Roundtable | Where does Penn basketball need to improve?

Freshman guard Antonio Woods is one of four freshmen seeing intensive minutes in the early going. Woods and co. will be relied on to develop and grow as the season progresses if the Quakers want to find success.

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Penn basketball has gotten off to an inauspicious start to the 2014-15 season, losing all five of its games. The Quakers are one of 14 winless teams left in the NCAA, having suffered some close defeats to Delaware State, Lafayette and Wagner. The Red and Blue also rank 278th out of 351 Division I teams in Ken Pomeroy’s College Basketball Rankings, but they are also not far behind fellow Ivy squads Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth.

With that in mind, our editors look at what Penn needs to improve upon in the rest of nonconference play.

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings : After traveling  to Wagner on Saturday, there is one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb: turnovers. In the first three games of the year, the Quakers averaged just over 14 turnovers a game, cutting two turnovers off their pace from last season.

But against Temple and Wagner this past week, Penn gave away the ball a whopping 41 times with junior captain Tony Hicks  committing 12 of those turnovers. This simply won’t cut it. Coach Jerome Allen  rightfully pointed out after the Wagner game that the Red and Blue’s 14 first-half turnovers against the Seahawks — which prevented Penn from extending its lead early on — likely made the difference in the close defeat.

Some of this is natural. You have two freshman  point guards — Antonio Woods and Darnell Foreman  — playing significant minutes and are overly reliant on Hicks to create offense. As Woods and Foreman get more games under their belt, they’ll surely be better with the ball, which will in turn create less pressure on Hicks.

But all of this needs to come sooner rather than later with Princeton looming just 41 days in the future.

Sports Editor Colin Henderson : There’s no question about it, Steven. Turnovers are a huge problem facing the Quakers, but I suspect that with experience, it should become less and less of an issue. However, one problem that I believe should give the Red and Blue more reason for concern is the disparity between their three-point shooting and that of their opponents.

Five games into the season, Penn is shooting a pedestrian 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, their opposition has found considerably more success, shooting a very respectable 39.4 percent from downtown.

I realize that it’s a small sample size, but the Quakers’ struggles shooting the three are indicative of a larger problem: their inability to get easy buckets. Moving forward, they would be wise to play more inside-out basketball, running their offense through Darien Nelson-Henry  and taking some pressure off of Hicks and Woods.

On the other side of the ball, stronger defense behind the arc will come from tighter defensive rotations, and that will only come with time and experience.

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis : We’ve been saying it all season long, but Penn is still in search of that second consistent scoring option behind Hicks. Whether it’s Nelson-Henry, Matt Howard  or one of the freshman, someone needs to step up into that role and take the pressure off Hicks. Sure, you can come close in games where he drops 30, but this is an offense that too often falls back on his pull-up jumper.

Howard has started to play more aggressively — particularly in the past two games — and was a player we highlighted before the season as someone who could rise into that role. As the season continues, it will be interesting to see how he develops and whether he can replicate his performance from Temple.

Nelson-Henry has shown some of the flashes of brilliance that we’ve seen the past two years, but it’s difficult to rely on a big as one of your primary scorers — particularly when the center is getting double-teamed regularly.

Either way, this is a Penn team that isn’t quite as bad as its 0-5 record seems. For a team with four freshmen  (when healthy) as integral parts of the rotation, there is certainly a steep learning curve. It comes down to better play-calling and execution. When plays break down, there needs to be someone other than Hicks to turn to. Turn around a few plays this year,  and the Quakers could have multiple wins.


Roundtable | Did Saturday's win turn around Penn football's outlook?

Penn Football Vs. Columbia

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Penn football finally got its first win of the year on Saturday, taking down lowly Columbia. This weekend, a much greater test awaits in a strong Yale squad. Our editors debate: Does the Columbia game change the outlook for Penn football, or are the Quakers bound to fall to the Elis?

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings: Winning always changes things. Look, the Quakers aren’t going to look like world beaters overnight, but the team knows the formula to win now. They need to establish the running game, which should be easier with senior running back Kyle Wilcox back at practice this week and possibly ready to go to the Yale Bowl. Alek Torgersen will need to be just as strong with his decision-making, and the O-line needs to hold up its end of the bargain.

But the defense was the most important change on Saturday. Yes, I know, Columbia. But that defense had floundered for four games and now the D-line looks like it has things together. Senior linebacker Dan Davis is healthy. All of these factors means Penn is a strong competitor to Yale. Favorites? No, but Dartmouth proved these Elis are beatable, even at Yale. Game on.

Sports Editor Ian Wenik: I’m gonna have to be party pooper on this one. Penn’s secondary looked good against Columbia, yes, but I don’t see any reason to be confident in it until it shows up well against a competent quarterback. Yale senior quarterback Morgan Roberts is completing 69.4 percent of his passes this year, a ridiculously efficient clip.

If Penn wants me to believe it has a shot at the Ivy title, it’ll need to have that pass rush show up again in force on Saturday, to make the secondary issue irrelevant. After all, you can’t complete a pass if you’re pile-driven into the Yale Bowl turf. But that pass rush didn’t show up against Dartmouth, and I don’t see it showing up against the Bulldogs, either.

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: I’m with Ian on this one. Sure, Dartmouth proved the Elis are beatable, but Penn and Dartmouth are far from the same team. And remember how close that one was. If Big Green quarterback Dalyn Williams had made one fewer heroic play in leading Dartmouth back in the fourth quarter, then we’d be talking about a Yale team undefeated in the league and holding a win over Army.

I don’t think a dominant win over lowly Columbia changes much of anything about Penn’s chances against one of the stronger teams in the league. Sure, it was by far the most complete game the Quakers have played all season, but the Lions aren’t a fearsome opponent. I think, if anything, Columbia helped cover up the flaws that doomed the Red and Blue in early games. We’ll see if Yale can expose them the same way that Dartmouth did, but either way Penn’s chances didn’t improve too much after a win that everyone saw coming.


Roundtable | How will Penn fare in Ivy play?

With many Penn sports about to begin Ivy play while others like field hockey and women’s soccer are already in the midst of conference matches, it’s time to look at the expectations for each squad moving forward. Our editors look at what we’re looking for from some of Penn’s fall sports moving forward.

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings: Focusing in on Penn field hockey, the Quakers are off to a solid 1-1 start within the Ancient Eight. The Red and Blue lost their first Ivy match against nationally-ranked Cornell and then beat Harvard behind a hat trick from senior midfield Alex Iqbal.

Princeton and Cornell seem to be the Ivy favorites at this point, but the Red and Blue certainly can make things interesting. With a strong core of seniors headed by Iqbal, attacker Emily Corcoran, goalkeeper Allison Weisenfels and MaryRose Croddick on defense, the rest of the season will be important as the upperclassmen look to go out with a bang.

While one still has to pay attention to the progression of those seniors, especially the relatively inexperienced Weisenfels, the upward trajectory of freshman attacker Alexa Hoover has to excite Penn fans going into the future. Hoover is currently third in the Ivies in goals scored and, alongside Corcoran and others on offense, makes the Red and Blue must-watch entertainment, regardless of their Ivy finish.

Sports Editor Ian Wenik: I think that you should be pretty confident if you’re a fan of Penn men’s soccer. The team is 4-4, and I wouldn’t call any of those losses “bad” in any sense of the word. The Quakers have taken on three different top 15 teams this season, and have held their own in each of those matches. Honestly, they should have come away with at least a draw against American.

That kind of performance against such a brutal nonconference schedule makes Penn the clear favorite to repeat as Ivy champs and earn a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think that you can make the case for any other Ancient Eight team being as well prepared for the Ivy grind as the Quakers are.

This Saturday should be interesting, though. Penn will open up Ivy play against Cornell, which has won six of its last seven matches. If the Red and Blue aren’t careful, they could find themselves behind the eight-ball quickly.

Sports Editor Colin Henderson: You know I’ve gotta hype up the cross country team. Last week at the Main Line Invitational, the program got its first shot at an (almost) fully assembled Villanova squad that is consistently ranked at or near the top of the region, and the Quakers didn’t disappointed.

Despite being without some key runners, the women were dominant, and the men had enough depth to outlast the Wildcats. I’d say it’s just about official: The Red and Blue are no longer just up-and-comers, they’re certified contenders.

It should be interesting to see how they compete this weekend as they split up for the Paul Short and Notre Dame Invitationals , so big races with formidable competition. I fully expect more team-based  running from the two squads, as that is really what coach Steve Dolan has stressed throughout the season.

I’m especially looking forward to seeing how junior Thomas Awad does this weekend. He’s had this weekend circled on his calendar for a while now, and he may be able to dazzle us once again.


Which position group has the most to prove this year?

While Penn has a strong set of captains (just look at the front cover) to lead the team in 2014, there are plenty of players and position groups with something to prove. Across offense, defense and special teams, the Quakers will look to shore up a few spots in order to compete with an Ivy title. After all, if any part of Penn’s team appears to be weak, the rest of the Ivy League will look to exploit said weakness. Our editors debate which position group has the most to prove.

Sports Editor Ian Wenik: I’m going to come out and say that the secondary has plenty to prove. Last year, I wrote a story for our supplement talking about how a plethora of veterans in the defensive backfield was going to shut down the rest of the Ivy League. What did Penn’s pass defense promptly do? It surrendered 240.7 yards per game, a middling fifth-best in the conference. The Quakers let their opponents complete 62.7 percent of their passes, the third-worst mark in the Ancient Eight.

Penn has plenty of talent returning in its secondary — fifth-year seniors Dan Wilk and Evan Jackson, just to name a few — but it’s a long way back to the top for a secondary that helped Penn win an Ivy title just two years ago.

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings: It’s tough to say anybody but the kickers. Special teams can be a thankless job and fall under the radar, but it is extremely important to any team’s success. In 2012, it seemed like whenever Penn needed a clutch kick, then-sophomore Connor Loftus was there to make it, especially during the Quakers’ 20-17 homecoming win against Brown.

But last season was different as the Red and Blue went 4-for-13 on field goals, setting themselves back in multiple games. While junior Jimmy Gammill has impressed during camp, we will have to see whether he can get the job done within games. If he struggles or gets hurt again, Loftus or sophomore Aron Morgan could get a few reps at the all-important placekicker spot.

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: I think a young and inexperienced offensive line is going to have the most to prove. The Quakers are fielding a group with a combined five starts between them last season, and they graduated a core group of veteran linemen, including first-team All-Ivy center Chris Bush.

Though Penn had a strong offensive performance last season against Cornell — when three of this year’s projected starters made starts — this group is definitely one of the largest question marks for coach Al Bagnoli. Bagnoli even said so during the Ivy League preseason media teleconference. Every strong offensive performance starts in the trenches, and if this group can’t find a way to protect sophomore quarterback Alek Torgersen, it’ll be a long season for the Quakers.

Sports Editor Colin Henderson: I couldn’t agree more, Holden. The offensive line is a serious question mark. But what about the man that they will be tasked with protecting?

Torgersen has approximately one quarter’s worth of play under his belt. Lighting up Cornell in a relief role at the end of a season is one thing, but taking the reigns of Penn’s offense is quite another. Granted, he seems to bring a downfield passing threat that, paired with Penn’s deep squad of receivers, could be deadly, but with an inexperienced line in front of him, can he handle the pressure?

He certainly doesn’t have the type of mobility that Billy Ragone had, which could make Penn’s questions on the line even more significant. Ragone also set a pretty high mark for Penn quarterbacks, contributing to three Ivy League championship teams. We’ll see if Torgersen can live up to those types of expectations and have a similar level of success.


Roundtable: Underclassmen to watch out for

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With the opening weekend come and gone, a number of freshmen had the chance to show why they were so heavily recruited by the Quakers. With the rest of the fall season in mind, these freshmen figure to have some of the largest impacts on the outcomes of their respective teams.

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: While the performance of freshman midfielder Austin Kuhn earned him Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors this past weekend, the men’s soccer freshman who stood out to me on the pitch was back Luka Martinovic. The Bayville, N.Y. native earned the start in both matches this weekend and provided solid defensive play from the back line.

Though he only tallied one assist on the weekend, Martinovic was involved in creating a number of opportunities for the Quakers on the attack and should prove to be a key cog moving forward. As Penn works out the opening weekend kinks on defense, the freshman appears to clearly be part of the solution.

Sports Editor Ian Wenik: Since you’ve set me up so nicely, I’m going to shout out a freshman attacker on a different sport. How about Alexa Hoover on field hockey? I watched her at both of Penn’s games last weekend, and she was one of the most energetic players on the field. Against Lehigh on Friday, she scored a hat trick and added an assist for good measure. That last goal, by the way, was a particularly impressive display of athleticism. Hoover batted down a high pass with her stick and then performed the field hockey equivalent of a one-touch goal in soccer.

Sure, last year’s freshman star Jasmine Cole is gone, but if Hoover can keep up her scoring touch, the Quakers should be just fine.

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings: There are a lot of underclassmen who have already made impacts in their respective sports — freshman middle block Kendall Covington on Penn volleyball for example. But I’m going to focus on a freshman that has yet to make an impact, and that’s wide receiver Justin Watson for Penn football.

Looking at the talent that the Red and Blue has returning at the skill positions, it is surprising that a first-year player could crack the lineup. Freshmen don’t usually find much playing time for coach Al Bagnoli anyway, but when you have Conner Scott, Ty Taylor, Spencer Kulcsar and Cam Countryman returning, it’s tough to imagine anyone cracking the lineup.

Yet Bagnoli told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Watson is part of the first group of receivers that will take the field. Watson played high school football in western Pennsylvania, earning all-state and all-conference recognition in his senior season. For him to make it into the rotation his first season, he has some clear talent that he is ready to show off.


Roundtable: What are you most excited about this weekend?

Senior back Lauren Hammond will provide another veteran presence for Penn's otherwise experienced and accomplished backline this year.

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Sports Editor Colin Henderson: Volleyball may not be considered one of the marquee sports at Penn, but the team certainly held its own last year, going 8-6 in the Ivy League and 14-11 overall despite a rough start to the year. The program certainly had reason for optimism going into this season.

However, change is in the air for the program. With the loss of sophomore Arielle Winfield ­­— who will look to walk on to the track team — and significant senior leadership in the offseason, there are questions as to how the new team will look together at the start of this season. With three home matches over the weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing how they answer the bell. How about you, Holden?

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: All eyes should be on Rhodes Field Friday for what should be another classic in the men’s soccer matchup between Penn and Drexel. There’s a little bit of everything to this matchup. Penn’s looking to show they’re still a top program after graduating a loaded senior class and they get to do it against a University City and Big Five rival in Drexel. Last year’s match was a 3-2 thriller as the Quakers held off a late Dragons surge in the final minutes and this year should be more of the same.

And don’t forget about Central Connecticut State, which faces off against the Quakers on Sunday in the second match of the University City Classic. It’ll be unfamiliar territory for both teams as they meet for the first time. With old friends and new, there’s plenty to get excited about for men’s soccer this weekend.

Sports Editor Ian Wenik: Holden is right about coming down to Rhodes Field, but people should be swinging by a few hours earlier to watch women’s soccer take on Old Dominion. Coach Darren Ambrose’s brand of defensive-oriented soccer isn’t going to light up the scoreboard, but it grinds out results. With the team already coming off a road match at Mount St. Mary’s on Friday, I don’t expect to see any early-season sloppiness whatsoever.

Haley Cooper, Caroline Dwyer, Lauren Hammond, Kaljiah Terilli ... the list goes on. Penn’s back line and keeper can match up with any team in the Ivy League. It’ll be exciting to see them in action for the first time in 2014.

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings: To paraphrase Eminem, you forgot about field hockey. But seriously, the field hockey team definitely excites me going into this weekend. Speaking with senior captain Emily Corcoran early this week, the team is young, which means we will get to see them grow before our eyes. Having leadership from seniors like Corcoran will help make things go smoothly.

Regardless of which teams the Quakers are playing, those opponents are coming to a pretty nice place at Ellen Vagelos Field. A young team, some solid leaders and a great field. What more can you ask for?


Roundtable: what Penn fall sport are you excited to watch?

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With the 2014 fall season ready to go for Penn’s various sports teams, it is time to get excited. What is getting our sports editors most excited (and should get you excited as well)? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings: OK, to start off, I’m not going to let anyone choose watching Al Bagnoli’s final season. That’s because we are all excited to watch it. It doesn’t need any emphasis.

For my non-Bagnoli pick, I’m going to go with the other end of the Penn football spectrum and the development of Alek Torgersen. While the Bagnoli era comes to an end, the time of Torgersen has just begun. With Bagnoli referring to Torgersen as a “diamond in the rough,” my interest is certainly peaked. How about you Holden?

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis: Well Steven, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what Torgersen can produce and whether or not Penn football can deliver an Ivy title for Bagnoli in his final year.

But I think the attention should shift back across the bridge to Rhodes Field, where a certain team is practicing an entirely different form of football (oh, wait, we call it soccer). Last season we saw the men’s soccer team rebound entirely from a 1-6 Ivy record in 2012 to claim the Ivy League title. Though they graduated a strong senior class, much of the core remains the same and it’ll be interesting to see if they can put the pieces together again. Colin, any thoughts?

Sports Editor Colin Henderson: There’s no doubt about it — football and soccer will get the majority of the attention this fall season. Of course, I can’t help but be somewhat excited by the prospect of Penn football’s defense being led in part by my fellow Nazareth Area High School graduate,senior Dan Wilk.

But ultimately, nothing gets me more excited than the men’s cross country team’s chances. With a legitimate Ivy star in Thomas Awad and a strong supporting cast, it looks like the Quakers are finally ready to make it over the hump and challenge for an Ivy League title. What do you think Ian? You have the final word.

Sports Editor Ian Wenik: I’ve been very excited to see the cross country team grow and develop since I first started interviewing former coach Blake Boldon back in my freshman year. I personally think that Princeton has amassed enough talent to hold off any challenge from the Quakers, but I fully expect to see Penn pick up a top-four finish at Heps this year.

I’m gonna have my eyes on field hockey, for different reasons. I’m curious as to whether or not coach Colleen Fink can rally the remaining troops after losing so many key contributors to transfers and other reasons. The program grew so much last year that it would be disheartening to see it take a step back.