Penn men’s basketball had perhaps the most eventful season opener in recent memory at George Mason. The Quakers survived substantial adversity and eked out a 72-71 win. Here are three takeaways from the first game of the season.
Who will replace Betley?
After junior guard Ryan Betley’s season ended in the first five minutes, coach Steve Donahue instituted a deeper rotation at guard than anticipated. No one player can fill in for Betley’s minutes or scoring, so expect Donahue to lean on a platoon of young players and veterans as the season progresses.
Some combination of sophomore Eddie Scott and seniors Tyler Hamilton and Jackson Donahue is likely to step up in Betley’s absence. Senior Antonio Woods will have to pick up the scoring, as he did in a two-minute stretch in the second half when he scored eight points. At point guard, junior Devon Goodman, senior Jake Silpe, and freshman Bryce Washington figure to cycle in.
Expect Donahue to use all of these players in some capacity over the next few games as he tries to sort through the various lineups he could lean on. Of those on this list, Woods will play the most minutes and likely have a larger role in scoring, while Goodman and Washington figure to play the most at point guard. At the other guard position, Jackson Donahue will probably function as a sharpshooter, with Scott and Hamilton playing as slasher and defensive types.
After seeing how well he shot at George Mason, it would also not be ridiculous to see Betley replaced by freshman forward Michael Wang in a three-big lineup.
Wang can do no wrong on offense
Wang was highly touted as the best player in the Steve Donahue era before he ever stepped onto the court. Once he did, in the Red and Blue Scrimmage, Wang impressed with his size, range, and scoring ability. He used those skills to put on a clinic in the first half against George Mason, but not in the way you’d expect from a forward — from the three-point line.
Wang made 4 of 5 triples and tacked on another bucket for a total of 14 points in the first half. He didn’t do much in the second half, but a big man shooting that well from distance is incredibly notable. By the end of the half, the Patriots were guarding Wang tightly at the three-point line, giving the other forwards, especially junior forward AJ Brodeur, more space to operate. Wang still has room for improvement, particularly on defense, but the freshman’s shooting could prove important in the absence of Betley.
Free throws continue to be an issue
The Quakers are not at their best at the charity stripe. That was true last season as well — Penn shot under 66 percent from the free throw line, the worst mark in the Ancient Eight. In one game so far this season, the Red and Blue made just 6 of 18 free throws.
In a one-point game, that’s a huge problem. Games are often decided at the stripe, and that was almost true on Tuesday as well. Brodeur and Woods combined to go 1 for 6 in the last 20 seconds of the game, giving the Patriots two chances to win the game. The Quaker defense held strong and George Mason missed their shots, but Penn was lucky to win after failing to close out the game on its own terms.
“I feel like it was first game jitters,” Woods said. “You know, great atmosphere, we just kind of took our mind off it. But you know we’ll be back — I promise you we’ll hit those.”
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