Adjustment to a new normal has defined all of our lives over the past few months, and for Penn men's basketball, that means coming to the realization that they aren't as in sync as they'd like to be.
With just 70 combined collegiate starts on the roster, coach Steve Donahue couldn't have expected things to be easy. It's important then for Penn men's basketball to use its non-conference slate to shake off the rust and develop team chemistry. Fortunately, the only thing that matters for Penn is the conference slate, which begins in January.
It's clear that the Quakers have a talented bunch of players this season. Throughout the first half, the team was neck-and-neck with No. 20 Florida State. The Seminoles ended up running away to a victory, but Jordan Dingle showed signs of promise with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Against Bucknell, Penn hit 10 three-pointers and shot 13-of-15 from the free-throw line en route to a 73-68 victory.
Still, this past week's three-game stretch has shed light on some of the Quakers' major weaknesses. Florida State forward Malik Osborne dominated the Red and Blue, posting 18 points and 13 rebounds. The team has used a combination of junior center Max Lorca-Lloyd, freshman center Nick Spinoso, and senior forward Michael Wang in the post this season with limited levels of success.
Lorca-Lloyd is playing just 15 minutes a night averaging four points and two rebounds, and while to his credit Spinoso — who averages 18.0 minutes per game and 4.3 rebounds per game — makes up for a little more production, it still leaves a wide gap between Penn's post scoring last time they took the court.
AJ Brodeur averaged 17.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for the Quakers in 2019-2020. No one is expecting another AJ, but Steve Donahue needs more production on the offensive and defensive ends from his bigs.
The first three games have given us an opportunity to see the further development of one of the Ivy League's young stars and 2019-20 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Jordan Dingle. Dingle has posted three straight 20-point outings, but some nights have ended in inefficient clips.
Dingle missed 15 shots against George Mason — taking 13 in the first eight minutes — but he managed to convert 10-of-23 against Bucknell. Additionally, we've seen Dingle's assist numbers rise over the past few games, as he continues to build trust with his teammates.
Dingle's performance will be a key differentiator for the Quakers throughout the next three years. A player Donahue hoped could have made a multi-year difference for the team — fifth-year guard Jelani Williams — is nonetheless still one of the more impactful players and leaders on this young Red and Blue team.
Williams has impressed, averaging eight points, five rebounds, and a steal in his first career action after suffering three ACL tears. On a team with little collegiate experience, Williams — who has only vicariously experienced college basketball from the bench — finds himself in an odd position of relative experience, and he seems to be thriving in this role.
Penn will have growing pains adjusting to a year and a half away from basketball with no collegiate competition. No matter how much you practice, it's tough to simulate a real game environment. Moreover, COVID-19-related health restrictions made practice difficult to coordinate. The Ivy League made headlines last fall as the only conference to cancel all collegiate sports. Every other conference had at least some form of action last winter.
This past week, Boston College toppled Dartmouth, Fordham and Marist beat Columbia, Iona beat Harvard, Seton Hall blew out Yale, and Minnesota topped Princeton. These aren't great out-of-conference opponents; Fordham, for example, went 2-12 last season, and Boston College went 4-16. It may be that a year without basketball will put Ivy League teams at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts.
Fortunately, conference season is the only thing that matters to Penn for practical purposes. And the non-conference slate gives Donahue the chance to develop some of his younger and promising players.
Sophomore guard Clark Slajchert has averaged 21 minutes per game and 9.8 points, and he has quickly established himself as the team's top free-throw shooter, as he is perfect on the year. Also impressing are Spinoso and junior transfer forward Michael Moshkovitz, who played for Kankakee CC.
Key upcoming road tests for the Red and Blue include No. 16 Arkansas on Nov. 28, Villanova on Dec. 1 and Temple on Dec. 4. Battles with these top-tier opponents will show the Quakers' true colors heading into Ivy League play.
JACKSON JOFFE is a College and Wharton senior from Nashville, Tenn. and a former Senior Sports Associate for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.