2008-2009 Record: 10-18 (6-8, T-6th Ivy)
2008-2009 Review: Did Penn play basketball last season? Some games it was hard to tell. Plagued by injuries and homesickness (they played like they were sick when they were home) the Quakers often looked as if they’d just met in the locker room for a pick-up game. The season got off to a promising start at UNC, when the Quakers battled (not a term often used to describe the team) the Tar Heels to a respectable 15-point loss. After a loss to Drexel in a game played in quicksand and a win over Monmouth, the wheels came off for the first time with five straight double-digit losses. After that the Quakers went 3-3, beating bad teams and losing to good ones.
The Ivy season also got off to a promising start with a gutty, exciting win at Harvard, then imploded the next night in a loss at Dartmouth. Home losses to Columbia and Cornell put the team at 1-3 and reeling, but road wins at Brown, Yale and Princeton had them at 4-3 with four straight coming at home. Inexplicably they lost three of four (beating only Brown at the Palestra) and that was all she wrote, Penn lost two of the final three and would have lost all three if not for a Kevin Egee miracle shot at Columbia. They finished 10-18, 6-8 in the Ivies. The last time Penn went 1-6 at home in Ivy play? Never.
Key Losses: SO Harrison Gaines, SR Brennan Votel, SR Kevin Egee, SR Cameron Lewis
Penn wasn’t very good last year so it’s hard to see how the loss of their three seniors is going to make them worse, although Kevin Egee was a dependable guard and Brennan Votel and Cam Lewis together did log more minutes than workhorse Jack Eggleston for a depleted frontcourt. Someone has to play those minutes and provide more than the 12 points and 8 rebounds per game provided by the tandem. The loss of Gaines is a different story, whether he was viewed as a selfish player with limited court vision or the only guy who could break down his man and create a shot, the 6-1 soph was team high scorer in three of Penn’s wins and there’s no one on the team who can replace his skills and quickness. Penn will have to make yp for that with better ball movement and better shooting.
Key Returnees: JR Tyler Bernardini, SR Darren Smith, SR Andreas Schreiber
This is not to downplay the importance of SO PG Zack Rosen, but the Quakers lacked scoring consistency inside and out last season. The return of a healthy Bernardini should improve the outside game and the return of Schreiber (who missed almost all of last season) should give the Quakers an athletic, versatile big body up front. Smith’s return after two years away due to injury also could provide an intriguing piece. If he’s healed from his knee injury, Smith could give Penn a needed defensive presence at guard and a second shooter who can bury the open three. He will not, however, provide the penetration lost with Harrison Gaines.
Key Arrivals: FR Carson Sullivan, FR Brian Fitzpatrick
Normally a team coming off Penn’s season would be looking forward to help from new contributors, but Penn’s new contributors this season will probably the players returning from injury. Schreiber, SR. Justin Reilly, and Sophs Mike Howlett and Larry Loughery all come back in the frontcourt and Bernardini, after off-season surgery, hopes to again be the consistent gunner/scorer he was before he started playing hurt. Of the freshmen, the 6-3 Sullivan, an athletic scoring guard, is likely to have the earlier impact. 6-7 Fitzpatrick may start to contribute once the Ivy season starts.
Top Non-Conference Games: Penn’s top non-conference opponents this year are Villanova and Duke, both of whom could be Top 10. The team, however will have a better chance to measure its progress, however, in the games against Drexel and St. Joe’s. Drexel comes early (Nov. 24) and will be a test of Penn’s offense and toughness. St. Joe’s comes late, the Monday before the first Ivy weekend. The Hawks should be a little down this season and if Penn is going to prove competitive in Big Five games, this could be a chance to steal one. The two games that should give an early indicator as to how Penn might fare in the Ivies are at Navy (Dec. 4) and home against Albany (Dec. 8), two teams who beat the Quakers last season, The Midshipmen are not going to blow anyone away with their size or athleticism but they’re always tough at home and Albany roughed up Penn last year in a game that would have been worse if not for the stellar play of Remy Cofield, who quit the team mid-season. Two wins would be a positive sign the Quakers will be competitive in the League. Two losses will have the Palestra boobirds readying the guillotine.
By The Numbers: If it hasn’t been said enough already, injuries really hurt Penn last season, but not just among the players who never saw the floor. Bernardini was a prime example of a player that toughed out injuries for most of the season and saw his production take a hit for it. His 96.8 offensive rating was still better than the team’s 94.3 average, so it’s not like he was doing the Quakers a disservice by being out there, but it was still a nine-point drop over his 2008 mark. Had Bernardini repeated his healthy 105.8 production level, he would have been worth an extra 1.6 points per 40 minutes.
Penn’s struggles defensively seem to be coming from severe breakdowns in their man-to-man set. The Quakers yielded assists on roughly 60 percent of opponents’ field goals (295th nationally) likely indicating help defense on beaten perimeter players leading to passes for easy buckets. Penn returned the favor on the offensive end, however, as its 63.4 percent assist to made field goal ratio was 12th nationally. This figure probably indicates that the Quakers’ relative dearth of individual creators necessitated more passes leading to buckets than players generating their own shot.
Strengths: Penn’s strength is in its backcourt. Rosen is a savvy floor leader who worked on his shot over the summer and Bernardini should be one of the League’s top scorers. SO Rob Belcore gives the team a hard-nosed defender with floor general skills and an ability to hit the clutch three. Smith adds experience, toughness and an accurate three-point stroke. Up front, JR Jack Eggleston is consistent but Penn needs more than consistent. If they can figure out a way to bottle the Schreiber who played the game of his life at Cornell two seasons ago, they become a whole different team.
Weaknesses: Team speed, team quickness, above-the-rim rebounding, defense. Penn is very thin up front when it comes to experienced players and very thin everywhere when it comes to defensive stoppers. The team is going to have to work Coach Glen Miller’s intricate offense to perfection to generate open shots and they’re going to have to make a commitment to team defense that was rarely seen last season.
Season Outlook: Penn is tough to figure. With the return of so many players who missed last year, it’s nearly impossible to see how they could be worse, but last season was one Penn fans have already forgotten – 1-6 against the Ivies at home. It’s inconceivable. This year, Penn should have enough skill players and experience to improve but a lot may depend on the psyche of the team and the coach. The schedule starts out with a bang on the road at Penn State and Villanova and December ends at Davidson and Duke (granted Davidson should come back to earth this year). A win in any of those games would be a big surprise, so that’s going to put a lot of pressure on the in-between games against Delaware, Drexel, Navy, Albany and Monmouth and the early January games at Lafayette and UMBC. Penn needs to win a bunch of those games so that it has some confidence going into the Big Five stretch of the schedule and then the Ivies.
Ivy schedule-makers, however, did the Quakers no favors starting them out on the road against Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard, then returning home for Cornell. Yes, the team was better on the road last season, but expecting similar success may be unreasonable. If they get out of the gate poorly in the Ivies, the season could be over before they cycle through the League once, the Palestra faithful will be calling for Coach Miller’s head and the whole thing could unravel.
If Penn has some early success, stays healthy, plays defense and the offense runs precisely enough to get open shots for Bernardini, Smith and Belcore, Penn has enough skill players to beat anyone in the League – especially on a hot shooting night.
Last year, the team often looked as if it was playing tight, but last year all the key players were freshmen and sophomores. This year, they’re a year older and regain seniors who should make an impact.
The Penn optimist says the turnaround starts this season. The Penn pessimist says next year.