Penn men's basketball is looking to become the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it takes on Kansas on Thursday. While it's never happened before, many pundits are giving Penn as good of a chance as any No. 16 seed in history.
If the Quakers are going to shock the world and pull off the historic upset, here's four things they will have to do.
Win the three-point battle
Perhaps the best reason to get hopeful about this matchup is that one of the Quakers' biggest strengths lines up perfectly with how the Jayhawks run their offense. Kansas lives and dies with the three; on average, they make 10.1 treys per game on 25.1 attempts, good for a rate 40.3 percent.
Meanwhile, defense, especially on three-point shots, is Penn's specialty. The Quakers own the second-best three-point defense in the NCAA, holding opponents to a paltry 29.2 shooting percentage from deep. They also have the 12th-best effective field goal percentage allowed, which factors in the added worth of three-pointers.
On the other end of the court, while the Quakers don't always shoot the lights out, with just a 35.1 percentage from deep, they are prone to getting hot from beyond the arc. When they get in the zone, Caleb Wood and Ryan Betley seemingly can't miss from three.
One of the most quintessential formulas for a March Madness upset is when a team that shoots the three well goes cold and their opponents catch fire. The Quakers have the right build to make that happen.
Rebound, rebound, rebound
Despite the presence of 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, Kansas is actually a relatively weak rebounding team. The Jayhawks grab just 35.2 rebounds per game, only 0.1 rebounds more than their opponents. They own the 44th-worst defensive rebounding percentage, and give up almost 12 offensive rebounds per game.
Grabbing offensive rebounds will be crucial if the Quakers are to have any chance at pulling off the upset. Penn is going to need all the points they can get against a high-powered offense like Kansas, and offensive rebounds are a huge way to extend possessions, gain momentum, and deflate an opponent.
This is going to require not only monster performances from forward AJ Brodeur and center Max Rothschild, but help from up and down the lineup. The Quakers can overcome the height advantage that Kansas has if they position themselves well and everyone crashes the boards.
Survive the first four minutes
The first few minutes of the game are going to be the most influential in determining what kind of chance Penn has at an upset.
If the Jayhawks come out of the gate firing on all cylinders and open up a big lead before the first media timeout, it's over. In front of what will essentially be a home crowd for the Jayhawks, against one of the best teams in the country, the Quakers don't stand a chance of digging themselves out of an early hole. Kansas is just too good to let up a major run and not finish the job.
But if Penn makes it through to the first media timeout within striking distance, or even leading, they have a chance. It'll give the team confidence in the knowledge that they deserve to be on the same court as the Jayhawks. Once they start believing, anything can happen.
Kansas is flat out a better team than Penn. There's absolutely no denying that, and if the Quakers played the Jayhawks 10 times, the Jayhawks would win at least nine. But this is March, this is the tournament, and anything is possible.
The recipe for the upset of the ages starts and ends with the Quakers getting scorching hot from the field and playing out of their minds. They'd need the likes of senior guard Darnell Foreman's incredible 19 point first half against Harvard from several different players. Someone has to take control like Foreman did, but they will need support from everyone on the floor.
They will also need Kansas to play one of its worst games of the year. For the Quakers to have a chance, the Jayhawks must go cold shooting and get in their own heads. They need Azubuike, who sat out the Big 12 Tournament last week due to a sprained knee but is expected to play in the tournament, to not be at full strength. They need to take the crowd out of it by not letting Kansas run away.
Penn certainly has the odds against them. But winning this game isn't impossible, and if the chips fall the right way, Penn might just make history.
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