A football team can be full of talent, but if it doesn’t have a good offensive line, it’s not going to make it far down the field.
The best quarterback will be overwhelmed by the pass rush and elite running backs stopped in their tracks if there’s no one to block for them.
The basketball equivalent of an offensive line is ballhandling. Penn basketball was once again plagued by turnovers from the backcourt in its 74-57 loss to La Salle, as the Quakers struggled to protect the ball from consistent La Salle defensive pressure.
Penn’s big men, which played fairly well, outrebounded the Explorers and scored efficiently. But they simply could not get the ball often enough.
Repeatedly, Penn possessions began with a tough backcourt press on the Quakers, and under the pressure, Jamal Lewis, Miles Cartwright or Cam Crocker would struggle, usually attempting to force the ball upcourt, using their shoulders to try to get through the La Salle defense.
And far too often, these possessions ended in turnovers. The Quakers turned the ball over 21 times, and the vast majority of those turnovers came from the Penn guards.
With that many lost opportunities, Penn can’t win, plain and simple.
“To be only down 10 at halftime with 15 turnovers was a positive for lack of a better way of saying it,” coach Jerome Allen said.
With less than nine minutes left in the first frame, the Quakers were within two. But a quick four turnovers in the final six minutes — three of which ended in La Salle scoring — helped the Explorers jump to that halftime lead.
This turnover trend is at least partly due to a lack of experience. But Allen understandably doesn’t want to use the team’s inexperience as an excuse at this point.
“Our standards are at a certain level and for these guys, even for the freshman who are 13 games into their college careers and starting preparing in September,” he said. “Some things — especially the unforced turnovers — some things are just unacceptable.”
It’s not new for the Quakers to have a young team. But there’s still no one standout player to lead the Quakers to victory. There is no Michael Jordan, who led a group of freshmen such as Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong to an Ivy title, nor a Tim Begley, who led a group of young future stars, such as Ibby Jaaber, to a title. Not even close.
Is it fair to conclude at this point in the season — the Quakers are 2-11 with wins over only low ranked UMBC and Binghamton at home — that Penn will have to wait until next year to gain a firm grip on the ball?
Ivy League teams will undoubtedly see this weakness and pressure the ball. Unless Penn can find an answer to its ballhandling woes by then, the Quakers may find themselves low in the rankings.
Learning to deal with a defensive press and tight man-to-man ball pressure will be the first step toward success, but it appears that this may not happen next game or even this season.
Turnovers have plagued this team all year — the Quakers average 17 turnovers a game — and though they have talent in other areas, with this deficiency, it is difficult to foresee a turnaround unless the Red and Blue can keep their hands on the ball.
While junior guard Miles Cartwright contributed 11 points, it was still on 3-for-11 shooting and part of a five-turnover performance. Steve Rennard did not score and had three turnovers.
There is talent on this Penn team, but when will it find its equivalent of an offensive line, its ability to secure ball possession and punish pressure? Right now, these weaknesses too often stop any momentum and allow opponents such as La Salle to jump to a 10-point lead in the first half.
Only time will tell. And with only a week until the start of the Ivy season, it’s starting to run out.
ALLISON BART is a College sophomore from Philadelphia and sports editor-elect of The Daily Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.