BOSTON, Mass. — This loss will be a tough one to shake.
But rest assured, Penn men’s basketball will be back in the Ivy Tournament soon — and probably not as a three seed next time.
It’s not just that this team is good (which it is). It’s also that this team is one of the youngest and, going into the season, inexperienced teams in college basketball, with a roster largely devoid of experienced seniors playing big minutes.
Compare that to Yale, a team that beat Penn Saturday on the backs of performances by seniors Azar Swain and Jalen Gabbidon. If you tally up all the minutes the Bulldogs doled out during the regular season, you’ll find that over 35% of their allotted playing time went to seniors who’ll be off the team next season. The Quakers? Just over 15%.
Outside of Jelani Williams, not a single senior that played in at least 10 games notched over 10 minutes a contest. Michael Wang had a couple solid outings toward the beginning of the season, and Bryce Washington finally re-entered the rotation during the last couple of games, but this team is led by sophomores and juniors almost exclusively. And with the experience that the entirety of this year, and Ivy League playoff action, has given them, it’d be hard to imagine that they don’t return to this same spot over the next two years and grab the title once or twice.
In the backcourt, you’ve got sophomore guards Jordan Dingle, a bonafide superstar, and Clark Slajchert, someone who looks to be trending in that direction.
Against Yale, Dingle did what he’s done all season, which meant putting Penn on his back offensively and keeping Penn in games it looks destined to fall short in. Down 46-37 with 14:16 to go, the Quakers appeared lost and in dire need of a momentum shift. Then came a Dingle three-pointer, a layup, and another three-pointer to cut Yale’s lead to five. Without that scoring onslaught, Yale runs away with the game right then, but Dingle just wouldn’t let that happen.
Slajchert, on the other hand, struggled against Yale in the limited minutes he played. In 14 minutes — the least he’s played since November — Slajchert went 1-for-5 from the field and scored just four points, his lowest scoring output since the very start of Ivy League play, against Brown.
Despite this, Slajchert has shown all season, particularly in the second game Penn played against Brown, where he hit a last-second game-winner, that he can be a high-scoring guard and someone who can be effective in whatever role he’s in, whether that’s off the bench or in the starting lineup.
And both those guys are coming back for two more years! If they’re both this good as sophomores, imagine how good they’ll be two years from now as fully developed seniors.
Let’s take a look at the frontcourt. Michael Moshkovitz, for much of the season Penn’s lone big getting consistent minutes, got into foul trouble early against Yale, but has shown all year that he can match up with other Ivy bigs as a defender, a rebounder, and a surprisingly nimble passer.
When Moshkovitz got into that foul trouble against the Bulldogs, Penn needed another big to step in in his place, and that came in the form of freshman Nick Spinoso, who put up a career-high 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Spinoso received limited minutes during the bulk of Ivy play and has looked fairly raw as a developing forward/center, but if Saturday’s game is any indication, he can progress into someone over the next three years who gives Penn value on both ends of the floor.
And don’t forget about Max Lorca-Lloyd, too. A starter for Penn who got injured six games into the season, the junior center was supposed to be Penn’s consistent stalwart in the middle, but those plans got nixed after his injury. Next season, expect him to return to that role and give Moshkovitz and Spinoso more breathing room so that they’re not the only two Quakers manning the paint.
Of course, you also have Max Martz, who leads the team in rebounds per game, is a solid three-point shooter, and is coming back for two more go-arounds along with Dingle and Slajchert.
“You look at the box score, essentially everyone’s coming back except for Jelani,” head coach Steve Donahue said postgame. “Most of them are coming back two or three years, so we have a chance to build something special here, and that’s what we want to do at Penn.”
Going 9-5 in the Ivy League amid a shortage of experienced players already qualifies as having built something special, but as Donahue very well understands, that’s only the beginning for a team as young and talented as this one.
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.