Benjamin Simon & Benjamin Boswell
The Empire will be running periodic op-ed columns throughout the season called “Ben vs. Ben.” Editors Benjamin Simon and Benjamin Boswell will square off and take different sides on topics, defending their points of view through statistics and analysis. Join the conversation by commenting on the website and social media with your opinions. We want to hear what you have to say too!
Benjamin Simon: Yes, Jackson Donahue will be an All-Ivy League selection
When Jackson Donahue hit his first three pointer against Temple, he was already 0-3 from deep on the night and his team was slowly being defeated. Temple was finally gaining momentum and starting to wear down the Quakers, having stretched the game out to 10 points with 10 minutes left in the game prior to Donahue’s first three of the game.
Not for long though.
In the next minute and a half, Donahue would hit two more three pointers and cut the Temple lead to 5 points with 9 minutes left. Then, with 50 seconds left in the game, he would hit another three, once again cutting the lead to 5. He sparked the Quakers, a team who looked like they had played hard but was going to run out of energy. Donahue had saved them. 19 days later against Villanova he would do the same, solidifying himself as a consistent presence in the Quakers’ starting lineup.
Donahue didn’t score a single point in the first half against Villanova. Penn found themselves down 39-11 halfway through the game, severely overmatched against the eventual national champions. Donahue got the nod in the second half and it didn’t take but 2 minutes and 7 seconds for Donahue to turn the tides, nailing a three pointer off a Darien Nelson-Henry assist. Donahue would score 15 more points that half, including 5 three balls and 3 steals.
These two games were a representation of Donahue’s play: energy filled, relentless, sharp shooting, and unafraid. There wasn’t another day during the season that you couldn’t mention Penn basketball without bringing up Jackson Donahue’s name.
For the next 16 games, Donahue played over 30 minutes in all but one game, more than earning his spot in the regular rotation. During that span, he averaged 14 points and 3 three pointers per game, adding up for a three point percentage of 39%. Given the minutes, he showed his true and full potential. Had he not sat for much of the beginning of the season, Donahue would have been an All-Ivy League player last season. Of the six guards who earned All-Ivy League honors, Donahue’s averages during the last 16 games would have ranked him fourth in scoring and third in three point percentage between the players.
Even without playing much during the first 14 games, Donahue still made the 7th most three pointers in the Ivy League throughout the season. He added to that by ranking in the Ivy League’s top 20 in True Shooting Percentage and 4th in Effective Field Goal Percentage. His strong offensive play gave him an Offensive Box Plus/Minus of 2.6, ranking him 9th in the Ivy League. He finally showed that he was more than equipped to handle the defensive pressure of college basketball players, finishing with a turnover percentage of 9.2, good for 2nd in the Ivy League.
In the second half of the season, Jackson Donahue was easily Penn’s most impactful player. Even when he wasn’t shooting well or scoring much, Donahue affected the game with his energy, enthusiasm, and defense. There wasn’t a time throughout the season that the freshman guard didn’t dive on the floor for balls or run around trying to create a jump shot for himself. Despite being asked to play 30 plus minutes almost every night, Donahue never ceased to play like his job was on the line. And this was just in his freshman season.
Donahue now enters his sophomore year loaded with major minutes under his belt. He will have a strong supporting class, as coach Steve Donahue brings in a talented freshman and transfer class and returns many common faces, only having lost two players from last season. Donahue will also have more time to get more accustomed to his large, high scoring role. Last year, the guard from Northfield Mount Hermon played a mere 21 minutes in his first 8 games, but was then thrust into a starting role for the rest of the season. Now, he will have minutes under his belt and will prepare the entire offseason practicing with the first team as one of the team’s best offensive players.
The bottom line is that Donahue played like a top Ivy League player for the second half of the season. Whether it was against some of the country's top teams (Villanova and Temple) or versus the Ivy League’s best teams, Donahue never failed to perform. Despite enduring treacherous minutes as the year went on, Donahue always produced at a high level on the defensive and offensive end.
Benjamin Boswell: No, Jackson Donahue will not be an All-Ivy League selection
There is no doubt that Jackson Donahue’s play surpassed expectations last season. After averaging just over six minutes and two points in his first nine games, Jackson Donahue was anointed into the Quaker’s starting lineup and began doing what he does best, stretching opponent’s defense with three point sharpshooting. Donahue had a strong conference season, averaging almost 13 points in 35.5 minutes per game while shooting 39% from the three point line. While those are encouraging numbers for a freshman to put up, to say Jackson Donahue will be an All-Ivy guard next season is putting too high expectations on him that he, in all likelihood, will not match.
For starters, the amount of development he would need over this offseason to get his play to the level of what the recent All-Ivy guards have performed at will be difficult. This is especially true when you look at Donahue’s competition in the other Ivy League backcourts and see who he will have to out-perform to be given the All-Conference recognition.
The table below charts the past four year’s First Team All-Ivy guards and the numbers they put up during that season. It is then averaged out to give a base stat-line of what an All-Ivy guard should look to replicate.
As you can see, Donahue will need to improve his statistics significantly in order to compare to recent All-Ivy performers. Even if Donahue doubled the amount of points he produced last season, he still wouldn't match the average of the past four season’s First Team All-Ivy guards.
If Donahue is to improve his numbers, he would need an even bigger role than he was given last season.
Part of what made Donahue such a weapon offensively for the Quakers last season was his efficiency. Shooting 38% from the three and turning the ball over merely .9 times per game are nice looking numbers for a starting guard to put up. But if Penn head coach Steve Donahue does decide to hand Jackson Donahue the keys to the offense and continue to play him for 35 minutes, while improving his role in the offense, so that his usage percentage matches the All-Ivy guards of season’s past, Donahue’s biggest strengths, his 3-point shooting and turnover numbers, will surely decline.
The next table compares Jackson Donahue’s statistics to six other Ivy League guards that will also be in contention for All-Conference recognition next season. Surely Donahue’s biggest competition is Malakai Mason as he was a first team All-Ivy league guard last season. Matt Morgan looks to build off of an excellent freshman year where he was named to the All-Ivy Second Team. Siyani Chambers, who is returning from injury, should also be seen as favorite after being an All-Ivy first teamer in 2013.
Not only does Donahue need to improve his numbers significantly for All-Conference consideration, but there is plenty of competition that is already near the level of an All-Conference performer that Donahue will need to out-play.
Now that we have a base for what Donahue will need to do and how stiff the guard competition will be, it is time to address the loss of Penn’s best player Darien-Nelson Henry and what that means for Donahue next year.
A good big man is a guard’s best friend. Offensively, DNH’s low post skills demanded that teams double team him down low, giving perimeter players room to work. Even when he wasn’t scoring, you can see that Nelson-Henry’s sheer offensive gravity created space for Donahue to put up open three point shots, contributing to his great shooting numbers. Although sophomore Max Rothschild and freshman A.J. Brodeur have talent and will be solid players in due time, they will not require the same amount of double teams and overall attention from the defense as Darien Nelson-Henry did. This will hinder Donahue and ultimately cause him to see a drop in his shooting numbers.
Being recognized to the All-Ivy team requires excellent play on both sides of the floor. Last season, Jackson Donahue’s 113.8 defensive rating was worst among all of Penn’s regular rotation players and it will not get any easier for him next season with DNH’s graduation. DNH’s interior defense played a part in Penn’s opponents shooting 520 3-point shots last year, 13th most in the entire nation. With Darien Nelson-Henry gone, and no clear defensive anchor down low, expect opponents to attack the Quaker’s rim. For an undersized (6-foot, 175 pounds) guard like Donahue, defending without inside help will be a challenge.
All in all, although Jackson Donahue is a talented shooter that opponents will need to account for whenever he is on the court, he would need to develop his game to a much higher level of play to be considered for the All-Ivy team. The quality competition that Donahue will need to out-play and the team’s young and interior presence also makes his case even more unlikely.
Photo: Luke Risher/PhillyEmpire