Call it an overreaction. Say it’s only been two games. But after what we've seen, Penn men’s basketball absolutely has the depth to compete for an Ivy League championship, with or without injured junior guard and last season’s leading scorer Ryan Betley.
There is no doubt that the loss of Betley hurts. A solid perimeter defender and a lethal shooter from deep, there is not a single guard on the Quakers roster that can do what he does.
But that isn’t important because, as a unit, a multitude of guards can step up and fill the void left by the sharpshooter.
Defensively, the Red and Blue will not skip a beat. Most of the guards currently in the rotation count defense as a strong suit. Senior guards Antonio Woods, Jake Silpe, and Tyler Hamilton, in addition to starting junior point guard Devon Goodman, have little trouble staying in front of their matchups. Two of the three starting guards for Rice shot under 30 percent from the field.
Silpe in particular was all over the floor, accounting for four first half steals and five total in the Quakers’ 92-76 win over Rice. Woods has always been a defensive stalwart, and the Quakers strongest perimeter defender since returning from his leave of absence last season.
Woods, however, appeared to injure his knee late in the second half and did not return. Assuming it is not a serious injury, the backcourt should be fine.
Though the Quakers have given up over 70 points in both games this season, more of that can be attributed to the up-and-down pace of both games than to poor defensive mechanics.
The bigger question mark remains on the offensive side of the ball, as all the aforementioned guards are far less proven on that end. Woods was the only returning guard entering the year besides Betley to average more than four points per game last season. However, if the game against Rice is any indication, Penn is capable of picking up Betley’s slack.
Freshman guard Bryce Washington, who took Betley’s spot in the starting lineup, looked like a completely different player in his first collegiate start compared to his first collegiate game against George Mason.
After failing to score in 16 minutes of action on Tuesday, the athletic combo guard looked far more comfortable on the court tonight, shooting 50 percent from three point range to finish with nine points.
Washington still has plenty of room to grow, as coach Steve Donahue noted that Washington is still learning on offense. But if he plays like he did against Rice, he can be a reliable option once Ivy League play rolls around in January.
Besides Washington, Penn saw great offensive output from Goodman and Silpe. The duo, who battled to be Darnell Foreman’s replacement all off-season, combined to shoot 52 percent from the field, score 26 points, and dish out six assists.
Woods continues to be consistent, posting 10 and nine point performances in back to back games this season primarily on drives to the basket. As the team gets acclimated to life without Betley, the guards will get more comfortable in their roles. More of an offensive burden will be placed on them, but with more seasoning, there is no reason to think they won’t respond favorably.
Still, even with the solid guard play, this team would be nowhere without the efforts of junior forward AJ Brodeur. In both games this season he has been nothing short of incredible. After putting up 19 points against George Mason, the Massachusetts native poured in 23 points to go along with six rebounds, five assists, and three blocks.
After facing a lot of double teams last season, Betley provided some relief for Brodeur down low by being a reliable outside threat. Even with the teams best perimeter threat gone, Brodeur continues to torch opposing defenses.
The Quakers have the compliment of strong guard play and a big man who will surely contend for Ivy League player of the year.
Sure, Rice, a team ranked 298 in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, is far from the strongest opponent Penn will face the season. In fact, it may be one of the weakest.
Still, what is undeniable is that the Quakers have an arsenal of guards to compliment the strongest frontcourt its had in recent in the Donahue era.
Betley is a big loss, but expectations should still be sky high for Penn as it continues its quest to repeat as Ivy League champs.
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