The Penn men’s basketball team’s terrific guard play of late has served many purposes.
There are the obvious benefits to be gained from the scoring and passing abilities of Zack Rosen and Miles Cartwright.
Rosen’s shooting range seems practically unlimited, and Cartwright has a knack for wriggling to the basket.
When those two are on, like they were against Cornell on Friday, the Quakers look like they could run the table.
But the terrible twosome has come to serve another purpose on the hardwood recently — one that seems counter-intuitive at first glance.
Both players, especially Rosen, are extremely effective diversions.
Opponents focus their defensive effort so heavily on stopping the Red and Blue guards that they often lose track of other Quakers on the floor.
A perfect example of this occurred in Penn’s 61-59 overtime win over Columbia on Saturday evening.
By now, everyone knows about the pinpoint pass Cartwright lobbed up to sophomore forward Fran Dougherty and the clinching tip-in that ensued.
But what has been less publicized is how Dougherty got so open in the first place.
Watching closely, one can see Dougherty slipping behind the defenders as they looked to contest an outside shot from Rosen.
“Everybody in the building knew it was going to Zack,” Cartwright said. “A little misdirection right there.”
The Quakers were able to capitalize on Rosen’s indispensability in order to create a perfect opportunity for Dougherty.
With just five games left in the regular season, this sleight-of-pass will prove an important tool if Penn hopes to secure its first Ivy title since 2006-07.
It all comes back to how coach Jerome Allen feels his team plays when at its best.
“The best teams play inside-out, whether it be throwing the ball in or whether it be off the dribble,” Allen said after the Cornell win.
In the Quakers’ case, inside-out play has mainly been the result of Rosen or Cartwright driving to the basket and kicking the ball out.
But the play from Cartwright to Dougherty showed the Red and Blue can also throw it in to work the ball near the basket.
It just takes some sort of distraction for the other team, which is exactly what Rosen and Cartwright have been able to create recently.
Penn’s young big men like Dougherty, freshman Henry Brooks and sophomore Cam Gunter can only benefit from this kind of assistance.
“It’s not like we have Hakeem Olajuwon, a guy that’s dominant with his back to the basket,” Allen said. “But I think those guys can be effective for us if we put them in the right position.”
That “right position” is where Dougherty found himself in the final seconds of Saturday night’s victory.
And a lot of the credit for that ideal spacing must go to the diversion that made it possible.