It’s true that Penn’s starting lineup has a diminutive appearance. But the overflow in the Red and Blue’s backcourt and so-called “need for speed” doesn’t adequately tell the story behind the Quakers’ abysmal 2-13 record.
Just a season ago — though it may seem far longer to fans — Penn finished a respectable 20-13, including 11-3 in Ivy League play. In investigating the Quakers’ collapse this year, the first question should be, what’s changed for the worse since?
The answer is certainly not Penn’s inside presence. In fact, if anything, the Quakers’ have bolstered their position in the paint with the blossoming of junior forward Fran Dougherty and, more recently, freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry. You only need to look at the numbers to figure out that this year’s Red and Blue have actually pulled down 1.3 more rebounds per game than last year’s squad.
Indeed, even in Dougherty’s absence, production on the boards has hardly slowed to a standstill. In five games without the junior forward, Penn’s average has held at 30.2 boards per contest, compared to 32.1 with Dougherty — a dip in production, but not a catastrophe either.
What’s changed — and forgive me for pointing out the obvious — is that Zack Rosen is gone. Meanwhile, despite Penn’s “need for speed,” the Quakers still haven’t found a real answer at the point guard position.
A good point guard has an assist-to-turnover ratio approaching two. Rosen’s ratio last season came out to 1.92 — an impressive figure given that he also tallied 18.2 points per game. Even Rob Belcore, who was far from a prototypical guard, logged a respectable ratio of 1.65.
Among this season’s guards, the rock has been handled with far less delicacy. Despite leading the way for Penn’s ballhandling responsibilities, Junior guard Miles Cartwright and freshman guard Jamal Lewis have assist-to-turnover ratios below one, and overall, the team has registered 51 more turnovers than assists.
The Penn offense continues to give away the ball even as Nelson-Henry looks better and better playing around the rim. Additionally, sophomore forward Greg Louis will improve with more experience. But who will get the ball to the Quakers’ few big men? Better yet, who will give them the ball before turning it over?
Tony Hicks has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, but he’s at his best when calling his own number and is still developing the poise to be a college point guard. Meanwhile, Lewis can neither score like Hicks nor distribute the ball any more effectively.
If the discussion is solely based on assists and turnovers, sophomore Camryn Crocker leads the way statistically, as his ratio clocks in at a satisfactory 1.52. That said, coach Jerome Allen has seen fit to play him mostly as a complementary piece and not as the starting point guard, most likely due to deficiencies in other areas.
But Penn’s floor leadership and ball distribution should ultimately not come down to Lewis, Hicks or Crocker. The role of floor general should belong to the captain and veteran: Cartwright. And with his field goal percentage circling the toilet bowl, what better opportunity is there for him to focus his attention on taking care of the ball and creating chances for his teammates?
In Penn’s season opening contest against UMBC, Cartwright took over when the Red and Blue needed it and exhibited composure under pressure. As a result, Penn took home a win, which is now more of a surprise rather than a routine.
Cartwright is no Zack Rosen at the point guard position. But at this point, the Quakers need his best impression of the 6-foot-1 Jewish redhead — badly.
KENNY KASPER is a sophomore philosophy major from Santa Rosa, Calif., and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.