Owens' return gives Penn size advantage The chant 'Ivy champs' reverberates from the goal post submerged in the Schuylkill, across the South Street Bridge and to Franklin Field's 50-yard line. Sports magic is back, alive and well on Penn's campus. When the Penn basketball team meets nationally ranked No. 8 Kansas (1-0) at the Palestra this evening (8 p.m. tip-off), it marks the start of a second Quakers' journey to launch an Ivy title homeward. "I think our chances of winning the Ivy are pretty damn good this year," Penn junior co-captain Michael Jordan said. ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale agrees, selecting the Quakers (0-0) to emerge atop the Ancient Eight for the first time since Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen wore Red and Blue jerseys. But even with the Quakers favored in a showdown with Princeton -- an old-Buick style team with slow-and- steady, executing parts -- tonight's opponent, Kansas, plays the game in reverse style. Appearing more like a speedy Porsche 944-turbo than that old reliable Buick, the Jayhawks spent yesterday's practice running fast-break weaves up-and-down the court. While not all the team proved able to put the ball on the floor, each ran the court crisply. Even the 7'0", 235-pound, Kansas center Eric Chenowith showed the foot-speed of an Ivy guard. This is not out-of-character for a Roy Williams team. "The film that we watched -- the couple exhibition games and the game against Gonzaga -- show their transition game," Penn junior shooting guard Matt Langel said. "They like to run the ball and get some easy baskets. We have to get back defensively." For success tonight, the Quakers must slow Kansas into a half-court offense -- one that makes the Jayhawks focus on jump-shooting rather than exploiting brawn and athleticism. Penn coach Fran Dunphy has prepared his troops with an 8 p.m. practice last night that featured his bench players dressed in blue and simulating the Kansas playbook for the core seven's benefit. In the evening practice -- Jordan, Langel, Jed Ryan, Paul Romanczuk, Geoff Owens, Mike Sullivan and Josh Sanger rotated defensively on the Kansas impostors, who made their best attempt to learn the Jayhawks' screens. "We have to prepare for what they do best," Jordan said. "That's what we're practicing." Last season, Kansas beat Penn 89-71, using size as a primary advantage, averaging over four-inches on Penn defenders at each starting position. This season, however, the Quakers turn the tables, providing a rare case when the Ivy underdog stands taller than its Big 12 opponent. In the middle, the 6'11" Owens will have the duty of containing Chenowith, who is just one inch taller. This is a tremendous shift from last season when Romanczuk yielded a full five inches to then-Kansas center Raef LaFrenz. "Our chances have improved with the addition of Owens," Jordan said. "They have a seven-footer and we can guard him at 6'11"." In addition to restoring a true center to the line-up, the 'big man' also provides Penn with a critical three-inch growth-spurt over last season at each position. With 6'1" guard Garett Kreitz graduated and the Penn center back, the Quakers' four returning starters each move down one position. An undersized center, the 6'7" Romanczuk instead reemerge this season as the prototypical big-school power forward. With height to give on Kansas' 6'6" Nick Bradford, the Penn senior co-captain can play post-up basketball. Ryan, in turn, moves down to the three-spot, where he will match with Jayhawks' small forward Kenny Gregory. Gregory, a 6'5" sophomore, led Kansas with 18 points against Gonzaga. A year ago, Ryan's defensive match was the 6'8" T.J. Pugh, who is expected to sit out tonight, recovering from an ankle stress fracture. In the backcourt, the 6'0" Jordan and 6'5" Langel match equally to Kansas' 6'5" senior Ryan Robinson and 6'1" freshman Jeff Boschee. "Being able to play the two instead of the three makes a difference," Langel said. "I can guard a guard. Instead of guarding Pierce like I did last year." In the backcourt, however, one new obstacle the Quakers face this season is simply the lack of faces. About three weeks ago, sophomore guard Lamar Plummer was poked in the eye, and upon medical review learned of a congenital condition in both his retina. While surgery fully repaired both his retina, the estimated recovery-time will keep him off the hardwood for at least another four weeks. With Kreitz graduated, that leaves Langel as Penn's only other option to run the point, with 6'5" forward Frank Brown and the 6'6" Sullivan likely to fill time at the two. "I play basketball all year round, so if coach needs me to play forty [minutes], I can play forty," Jordan said. Given the likelihood of foul trouble always present in a season-opener, Jordan may have to go the distance. Depth aside, the Quakers' deck stacks surprisingly well against the Jayhawks. Unlike last season's meeting in the MCI Center, Penn enters the contest favored both in size and fan support. Given the magic still surrounding Penn's campus, maybe the veteran Quakers can hold solid footing against this young Kansas team.Comments powered by Disqus
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