And, although it goes without saying that the fall's tough games will help Penn when the Ivy League season rolls around, it's still hard to tell whether the Quakers' illustrious list of foes has maybe done a bit of harm along the way early on in this season. Coach Fran Dunphy's squad could play its 14-game Ivy League schedule, face off against its four high-octane Big 5 rivals and take on a panoply of cupcakes for the rest of the season. Plenty of Palestra die-hards would be perfectly content with such a set of opponents. But Dunphy thinks that such a schedule would cheat his players out of a host of precious memories. He wants to make sure that his student athletes play a schedule chock-full of national powerhouses and take road trips to tell their grandchildren about. "We want to give our guys as many fond memories of playing at Penn as possible," Dunphy said. "I want them to remember our trip to Italy or our trip to Puerto Rico or our playing at Kentucky." I applaud Penn's choice of top-notch opponents. When I saw the men's basketball schedule for the first time this summer and noticed that the 1999-2000 Quakers would play at Kentucky, at Auburn and at Kansas, I could barely wait for the season to get underway. But after watching the Quakers drop three of their first four going into this coming Saturday's game at No. 8 Auburn, I can't help but think that the start of this year's schedule has been anything but what the doctor ordered for this Penn team. I can't help but feel that the Quakers might have been better off playing a couple more against inferior competition just to gain some court cohesiveness. With the exception of last Friday's game against Army, every Penn antagonist so far has been a high-caliber program, and in each of those contests the Quakers' opponent had an impressive showing. Throughout the entire game at Kentucky, in parts of the game against Penn State and in the first half two nights ago against La Salle, the Quakers offense looked downright clumsy on the court. "I think we're playing as a team," Penn tri-captain Michael Jordan said. "But I don't think we're crisp on offense right now. If you look at us at this point last season, you'd see that we were a lot crisper. Some guys just still don't know the offense." What makes this year so different? The answer to this question is two-fold. First, the team is younger, and, second, the team's rotation is anything but set in stone. Seven of the 15 players on the Penn roster had never worn the Red and Blue before this season started. In addition, it is not as if these seven players are just keeping the Palestra benches toasty -- these are impact players getting used to a new system. This year's freshman class has been given a generous portion of court time. Freshmen Ugonna Onyekwe, Koko Archibong and David Klatsky are fourth, fifth and sixth on the team when it comes to playing time. There's obviously something to be said for learning by immersion, but you can't expect these three freshmen to step right into the Penn fold with ease. At times, each of these three has shown signs of brilliance, but there have obviously been growing pains. It was naturally easier for last year's senior frontcourt combo of Paul Romanczuk and Jed Ryan to play against national powerhouses like Temple and Kansas than it has been for Onyekwe and Archibong. Experience has its benefits. Still, any Penn fan foams at the mouth with the thought of Onyekwe and Archibong taking on the likes of Lehigh or Colgate. It would have been nice if these youngsters had started off with some less intimidating opponents. The other major reason that this year's Penn team is less well-suited for this grueling early stint is the fact that Dunphy's rotation is far from being set. "I definitely have a good idea of how well guys are playing," Dunphy said. "We still have some things to figure out when it comes to rotating people." In the first four games of last season, the Quakers had a reliable seven-man rotation, with the starting five of Ryan, Romanczuk, Geoff Owens, Matt Langel and Jordan with Frank Brown as sixth man and either Josh Sanger or Mike Sullivan next off the bench. This year, however, playing time has been subject to wild fluctuations. Brown has played as many as 18 minutes against Kentucky and as few as zero against La Salle. Klatsky has played as many as 25 and as few as 11 minutes. Any way you look at it, Dunphy has not yet found a substitution pattern that he loves. The rise of Onyekwe and Archibong has also created a situation in which two upperclassmen -- Oggie Kapetanovic and Brown -- are playing like they have something to prove. The start of this year's Penn schedule has plainly been stressful on many fronts. There is no question that these tough losses will make the Ivy schedule easier, but there is a question as to whether they will have a lasting detrimental effect upon the squad's collective psyche. "If we all stay positive, we'll be alright," Dunphy said.Comments powered by Disqus
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