Penn finished last season with a 9-19 record, which led to the firing of head coach Jerome Allen. It was their third losing season in a row and their fifth in the past six seasons. But the 2015-16 season may be looking up. The team brings in a stacked freshman class and return most of their main contributors. Not without talent and experience, the team will look to compete for an Ivy League championship behind new head coach Steve Donahue. He began his City 6 career in 1990, where he helped Fran Dunphy at Penn for 10 seasons as an assistant coach. He later left for Cornell and after a successful Sweet 16 run with the team in 2010, he bolted to Boston College where he had an up and down four years. With 200 wins on his resume, the whistling Donahue looks to bring that winning attitude back to Penn.
First three games (Robert Morris, Central Connecticut, Delaware State)
Last year, the Quakers started the season 0-5, losing to some relatively small opponents like Wagner and Delaware State. It was not a good way to begin the season and it shot much of the team’s confidence. They will need to start on a good note and get some wins under their belt prior to Ivy League play.
vs. Temple, December 9th, 2015
The second City 6 matchup for Penn will be a big test. After playing with the Owls for the past four seasons, but never coming up with the win was extremely upsetting. Maybe the fifth year’s a charm? It will also be big test to see how far the Quakers have come since the 2014-15 debacle. A win at home versus a solid Temple team could get the team rolling going into the Villanova game and Ivy League play.
vs. Yale, February 20th, 2016
If the Quakers want to compete in the Ivy League, they are going to have to beat the best. That means winning against teams like Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. Penn actually does have a chance to win the Ivy League championship, but this will be a huge game. Nearing the end of the season, this could be a huge decider in who takes the crown. Even if Penn has another down year, at least a win versus a good Yale squad will make the season less of a disappointment.
Starting Lineup and Projected Statistics
G: Jake Silpe (7 PPG, 4 APG)
G: Antonio Woods (11 PPG, 3 APG)
G: Matt Howard (8 PPG, 3 APG, 2 TPG)
F: Sam Jones (12 PPG, .38 3P%)
C: Darien Nelson-Henry (12 PPG, 7 RPG, .55 FG%)
6th: Darnell Foreman (4.5 PPG, 2 APG, 1.5 SPG)
7th: Mike Auger (5 PPG, 6 RPG)
The Quakers return many former starters from last year's sub .500 team, but lose former star guard and All-Ivy selection, Tony Hicks, who has since left the team. The team finds themselves without a go-to scorer. His production (<10 points in each season with the team) will surely be missed.
Woods, as freshman, had a promising season and has emerged as a potential scoring punch for the team. He should see consistent minutes at the 1 or 2, and with Hicks’s absence, he also should be a primary scorer. Matt Howard, another common commodity in the Quakers’ starting lineup last season, will return as an upperclassmen. The South Carolina native was a consistent force and has a silky jump shot -- he should look to build off of steady year.
Jake Silpe, the freshman, rounds out the backcourt. The highly touted guard out of Cherry Hill East scored more than 1,500 points in his high school career while earning South Jersey Player of the Year honors courtesy of the Inquirer. With ideal size for a point guard, Silpe is intelligent and well-rounded. His offensive and defensive maturity should earn him minutes right away, especially after the departure of Hicks.
In the frontcourt, Darien Nelson-Henry is no surprise. At six-foot-eleven, 265 pounds, he has NBA level size. Always efficient, Nelson-Henry has shot 50% from the field in every season. Although he is solidified in the starting lineup, he will need to contribute more points (8.5 PPG last year) if Penn wants to compete. However, the power forward position comes in as the big question for the Quakers. Will it be Matt Auger or Sam Jones? Maybe Dylan Jones? How about freshman Max Rothschild? Sam Jones looks to be the best candidate for the job. As a team who has struggled scoring the basketball, Jones will be an important punch. Recognized as the better shooter on the team, the lanky forward can get red hot (19 against Marist and 23 points against Columbia). He could be the scoring punch that helps to replace Hicks.
Off the bench, there will be plenty of competition. From the looks of it, guard Darnell Foreman and forward Mike Auger seem to be the 6th and 7th men, respectively. Foreman can run the offense efficiently, has plenty of experience with the team, and is a great defender. In addition Foreman became a lot better as the season wore on (In the final 10 games he had only 6 turnovers and 3 games with more than 6 points). Foreman also seems excited and motivated to win, which has been demonstrated by his dedication to improve over the offseason. His shot seems to be the most refined part of his game. Take a look at assistant coach assistant Joe Mihalich’s Twitter:
Auger, a strong, undersized banger, will use his hard working attitude to earn himself minutes. With an additionally improved jump shot, he could make more of an impact on offense this year. Freshman sharpshooter Jackson Donahue (who has looked strong in practice), versatile big man Max Rothschild, and a much improving Collin McManus should see their minutes increase as the year progresses. Jamal Lewis, who returns from a medical condition that cost him his 2014-15, brings experience off of the bench. Don't forget that he has started just about 27 games in his Penn career. Lastly there is Texas native Dylan Jones. The athletic, long, and hard playing forward could see minutes if pieces aren't fitting.
It’s been awhile since Penn has tasted winning. It has become close to an expectation for them to lose. But this season might be an outlier. The Quakers return close to everyone from last season. Furthermore, Penn also has brought in a deep, accomplished freshman class that could produce instant contributors.
With a NBA sized center in Darien Nelson-Henry and an emerging Ivy League star, Antonio Woods, the Quakers are bound for a strong year. However, with the lack of a go-to guy, the Quakers might have trouble getting over the hump. The rest of their team is filled with fantastic role players in Matt Howard, Mike Auger, Sam Jones, Jake Silpe, and more assets. A deep team that will have plenty of options will look to win in Donahue's first season.
The hope is that Nelson-Henry can become that superstar. Coach Donahue has had a good history of developing big men and the bearded fellow from Washington state will look to gain from his wisdom. Not only does he now have the green light to shoot the three (which doesn’t look too terrible), but he will have the ball in his hands a lot more. Furthermore, his steady field goal percentage throughout his career leads us to believe that if he is given the ball more, he can produce at a high rate.
On the other hand, Justin Sears and Yale return from a successful season last year, but Harvard looks wounded after losing Siyani Chambers for the year and guard Wesley Saunders to graduation. Never, never, count Harvard out though. We’ve learned that many times. Maodo Lo returns to Columbia, after tearing up the Ivy League in the 2014-15 year. Princeton won’t be terrible either. It will not be easy, with some really good individual players in the league, but Penn, with their depth, experience, and talent, has a chance to push the best in the Ivies.
Obviously expecting a winning season from the Quakers might be an overstatement, but it honestly shouldn’t surprise many people if this team made a run for the Ivy League championship. With experience, talent, and immense positivity stemming from coach Donahue, this is a team that could make some noise.
Score. The Quakers are going to need to score. Last season, they averaged a mere 60 points per game ranking them 325th in the nation. With only one player averaging in double digits (who has since left) and four over 8 points per game, the team struggled. If Penn wants to be a force in the Ivy League, they are going to need to up that scoring production and find a way to get a bucket when necessary.
Photo: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports