Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No. 4 Penn Quakers

Teetering on the brink finally became a total collapse.

Since their last NCAA appearance in 2007, the Quakers have been in a slow decline with Ivy win totals falling from 8 to 6 to 5 and overall wins dropping from 13 to 10 to 6 in the same span. But it all fell apart when Penn started 0-10 last season, including more than a few blowout losses.

It's rare that a team is as poised to bounce back immediately as the Quakers are this season, however. Penn boasts a favorite for league POY in Zack Rosen, an All-Ivy PF Jack Eggleston and a former Ivy ROY Tyler Bernardini. The Quakers' hopes still rest on its returning walking wounded staying healthy and that those players shake of the rust that has built from the extended absences due to injury. If those pitfalls can be navigated successfully, Penn has a chance to go from the bottom division to the top of the league.

Last Season: 11-20, 5-9 Ivy
Pomeroy Ratings: .2040 Win Pct (299th), 95.6 Offense (253rd), 111.0 Defense (327th)
Key Losses: F Justin Reilly

Player Outlook:

If the Quakers just had an Ivy POY level talent, the hype might not be building as it has over what has been a long summer in West Philly. PG Zack Rosen returns after a stellar sophomore campaign in which he posted a top 100 assist rate (30.4%) and true shooting percentage (62.1%), all while having to consume over 25% of his team's possessions and playing over 90 percent of his team's minutes. Even if he were to decline marginally this season, he would still be the frontrunner for player of the year.

It's not just Rosen that has the Penn faithful buzzing, though. SF Tyler Bernardini, Ivy ROY in 2008, is reportedly back to 100 percent after missing much of the last two seasons with injury and brings his deadly shooting stroke to a backcourt that, aside from Rosen, didn't have a player connect at better than a 32 percent clip from long range last season. Having two proven backcourt scoring options can give the Quakers the freedom to play offensively invisible, but defensively valuable SG Rob Belcore and a few of the myriad freshman options at the guard spot. The backcourt might receive an even further boost if Dan Monckton can return for the start of Ivy play, as is currently presumed.

All-Ivy PF Jack Eggleston anchors the frontcourt, having gradually stepped up his usage rates over his first three years at Penn while maintaining his above-average efficiency rating. The only real question the Quakers face is who will pair with Eggleston on the interior. Mike Howlett is the preferred option, but he's had a history of injuries and already has missed time in this preseason. Andreas Schreiber returned for his fifth year, but has always been an offensive liability due to his high usage rates at well below average efficiency. Penn will likely look to get minutes out of Conor Turley, as the freshman class likely won't be able to help the frontcourt rotation too much this season.

Team Outlook:

Expected Record: 15-13, 8-6 Ivy (T-3rd)
Expected Efficiency Stats: .4420 Win Pct, 100.1 Offense, 101.7 Defense

With the four Big 5 games, Kentucky, Pitt and three potential top 150 mid-majors (Davidson, Drexel, Delaware), the Quakers have the most top heavy schedule of any Ivy team. Going even 3-6 against that schedule would be quite an accomplishment. Luckily the remaining five games on the schedule are varying shades of gimmes, which should allow Penn to get to .500 in the non-conference season - a full six game improvement over last year's debacle.

The beginning of the Ivy League schedule will provide a brief respite from the three Big 5 games that immediately precede it, as the Quakers start off at home against three likely lower division teams (Yale, Brown and Dartmouth). Penn needs to take advantage of that opening run, because it's followed by a stretch of Harvard at home and five away games (Princeton, Cornell/Columbia and Brown/Yale).

The Quakers are relatively loaded, in an Ivy League sense, and in a wide open year, have a decent shot at taking home the title. But skepticism should remain for now. Penn has many pieces that are likely to fall in place and others that are possible. Likely and possible are not definite terms, however, and if that potential fails to materialize, the proven players, Rosen and Eggleston, are not enough to keep this team from a lower division finish all on their own.

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