Men's hoops played in the NIT Tip-Off tournament in Charlottesville, Virginia against Fairfield. The Quakers lost and Fran Dougherty was the high scorer. Credit: Ellen Frierson , Ellen Frierson

During its long stretch of turnover-ridden games, the Penn men’s basketball team has been forced to do plenty of running up and down the court.

They may have to run some more very soon.

Saturday, the Quakers (2-6) welcome Villanova (4-4) and its patented 4-out motion offense to the Palestra for their first Big 5 matchup of the season.

Spearheaded by coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats’ up-tempo game has given Penn fits in recent years.

Grounded in wide spacing on the floor and frequent passes through the high post, Wright’s offense befuddled Red and Blue squads long before Jerome Allen’s takeover as coach, with Penn’s last win coming back in 2002, a 72-58 triumph in what was then only Wright’s second year in command at Villanova.

This year’s edition of the Wildcats, though, at least appears to have little resemblance to Wright’s previous Final Four and Sweet Sixteen qualifiers who used to smack the Quakers around to the tune of scores like 69-47 in 2008 and 103-65 in 2009.

Villanova enters the game having lost four of its last five games, including a 76-61 defeat at the hands of Temple on Wednesday — its second Big 5 loss so far.

But that doesn’t necessarily signal Wright’s offense won’t be able to give Penn problems.

“They play extremely hard,” Allen said. “They rebound the ball, and it’s going to be a battle in the paint.”

The Wildcats’ motion offense in recent years has largely revolved around their post play and the rebounding of imposing senior forwards Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton, who average 5.5 and 4.0 rebounds per game, respectively.

The pair’s size — both stand over 6-foot-9 — and athleticism allow them to create frequent scoring opportunities for themselves in one-on-one post-up situations, as well as for others through their usage of flex screening to open up perimeter looks for the Wildcats’ guards.

As Penn’s tallest player at 6-foot-11, freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry knows he’ll face a difficult challenge when he’s matched up against either man.

“We just need to make sure that we keep them out of the paint as much as possible,” Nelson-Henry said. “We know that they have some size and some athleticism on us.

“I think if we can keep them out of the middle and really just force them to take one shot … we’ll be able to control their presence.”

The Quakers will face a similar challenge on the offensive end of the floor on Saturday as well, albeit one that may be more self-imposed.

The Red and Blue will try to move away from their recent propensity for turning the ball over, considering Wright’s Wildcats are equally adept at converting on transition opportunities generated by sloppy ball-handling as they are at executing their motion offense.

Taking care of the ball has been a sticking point at practice recently for the Red and Blue.

“Right now, it’s looking like 20 percent of our possessions result in turnovers, so we really need to cut that down,” junior forward Fran Dougherty said. “It’s just the focusing and paying attention to what we’re trying to execute.”

For Penn, which currently averages 17 turnovers per game, a more efficient offensive showing could be the path to an early-season upset.

That is, if the Wildcats haven’t run them ragged by then.


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