What a difference a year makes.
Last year, Penn basketball was an enigma, a senior-less roster desiring to be an ensemble but overly reliant on the offensive production of guard Miles Cartwright and — before he missed 19 games — forward Fran Dougherty.
Now Penn basketball has changed immeasurably for the better by staying the same. Fran is back. Miles is back. Sophomores Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry are a year older and wiser after coming on strong late in their rookie campaigns last season.
So yes, Penn is absolutely deserving of its second-place ranking in the Ivy League preseason media poll behind Harvard. But is it capable of dethroning the Crimson?
Don’t expect it, of course. Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry’s dual Ivy League-approved returns to Harvard basketball after withdrawing from the school amidst a widespread cheating scandal are as crucial for the Crimson as they are outrageous to everyone else.
With sophomore guard Wesley Saunders, junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi and junior center Kenyatta Smith all returning, Harvard enjoys a rotation full of underclassmen who had to grow up fast last year.
But hey, so does Penn.
Even when the Quakers struggled in 2012-13, their athleticism was always obvious. Nelson-Henry’s footwork will serve him well on the block for years to come. Hicks’ left-side drive into the lane is a killer for opposing defenses and should be a perpetual ticket to the charity stripe over the next three years. Junior guard Patrick Lucas-Perry’s open jumper is money.
And this team’s defense should be solid from back to front. Cartwright and sophomore guard Jamal Lewis are both dependable on-the-ball defenders in the backcourt, and in the frontcourt,
Dougherty and Nelson-Henry — each a crucial shot-blocker and defensive rebounder in the other’s absence a year ago — will finally be able to combine to lock down opposing big men.
After all, Penn showed flashes of a championship-caliber defense in 2012-13, finishing first in field goal percentage allowed and third in defensive rebounding and frustrating both Harvard and Princeton defensively down the Ivy stretch.
So now’s the time. Penn basketball hasn’t enjoyed this level of experience throughout its roster in quite a few seasons. The ensemble that Cartwright and Dougherty predicted would show up at the start of last season has finally arrived.
It’s here for one year, and then it’ll be gone, leaving Hicks and Nelson-Henry in the same position of shared junior leadership and offensive burden-bearing that Fran and Miles found themselves cumbersomely in last year.
Following a season to forget, then, this should be a Penn basketball lineup to remember. It has to be.
MIKE TONY is a senior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa. and senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEE ALSOComments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.