I t seems that there are four constants in the world today (to borrow a frequently posted tweet from CBS college basketball insider Jon Rothstein): Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan. And a chorus of people deploring the current state of Penn basketball, whether it be in the DP’s comment boxes, the Basketball U forums or otherwise.
But through seven games, the Quakers have shown in spurts that reports of the program’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
By and large, the questions that plagued this year’s roster have received encouraging answers, albeit tentatively so.
Tony Hicks — who easily could have punched himself a ticket off the roster with his punch of Columbia’s Meiko Lyles last year — is playing with the mentality of a senior. The junior guard picked up two quick fouls against Binghamton on Saturday, a situation in which a younger version of the player likely would have folded.
But coming off the bench in the second half, Hicks responded in a big way, pouring in 18 points in 16 minutes and hitting all the big shots necessary to make sure the Bearcats stayed down.
“I thought Tony was phenomenal last game in keeping his composure and showing his growth,” coach Jerome Allen said.
Hicks’ success comes with a caveat, though. Tasked with running the point on many of Penn’s offensive sets, he has turned the ball over at a high rate (25 turnovers compared to 27 assists), an epidemic that has plagued the Red and Blue as a whole.
The turnover problem is an old canard that dates back to last year, but the one silver lining that could be drawn is that the offenders this season have mostly been freshmen adjusting to the college game. Freshmen make freshman mistakes.
But that excuse won’t fly for long, considering how well the four freshmen that have received regular minutes so far have performed in other aspects of the game.
Forward Mike Auger showed flashes of his immense potential before he hurt his foot. Sam Jones is shooting 39 percent from deep and has been more than serviceable as a spot-up shooter. Darnell Foreman has struggled from the field, but crashes the defensive glass and is a solid on-ball defender. Antonio Woods has run the point well off the bench.
Most importantly, the freshmen have stuck together. While Penn fans often thought “here we go again” during the team’s five-game losing streak to open the season, the Quakers did not, perhaps aided by the fact that so many on the roster have never experienced it before.
“We have a strong bond. Not just the freshmen, but the whole team. So we come together as one,” Woods said.
Allen places the blame for the turnover problem on himself, as he is apt to do when things go awry on his ship.
“[I need to] put these guys in a position to succeed, explaining time and spacing, helping them with their overall vision and just helping them to establish a certain sense of poise about them when defenses try to speed us up,” he said.
The Quakers have certainly demonstrated poise in their most recent pair of games, putting Navy and Binghamton away after they gagged away an opportunity at Wagner.
Some will point to the fact that the Quakers managed to beat a pair of teams ranked 333rd and 338th overall by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, and that any such celebration of these victories is a further sign of the program’s demise.
Yet the fact of the matter is that Penn lowered the bar for itself when it posted back-to-back seasons with single-digit win totals.
If the Quakers are to climb back to relevance in the Ivy League from rock bottom, they’ll need to pass certain benchmarks. Winning consecutive road games — regardless of the quality of opponent — certainly counts as such.
And for now, the Red and Blue will take it.
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