Darnell Foreman (above) and the Quakers rallied down the stretch in 2016-17. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2017-18 Penn Quakers Primer
Coach: Steve Donahue, 3rd season (24-32, .429)
Last Year: 13-15 overall, 6-8 Ivy League; lost in Ivy Leagues semifinal (Princeton, 72-64 OT)
Early this February, it looked like the Quakers’ season was going to end in disappointment. They’d lost their first six games in Ivy League play, their chances of an appearance in the first Ivy League playoffs -- taking place in the Palestra, their hallowed home gym -- at critical levels. Then came a five-game win streak to get back in the thick of things, and a season-ending win over Harvard proving just good enough to out-pace Columbia, Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth for the fourth and final spot. Penn gave archrival Princeton, the regular-season undefeated champion, quite a scare in the semifinals before the Tigers put things away in the extra session.
Key Losses: SF Matt Howard (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
The only graduation from last year’s Penn rotation is a significant one. Howard, who played a small-ball ‘4’ for the Quakers, was a mismatch problem in the Ivy League, at 6-foot-4 with a terrific motor and nose for the rim. He set career bests in points, rebounds, assists (1.5/game) and steals (1.2/game) as a senior, making a career-best 49.2 percent of his shots and even 37 percent of his triples a year after he shot 28 percent from beyond the arc.
New Faces: C Mark Jackson (Fr./Salt Lake City East, Utah), SF Eddie Scott (Fr./Gonzaga HS, D.C.), PF Jarrod Simmons (Fr./Moon Area, Pa.), PG Jelani Williams (Fr./Sidwell Friends, D.C.)
For the second year in a row, Donahue and his staff have brought in a recruiting class of the caliber necessary to compete for an Ivy League championship. The gem of the group is Scott, a 6-6, 195-pound wing who can play the ‘2’, ‘3’ or ‘4’ for the Quakers, and can bring the ball up on occasion as well. Coming out of a terrific program at Gonzaga and for Team Takeover on the AAU circuit, Scott picked Penn over several Atlantic 10 offers. He’s got a real chance to start right away, though there’s quite a few upperclassmen who will have a say in that regard, but certainly will be a significant member of the rotation this year.
Up front, the Quakers added a pair of big men with quite different backgrounds. Simmons, a Western Pennsylvania native, attended Cushing Academy (Mass.) for his first three years of high school, but the 6-8 forward transferred back to Moon (Pa.) for a senior year where he averaged 19.1 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 3.4 apg and 3.8 bpg in leading the Tigers to their first district championship (WPIAL Class 5A) since 2006. Jackson, who stands 7-3, has been away from basketball for the last two years, on a Mormon mission in France. The Utah native was a first team all-state selection as a senior, but will likely need time to re-acclimate to the game and get his body to the shape it needs to be in to compete at the Division I level. The final member of the group is Williams, a talented point guard who missed most of his senior season with a torn ACL; he’s back in practice from the injury but like Jackson has work to do to get himself into shape to factor into the guard rotation.
A.J. Brodeur (25) led Penn in both scoring and rebounding as a freshman. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Starting Frontcourt: PF A.J. Brodeur (13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), PF Max Rothschild (3.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Donahue said his hope this season is to go with a bigger lineup that features Brodeur at the ‘4’ much more often after the sophomore sensation spent most of his freshman year playing the ‘5’. His rookie campaign was certainly impressive, as the 6-8, 220-pound forward averaged 13.8 ppg and 6.9 rpg to lead the team in both categories, while also blocking 66 shots to set a new Penn program record regardless of class. If he’s really going to transition to more of a power forward, he’ll be showcasing his 3-point stroke much more often after hitting a promising 8-of-19 (.421) as a freshman, but don’t expect him to abandon his terrific post game entirely.
If Brodeur is indeed playing the ‘4’, then the Quakers will be starting another big man alongside him. At the moment, the frontrunner for that spot would seem to be Rothschild, a 6-8, 225-pound forward who’s averaged 4.4 ppg and 3.3 rpg in 51 games so far. But there are a number of players who could fill this spot, including Simmons, who could certainly end up in the starting lineup at some point this season.
Starting Backcourt: PG Darnell Foreman (8.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg), SG Ryan Betley (11.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), SF Eddie Scott (N/A)
Of all the players on the Penn roster, nobody’s done a better job of carving out his role than Foreman. The 6-1 senior out of Pitman HS (N.J.) was a late offer by Penn, his only Division I offer, and has steadily become an invaluable member of the rotation over the last three seasons. Now with 43 starts under his belt in 83 career games, Foreman enters the 2017-18 season as one of the Quakers’ leaders, and after being more of an offensive liability than a threat as an underclassman, also proved he can put the ball in the hoop at an efficient-enough clip as a junior, hitting 40 percent of his shots and 33 percent of his 3s for the first time.
Betley found his role in the Quaker lineup rather quickly, after missing the first nine games of the season with a broken hand. The 6-5 shooting guard out of Downingtown West averaged 7.2 ppg in his first 10 college games, hitting 35 percent of his triples, then absolutely caught fire. Over the final eight games of the year, Betley averaged 17.8 ppg and 6.1 rpg, hitting 43.4 percent from 3-point range, 50.5 percent overall and and 90.5 percent from the foul stripe. If he can project something close to those numbers over the course of his sophomore season, he’ll be tough to keep off the All-Ivy First Team.
Bench: SG Jackson Donahue (6.9 ppg), PG Devon Goodman (4.3 ppg, 1.8 apg), SF Sam Jones (3.8 ppg), SF Matt MacDonald (3.8 ppg), PF Jarrod Simmons (N/A), PG Jelani Williams (N/A), Antonio Woods (N/A), Caleb Wood (5.9 ppg)
While there’s some serious punch in the Quakers’ starting lineup, what they lack at the moment is a singular game-changer off the bench, though there are a few candidates to do so on any potential night. Goodman, a speedy 5-10 sophomore point guard out of Germantown Academy, will be a major component after becoming the team’s sixth man down the stretch of his freshman season; over his last nine games, Goodman played 28.7 minutes, averaging 8.6 points and 3.0 assists. Simmons, the talented freshman, will either be the first big off the bench or could swap roles with Rothschild; senior Dan Dwyer could also see some minutes at the ‘5’.
On the wings, Donahue has several options, and it’ll all come down to who can hit shots. Donahue, Wood and Jones are all 3-point specialists, while MacDonald has more of a combo wing/forward game that works best in Penn’s lineup as a small-ball ‘4’. It’s gotten to the point with Penn’s depth that Donahue doesn’t have to play any of them if they’re not hitting shots, but at least one of them will work his way in a 15-20 mpg role with consistency. With 21 players on the roster, there will be several others that Donahue will throw in for a minute or two in an emergency.
One player in particular to keep an eye on is Woods, as the junior guard returns to the team after an academic issue forced him to leave the school midway through the 2015-16; if he gets back to form, the 6-1 guard is an effective scorer from all three levels who gives them another weapon in the backcourt.
Three Keys to Success
1. Brodeur’s continued development. There’s no denying that Brodeur is the cornerstone of the Penn program over the next three years. His inside-out ability on both ends of the floor will make it increasingly difficult for Donahue to take him off the court, after playing nearly 31 minutes per game as a rookie to begin with. He’s talked this preseason about trying to make the move out to the ‘4’, working on his 3-point stroke and ability to put the ball on the floor from the perimeter; while a full transition to the power forward slot might take another season or two, his ability to play some time out there would make this team even more valuable. He won’t be expected to make 42 percent of his 3s on significant attempts, but he needs to make at least a third to be a true threat.
Ryan Betley (above) will likely find himself in the starting lineup come Nov. 10. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
2. Solidify rotation early. One of the biggest complaints about the Jerome Allen era was that the former Penn great-turned-head coach never seemed to find a consistent lineup, always switching up slots and minutes, and the team chemistry seemed to suffer as a results. The first season-and-a-half of Donahue’s reign saw a bit of roster turnover, somewhat due to Woods’ departure in 2015-16, but last year saw seven players start 10-or-more games. Then, after an 0-6 start to Ivy play, Donahue suddenly snapped into an eight-man rotation that featured three freshmen, and the improvement commenced. They can’t get all the way into February before a similar moment happens; Donahue needs to commit to the youth movement early if the production level is the same as the upperclassmen, given the potential for growth in those classes.
3. Get to the foul line. Convert from the foul line. One of the major “four factors” on basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s site is free-throw rate, which is free-throws/field-goal attempts; basically, a ratio of how often you get to the foul line based on shots attempted. Last season, Penn’s FTR was .260, which was 345th in Division I; the top teams are usually right around the .500 mark. A lot of that is due to the fact that over 43 percent of Penn’s shot attempts come from beyond the 3-point arc, which hardly ever draw fouls; a healthier dose of Woods, Foreman and Goodman attacking the bucket should help improve that -- as might being ahead late in games instead of behind. Beyond that, when they got to the line, the Quakers shot a poor 65.7 percent; only Betley (29-of-32, 90.6 percent) took more than 30 foul shots and converted more than 70 percent.
Quotes from opposing coaches on this team
“Brodeur might be the best player in the Big 5, if not the second best. He’s a tough match-up and because they play four shooters around him, it’s gonna be a really difficult challenge for anyone in the BIg 5 to beat them.”
“Penn will be much-improved. I think that they’re going to surprise a lot of people. The Ivy League is top-heavy, and I think they’ve put themselves in the top four very firmly. It wouldn’t be surprising if they beat any of the top teams in the Ivy this year, and they have a star in A.J., they have an absolute star. In the Ivy League, that takes you a long way.”
“(Brodeur) is just a monster, I think he’s super-talented. He might be one of the best bigs to ever play at Penn, when it’s all said and done, and that’s a huge statement. … They’ve got a couple incoming freshmen that are pretty good, too, Eddie Scott I think is going to contribute… Darnell Foreman I think is very good on-the-ball defender, he can change a game defensively with his speed and quickness, and they’ve got the shooters around those guys as well. They’re going to be really good offensively, the thing with them will be defensively, how good can they be?”
If the sophomores take a big step forward, the freshmen are as good as advertised and Donahue gets consistent shooting from a few bench pieces, these Quakers could very well contend for an Ivy League title. In the non-league portion of the schedule, Brodeur could pull Penn to a few Big 5 wins as well, and a road upset or two wouldn't be out of the question. Though the hope for a #2BidIvy grows stronger with the Ivy League tournament's presence, it's unlikely that the Quakers will be able to put together a strong enough resume that they can survive a loss in the Ivy League tournament and still go dancing. But with only two home games standing between them and their first NCAA trip in a decade, these Quakers could be good enough to pull it off.
In a top-heavy Ivy League, it would have to be a brutally bad season for Penn to miss out on the four-team tournament; last year showed how much they can flirt with disaster and still find a way to qualify. And barring major injuries like what happened to St. Joe's last year, Penn should be able to fend off Brown, Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth in enough of their meetings to at least squeak in as the fourth seed. But if they can't beat any of Yale/Harvard/Penn, and if they lose two or three to the above four, then they will indeed be watching this Ivy League tournament from the stands only.