As Penn men’s basketball heads into winter break at the midway point of its nonconference schedule, it’s clear that nothing will come easy for the Quakers this season.
The first segment of Penn’s season has been filled with ups and downs, with the latter occurring much more frequently.
And while the five games over break won’t be easy, the entire winter slate represents an opportunity for the Red and Blue (2-6) to finally turn the corner.
The early season has not been kind to the Quakers. Despite an impressive victory over Niagara and tough Big 5 battles with Temple and Villanova that ended in defeat, a number of glaring holes have plagued Penn since opening night.
In eight games this season, the Quakers have given up 116 offensive rebounds to opponents — 14.5 per game — and are conceding 39.9 boards per game.
“I think [the team’s rebounding] has gotten better,” coach Jerome Allen said following Penn’s contest with Wagner on Saturday. “All of this is a function of effort and intensity, and we just try to stick to doing our basic skills every day that will help us become better in a number of ways in the game.”
Penn’s loss to the Seahawks marked the beginning of a 15-day period in which the Quakers have no games. The Red and Blue return to the court on Dec. 22 against Marist.
“Looking at it, [the break] could be a good thing in terms of the amount of effort that’s given in practice,” Allen said. “That’s not to say we’re motivated by losses, but it gives us a chance to look back and make up for this performance [against Wagner] as we move forward.”
When the Quakers kick off a three-game road trip against the Red Foxes, it may be the most favorable matchup for Penn during winter break. While Penn lost to a winless Lafayette on Nov. 30, a win against Marist could boost the squad’s confidence for the rest of its road trip.
“For the most part, I still think this is a pretty good group, pretty talented, and we just have to figure out how we can get better,” Allen said.
After another week off, the Quakers continue their road swing against Rider and George Mason before returning home after New Year’s.
The Broncs rank 53rd in the nation in scoring, putting up 81.1 points per game. Senior guard Anthony Myles is averaging 20 points per game on the year and has shot 39 percent from beyond the arc.
In its first season in the Atlantic-10 conference, George Mason has faced some tough competition so far. The Patriots have already faced Princeton and Oklahoma — losing both games — and will take on No. 17 Iowa State before hosting the Quakers.
On Jan. 4, the Quakers will try to capture their first Big 5 victory in two seasons as they host La Salle. The Explorers feature 6-foot-11 center Steve Zack, a junior averaging 9.3 boards per contest, and the matchup between him and Penn sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry could determine who grabs the ‘W’.
But the quickness of Penn freshman point guard Tony Bagtas will also be a factor throughout the team’s winter break schedule. The first-year guard has recorded 17 assists in his past two contests.
“I think one of his strong points is his vision and his ability to look ahead,” Allen said. “He’s really taken this opportunity and run with it.”
The Red and Blue wrap up their slate of games over break with their first Ivy League contest of the 2013-14 season. Penn hosts Princeton on Jan. 11, and the Quakers will be hard-pressed to slow down the Tigers, whose only defeat came by three points to Butler earlier this season.
“It’s just about having the right approach to competing at the Division I level and enough focus about you to cover the details whether you’re at home or on the road,” Allen said. “And that’s what we need to do.”