Roundtable | Where does Penn basketball need to improve?


Penn basketball has gotten off to an inauspicious start to the 2014-15 season, losing all five of its games. The Quakers are one of 14 winless teams left in the NCAA, having suffered some close defeats to Delaware State, Lafayette and Wagner. The Red and Blue also rank 278th out of 351 Division I teams in Ken Pomeroy’s College Basketball Rankings, but they are also not far behind fellow Ivy squads Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth.

With that in mind, our editors look at what Penn needs to improve upon in the rest of nonconference play.

Senior Sports Editor Steven Tydings : After traveling  to Wagner on Saturday, there is one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb: turnovers. In the first three games of the year, the Quakers averaged just over 14 turnovers a game, cutting two turnovers off their pace from last season.

But against Temple and Wagner this past week, Penn gave away the ball a whopping 41 times with junior captain Tony Hicks  committing 12 of those turnovers. This simply won’t cut it. Coach Jerome Allen  rightfully pointed out after the Wagner game that the Red and Blue’s 14 first-half turnovers against the Seahawks — which prevented Penn from extending its lead early on — likely made the difference in the close defeat.

Some of this is natural. You have two freshman  point guards — Antonio Woods and Darnell Foreman  — playing significant minutes and are overly reliant on Hicks to create offense. As Woods and Foreman get more games under their belt, they’ll surely be better with the ball, which will in turn create less pressure on Hicks.

But all of this needs to come sooner rather than later with Princeton looming just 41 days in the future.

Sports Editor Colin Henderson : There’s no question about it, Steven. Turnovers are a huge problem facing the Quakers, but I suspect that with experience, it should become less and less of an issue. However, one problem that I believe should give the Red and Blue more reason for concern is the disparity between their three-point shooting and that of their opponents.

Five games into the season, Penn is shooting a pedestrian 28.6 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, their opposition has found considerably more success, shooting a very respectable 39.4 percent from downtown.

I realize that it’s a small sample size, but the Quakers’ struggles shooting the three are indicative of a larger problem: their inability to get easy buckets. Moving forward, they would be wise to play more inside-out basketball, running their offense through Darien Nelson-Henry  and taking some pressure off of Hicks and Woods.

On the other side of the ball, stronger defense behind the arc will come from tighter defensive rotations, and that will only come with time and experience.

Sports Editor Holden McGinnis : We’ve been saying it all season long, but Penn is still in search of that second consistent scoring option behind Hicks. Whether it’s Nelson-Henry, Matt Howard  or one of the freshman, someone needs to step up into that role and take the pressure off Hicks. Sure, you can come close in games where he drops 30, but this is an offense that too often falls back on his pull-up jumper.

Howard has started to play more aggressively — particularly in the past two games — and was a player we highlighted before the season as someone who could rise into that role. As the season continues, it will be interesting to see how he develops and whether he can replicate his performance from Temple.

Nelson-Henry has shown some of the flashes of brilliance that we’ve seen the past two years, but it’s difficult to rely on a big as one of your primary scorers — particularly when the center is getting double-teamed regularly.

Either way, this is a Penn team that isn’t quite as bad as its 0-5 record seems. For a team with four freshmen  (when healthy) as integral parts of the rotation, there is certainly a steep learning curve. It comes down to better play-calling and execution. When plays break down, there needs to be someone other than Hicks to turn to. Turn around a few plays this year,  and the Quakers could have multiple wins.

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