NEW YORK, N.Y. - Three straight Ivy League wins and six wins in eight conference matchups so far.
To many who’ve paid casual attention to the Quakers this season, this come-up might serve as a bit of a surprise. It shouldn’t be, though. This team may have struggled at times, but the warning signs for the caliber this team could play at were all there.
Heading into Ivy League play, the Red and Blue had lost six straight games, half of them by double digits. On offense, the team looked stagnant, one-dimensional, and overly reliant on star player Jordan Dingle, and on the defensive end, Penn was struggling to compensate for the paint presence it lacked without junior center Max Lorca-Lloyd and freshman forward Nick Spinoso on the floor.
In their place, junior forward Michael Moshkovitz and senior forward Michael Wang attempted to man the middle, but they struggled to get rebounds against powerhouses like Villanova, where the Quakers lost the rebounding battle 41-26.
Since December, Wang has been entirely sidelined with a personal issue, but Moshkovitz has completely come into his own. Against Columbia, the Israel native dominated the Lions’ frontcourt, securing a career-high 13 rebounds. For context, Moshkovitz previously hadn’t notched double-digit boards in a game so far this season.
In part, this improvement is due to Moshkovitz getting to compete against Ivy League bigs as opposed to competitors from out of conference, but it also stems from his growth as a player since the start of the season.
According to Moshkovitz himself, he hadn’t played in an official game for almost two years prior to beginning at Penn this season, and the learning curve certainly took some time to adjust to. The inklings were there, though, that he could be the consistent big that Penn has needed. Now, Moshkovitz is a steady presence for the Quakers on the defensive end, and also someone who occasionally has strong scoring outputs.
Outside of Moshkovitz, the Quakers have largely gone small since the start of Ivy League play, not employing anyone over 6-7 more than 10 minutes a game, even with Spinoso’s return to the lineup.
Spinoso, who received big minutes to start the season and since his injury has largely been sidelined, is a bit of an anomaly for the Quakers, as another key to their recent success has been an uptick in the performance of their freshman and sophomore players.
Specifically sophomore forward Max Martz and sophomore guard Clark Slajchert. Since Penn’s last matchup against Columbia, Martz has consistently been a high scorer, even with less minutes than what he’d been getting in December. In this go-around against the Lions, Martz was the Red and Blue’s second-leading scorer, putting up a season-high 16 points.
Slajchert has had a similar trajectory, as he was a little flaky scoring-wise to start his collegiate career, but has now evolved into a consistent offensive force for Penn, though he struggled to get much going against the Lions. In the team’s last seven games, Slajchert has notched double-digits in all but this last one, improving his shooting efficiency in the process. Across those seven games, Slajchert has shot under .500 from the field only twice.
While these players’ developments have been valuable, you could be excused for not seeing their current success coming. Jordan Dingle, on the other hand, you might have had to have been blindfolded during Penn’s early matchups to not see this coming. Dingle, who is arguably the best player in the Ivy League at this point, started off against Columbia scoring 11 points in the first five minutes of game action. He finished with 23, which puts his point total in his last three games at a startling 85.
With the Valley Stream, N.Y. native, Penn has its first bona-fide superstar since AJ Brodeur. Against teams like Columbia, there doesn’t seem to be a single defender on the opposing side that can keep up with Dingle’s quick cuts to the rim and his ability to hang in the air for just the right amount of time when going up for a shot, making for matchup nightmares across the board.
As teams have to key their whole defenses on him, players like senior guard Jelani Williams — who’s had a much greater role recently, playing over 30 minutes in four of the last five games — junior guard Jonah Charles, and Slajchert all have greater opportunities to shine offensively, and for the most part have capitalized on them.
Charles, in particular, was a reliable piece for Penn all throughout November, but was later sidelined due to COVID-19 and didn’t seem to be able to make his way back into the rotation consistently. That, however, looks like it’s starting to be remedied, with Charles playing 21 minutes against Columbia and securing eight rebounds in the process.
With pieces like Charles operating close to his previous level, and guys like Moshkovitz, Martz, and Slajchert all coming into their own, the Quakers look to have a real shot at not just making the Ivy Tournament, but the NCAAs.
That’s certainly a ways away, and the Quakers still have almost half an Ivy League schedule to go, but if they’re playing at this level now, don’t be surprised if they’re giving teams like Princeton and Yale a run for their money come March.
MATTHEW FRANK is a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a College sophomore from Miami studying English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.