This is not a spot that any of the Penn men’s basketball faithful wanted to see their team in at this point in the season.
Losers of four straight, the Quakers know that as the losses pile up, so do their chances of earning a spot in this year’s inaugural Ivy League Tournament. But not to worry — the Red and Blue travel across town to La Salle Wednesday night with one last chance to iron out the wrinkles before resuming conference play in February.
The Explorers (11-6, 0-2 Big 5) have been impressive for large portions of this season, reeling off five consecutive victories to begin 2017. Fortunately for Penn (6-9, 0-3), La Salle’s most recent outing was slightly less impressive. The Dark Blue and Gold squared off against VCU in a true test of their credentials, but failed to show up in a 90-52 drubbing at the hands of the Rams.
However, the Quakers should be wary of the Explorers’ clout at home this season. Not only has La Salle not lost at home in over a month, but they’ve only lost there twice all year — and one was to No. 1 Villanova.
If the Red and Blue truly want to challenge the Explorers, they will need to zero in on the attacking prowess of La Salle’s upperclassmen duo of B.J. Johnson and Jordan Price, both of whom average upwards of 17 points per contest. Offensively, Penn can look to take advantage of the Explorers’ relatively leaky three-point defense, which allows opponents to shoot over 40 percent from downtown.
One big key for the Quakers will be their defense — in particular, their ability to defend without fouling. The Red and Blue have been committing fouls like crazy, and racking up 32 fouls against St. Joseph’s just further highlighted the need for improvement. It doesn’t help that the Quakers have not gotten to the line much themselves. The last time Penn drew more fouls than they committed was against Drexel all the way back in December.
“We’re competing really hard but there’s points where we make a mistake and then compound it by fouling,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I’d like to see us be a little more understanding of reaching and fouling at key moments.”
Also important for the Red and Blue will be their outside shooting and offensive execution. As Donahue has previously pointed out, the small lineup that the Quakers routinely feature is designed to create open looks from the perimeter. Unfortunately for Penn, those open shots have not been going down as of late. Execution-wise, Donahue indicates that a successful system is in place, requiring minor tweaking at most.
“There’s little things we need to work on,” Donahue said. “Cuts could be sharper, spacing a little bit better, but on the whole I've been pretty pleased.”
Freshman forward A.J. Brodeur echoed Donahue’s comments about the importance of improving spacing on the offensive end.
“Coach has talked to me a lot about catching the ball behind the three point line as opposed to just inside it,” Brodeur said. “That way I can be a threat off the dribble, off the pass, and shooting.”
With 11 Ivy games to follow, this game certainly looks like the last true opportunity for the Red and Blue to fix any weak spots.
“This game is as good as we’ll see for the rest of the year,” Donahue said. “It’s our last real chance to figure out exactly how we’re going to improve on those first few conference games.”
Brodeur also stressed the importance of using this game to further address areas of weakness.
“We’re definitely not satisfied,” Brodeur said. “Nothing’s ever going to go 100% right, and if it did we wouldn’t be where we are in the conference right now.
“It’s an imperfect game, but we need to get as close to perfect as we can.”