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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. Look for Smith to start the season as Penn’s primary two-guard.”
How he fared: Smith didn’t start in 2022-23, but took a huge step forward as an outside shooter this season.
Despite missing more than a month with facial injuries suffered from a hard fall in a November win at Lafayette — and needing to adjust to wearing a protective mask on the floor — Smith hit 24 of his 50 three-point attempts, good for a 48% clip. He shot 15-for-32 from long range during Ivy play; his 46.9% three-point shooting percentage in the conference season was second-best in the league.
Smith also proved to be a capable rebounder on top of his well-established perimeter defensive skills. His offensive and defensive rebounding rates in Ivy play both ranked inside the top 20 in the league.
During Penn’s two matchups at Princeton in the span of a week, Smith was given the task of guarding Tosan Evbuomwan for stretches and performed admirably despite a four-inch height disadvantage. That’s the level of trust he’s earned from the coaching staff.
Smith was probably Penn’s most improved player in 2022-23 on a relative basis. He projects to be a useful three-and-D option in the rotation next season and could potentially even be the first person to get a crack at filling the starter’s minutes left behind by graduating swingman Lucas Monroe.
Eddie Holland III, G/F (Jr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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.”
How he fared: After regularly coming off the bench during nonconference play, Holland only played a total of 12 garbage-time minutes against Ivy opponents as his role in the rotation shrank.
Holland had some very impressive moments during nonconference play and provided a spark when he came off the bench against strong opponents like Missouri.
Those instincts may have hurt Holland at times when he was receiving regular minutes. One of his last notable moments of the season came when he abandoned Villanova’s Jordan Longino to help on a double-team at the end of the first half of the Big 5 contest, leaving Longino wide open to hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Given his athleticism and aggressive instincts, Holland also seems like a prospect to fill some of Monroe’s minutes and take on an increased role next season as he fills into his body some more.
Andrew Laczkowski, G (Sr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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.”
How he fared: Laczkowski again received limited playing time (he got action in just 15.2% of Penn’s available minutes in 2022-23), but he recorded a team-best KenPom offensive rating of 133.7 points per 100 possessions while on the floor.
The most impressive attribute Laczkowski has is his work rate. His most memorable contributions throughout the season didn’t appear in the stat sheet, such as tip-outs to generate offensive rebounds and dives on loose balls to generate tie-ups.
Laczkowski’s knack for being in the right place at the right time may put him in line for a bigger rotational role next season.
Gus Larson, F (Jr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: “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.”
How he fared: Larson certainly looked like he filled into his body during Penn’s exhibition games, and he played well enough to earn an opening night start in the frontcourt at Iona.
It was all downhill from there. Larson missed his only field goal attempt in 18 minutes in the game against the Gaels and did not play another high-leverage minute the rest of the season. He spent all of Ivy play in street clothes.
There’s nothing meaningful that can be said about Larson’s ceiling or skill level unless and until he receives rotational minutes.
Reese McMullen, G (Jr. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: N/A
How he fared: McMullen received a handful of starts during nonconference play but only played four total minutes against Ivy opponents.
While on the floor, McMullen looked like a fairly capable perimeter defender and was able to get some shots up in the air. He’ll be an intriguing candidate for a reserve guard role next year, but there isn’t a whole lot of data available to evaluate.
Cam Thrower, G (So. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: N/A
How he fared: Thrower had some flashes of skill during his limited action in his freshman campaign, but perhaps did not get as much playing time as some expected, given his strong recruiting pedigree.
Billed as a strong shooter, Thrower looked tentative at times when given opportunities to shoot from distance. However, he did move well defensively and has some solid length for a guard. He should have a larger role next season.
Chris Ubochi, F (So. in 2023-24)
Last year’s outlook: N/A
How he fared: Ubochi did not appear in uniform in the 2022-23 season. The Nigerian big man is a long-term project.
Was 2022-23 a success?
The most intellectually honest answer is “no.”
Penn gave away four games this season (vs. Saint Joseph’s, vs. La Salle, at Dartmouth, at Princeton) in which it had KenPom win probabilities of at least 89% in the second half. Hold onto those, and Penn would have had a share of the Big 5 title and an outright Ivy League title.
Instead, it finished third, suffered yet another excruciating loss to Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals, and then had to see their biggest rivals get showered with national praise and adulation as they reached the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
That hurts. A lot.
The Quakers did improve significantly on an absolute basis. They finished 2022-23 126th in KenPom, 85 slots higher than last year. Penn also picked up three home wins against teams which entered their matchups against the Quakers ranked inside the KenPom top 100 (Colgate, Temple and Yale).
With virtually all of its scoring returning, Penn should start next season ranked either inside or just outside of the KenPom top 100 next season.
Florida Atlantic, which is now two wins away from a national championship, started 2022-23 ranked 89th in KenPom. It would not be a great shock if Penn started next season in that range once transfer portal machinations shake themselves out.
However, the Quakers likely won’t be Ivy League preseason favorites next year, even if they start next season in the top 100. That honor should belong to Yale, which finished this season ranked 65th in KenPom and stands to return its whole rotation save for forwards EJ Jarvis, Isaiah Kelly and Michael Feinberg.
Princeton will likely start next season ranked around the top 100 as well despite the departures of Tosan Evbuomwan and Ryan Langborg. Cornell, which finished 139th in KenPom, returns everyone save for Greg Dolan and Marcus Filien. It’s conceivable that the Ivy League will have five or six teams inside the KenPom top 150 next season.
For Penn, it’s NCAA Tournament or bust next season. But the competition has never been tougher.