After taking a gut-punch loss to La Salle on Saturday, Penn responded by easily brushing aside Division III Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham on Wednesday at the Palestra, 111-57.
As is expected in a game against a Division III team, Penn could give regulars like Nick Spinoso, Tyler Perkins and Clark Slajchert light workloads. Slajchert scored 17 points on eight shots in just 15 minutes of action; he got virtually the entire second half off.
By the end of the evening, 14 different Quakers had scored. Penn also hit a program-record 21 three-pointers.
There aren’t many meaningful Quakeaways one can take away from a Division III tune-up game. But there’s certainly much to mull over ahead of Penn’s big-time game on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center against Associated Press No. 16 Kentucky.
Maybe these can be Palestra Ponderings on a possible path to victory instead.
Is there any hope on the defensive end?
One red flag out of many on Penn’s advanced metric profile is that the Red and Blue allow opponents to shoot a high volume of three-pointers. According to KenPom, Penn allows opponents to put up 40.2% of their total three-point attempts from behind the arc, which ranks 262nd out of 362 Division I teams.
Kentucky is one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams. The Wildcats are shooting 41.5% as a team from distance, which ranks fifth in the country. Kentucky, by sheer coincidence, has taken 40.2% of its total field goal attempts from beyond the arc.
Penn will get run out of the gym if it surrenders an early three-point barrage to Kentucky and can’t respond on the other end of the floor.
There is, though, one small indicator that shows Penn could possibly remain competitive defensively. Kentucky is a poor offensive rebounding team; the Wildcats rank 289th in the country in offensive rebounding rate, per KenPom.
If Penn has one plus factor on defense, it’s that it does a pretty good job controlling the glass. The Quakers rank 70th in the country in limiting offensive rebounds.
Penn can stay competitive defensively if it limits Kentucky to one shot on its offensive possessions. That effect will compound if the Wildcats have a below-average shooting day.
Protecting the ball will be paramount.
After a really rough start, Penn has done an excellent job limiting turnovers on the offensive side of the floor. The Quakers have committed 10 or fewer turnovers in five consecutive games.
Saturday will be a big test. Penn has struggled against extended ball-side pressure, which was evident in its road loss to Saint Joseph’s. Kentucky ranks 33rd in the country at generating steals defensively, per KenPom.
Three of the Wildcats’ star freshmen rank in the top 500 country in steal rate. Reed Sheppard has stolen the ball on 6.1% of defensive possessions while on the floor, per KenPom, eighth-best out of all eligible players in Division I.
Penn will need Slajchert, Sam Brown, Perkins and Cam Thrower to take care of the ball on the perimeter to avoid giving up steals and easy runouts.
Penn needs to live by the three.
If Penn can get into its half-court offense consistently and slow the pace of the game down on Saturday, it will have a genuine chance at winning.
Penn is bad at limiting opponents from taking three-pointers, but Kentucky is far worse. The Wildcats allow opponents to put up 43.7% of their field goals from deep, which ranks 324th in the country. Saint Joseph’s nearly beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena last month because it hit 15 threes on 37 attempts; UNC-Wilmington finished the job when it hit 11 threes on 31 attempts.
The Quakers’ biggest strength on offense is its shooting skill. Penn as a team is shooting 38.1% from deep against Division I opponents. That’s 40th-best in the country, according to KenPom. If you factor in the Division III games, the Quakers are shooting 41.5% from deep.
It’ll take a decent bit of positive variance — a fancy way of saying “three-point shooting luck” — on the defensive end, but Penn has enough shooters to compete with Kentucky.