With five starters and all the glamorous non-conference opponents of the past three seasons gone from sight, Penn is once again an Ivy League team in reality, as well as in name. Top 25 rankings and NCAA Tournament victories are not going to determine a successful season this time around. Only an Ivy League championship will. So disregard Penn's ugly 1-6 non-conference record. As their 3-0 Ivy mark indicates, the Quakers -- even minus big men Bill Guthrie and Vigor Kapetanovic, who missed all three games for academic reasons, and starting point guard Jamie Lyren, out with a broken ankle -- can still win the only games that matter. After last March's season finale, in which Penn completed its third straight perfect Ivy season with a 69-57 win at Princeton, Tigers coach Pete Carril breathed a sigh of relief for every Ancient Eight coach with the words: "I won't have to see these guys again." Yes, Jerome Allen, Matt Maloney, Scott Kegler, Shawn Trice and Eric Moore are long gone. But Ira Bowman and Tim Krug are here. So are Donald Moxley and Garett Kreitz. And those four guys were enough to dash a whole lot of hopes the last couple weeks in Providence, R.I., and New Haven, Conn., not to mention in grand Old Nassau. See, Carril and his Tigers had been looking forward to Jan. 6 for 10 long months. With all five starters back plus fabulous frosh Brian Earl, the Tigers simply could not wait for this season's league opener against what they figured would be an undermanned Quakers squad. It would be the perfect opportunity to stake their claim to an Ivy championship after three long years of second place. The problem was, the Tigers couldn't stop Moxley, just like they couldn't stop Trice last year or Maloney two seasons ago. And Krug had a great game, just like he always does against Princeton. Things hadn't changed nearly as much as Carril had hoped. Yes, the Quakers have come back to the pack. But no, they haven't fallen a lap behind, as Princeton and Brown apparently assumed. Kreitz said he heard from a Bears radio personality that the Brown student body was shocked and suddenly very frightened following the Penn-Princeton game. They had good reason to be. Brown has the best backcourt in the Ivies in Eric Blackiston and Brian Lloyd, but they were matched by Bowman and Kreitz, who scored 18 points apiece. The play of Kreitz must have been especially surprising for Brown fans. Penn fans could only think, "George Who?" Sharpshooting sophomore George Zaninovich might very well have started for Penn this season had he not quit the team for personal reasons. His exit was expected to be another in a long line of unfortunate departures, including last year's five seniors, Rob Hodgson and freshman recruit Jeff Knoll. But Kreitz, who got to start when Lyren went down, has stepped in and played as well as anyone could ever have expected Zaninovich to play. It really shouldn't be so surprising that guys like Moxley and Kreitz helped their team to wins. First of all, no Division I college basketball program even looks at a player who wasn't considered a big-time performer in high school. Moxley averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds his senior season in high school, leading his team to a sectional title. Kreitz averaged 28.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. Those numbers obviously do not ensure success at the collegiate level. But they do mean these guys have had the spotlight on them and stepped up in pressure situations before. As Dunphy said when asked about how Kreitz was able to do so well after suddenly being handed a starting position: "I just think he has it in him. He has the ability to step up and play." Another overlooked factor is this: How could Moxley and Kreitz not improve practicing day in and day out against an NBA-caliber backcourt like Allen and Maloney? With one of the best pair of guards in the country tutoring them in drills and scrimmages each day, it was easy to hone their skills. All they needed was an opportunity. "I should have given him more chances," Dunphy said of Kreitz. "Maybe that makes me a bad coach." Not quite, and that's the final reason no one should be surprised by Penn's 3-0 start. It was hard to appreciate Dunphy with all the talent he had the past three seasons. But not once in 42 games did the Quakers slip up enough to get upset. The credit for that kind of focus and intensity has to go primarily to the coach. The ego-less Dunphy would never see it this way, but this is his season to shine, just as it is for Bowman, Krug, Moxley, Kreitz and the rest. It is the first time in seven seasons he has enough talent to win consistently, but not so much that anything but winning is a foregone conclusion. Dunphy can get the job done. In fact, it says here that if and when Penn's 46-game league winning streak comes to an end this season, it sure as heck won't be on a Friday, the first half of the Ancient Eight's weekend doubleheaders. Held to 44 measly points until 50 seconds remained and the outcome was decided against the Quakers, Princeton found out what happens when Dunphy has a week or so to prepare for an opponent. Said Kreitz of the Princeton game: "The coaches prepared us extremely well. We had their offense down pat. It was just a matter of bringing it into the game?Coach Dunphy knows how to win." It's knowledge he's quickly passing on to his team.Comments powered by Disqus
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