Tony | Penn basketball's defense can make the grade next season
March 18, 2013, 9:08 pm·
Amanda Suarez | DP
Defense, defense, defense.
It’s all Penn coach Jerome Allen ever talks about, and it’s the ticket to program rejuvenation come the 2013-14 season.
This past year, Penn’s defense was never anything to write home about. The Quakers’ defense faded into oblivion at Delaware and Yale, allowed teams to shoot a startling 23.84 free throws per game against them and failed to gel on a consistent basis by season’s end.
But the Quakers still showed enough signs of life on defense throughout the year to give cause for optimism next fall.
Penn ranked first in the Ivy League in field goal percentage defense in 2012-13, wreaking defensive havoc in both matchups with Brown as well as its contests at Columbia and at home versus Harvard.
Despite playing for most of the season with a perimeter lineup containing only one player (junior guard Dau Jok) officially taller than 6-foot-3 , the Quakers held their own defensively for long stretches against much bigger teams, most notably Princeton.
The Tigers’ perimeter in the Penn’s final game of the season often included 6-foot-7 Ivy Player of the Year Ian Hummer and fellow senior forward Mack Darrow, who checks in at 6-foot-9.
Whether or not Allen settles on a three-guard lineup that includes freshman Tony Hicks, junior Miles Cartwright and a permanent point man next year, the Quakers have shown that they will be quick enough to defend the perimeter and agitate teams with slow-developing offenses like Brown and Princeton.
Freshman guard Jamal Lewis and sophomore guard Cam Crocker each displayed solid full-court, on-the-ball pressure as the year progressed as well, proving that this is a defense potentially built forthe press.
Perhaps next season, with a year under its belt, Penn’s bevy of underclassman guards will have the experience of tough Ivy road trips and season-long conditioning to be a full-court pressing unit more often.
Ivy Champion Harvard was able to play airtight defense when it needed to in 2012-13 despite its roster’s small stature and youth, boasting the conference’s third-best scoring defense.
So how did the Crimson do it?
Harvard averaged 7.4 steals per game on the year, easily tops in the Ancient Eight. Crimson freshman guard Siyani Chambers and sophomore guard Wesley Saunders alone combined for 3.5 steals per game.
Lewis and Cartwright both averaged at least one steal per contest this season, too, and will have to apply greater ball pressure next year to offset any size disadvantages that may come with the new roster.
Likewise, Harvard led the league with 4.4 blocks per game. With Darien Nelson-Henry a year older and wiser and Fran Dougherty finally healthy again, Penn should rank higher than its sixth-place finish in the conference in blocked shots as well.
If Harvard is the prototype for an undersized team using defense to win games late, then Penn at least has the defensive nucleus to approach its own version of that prototype. The defensive rhetoric from Allen has always been there, but now the defensive manpower is there as well.
So it’s Penn’s defense first and foremost that can elevate the Quakers back to Ivy contender status next season.
And how the Red and Blue develops on that end of the floor will determine whether this team’s defensive principles are as sound as they need to be for a team which should now finally have continuity on its side.
MIKE TONY is a junior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa., and is Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.