Penn guards senior Caleb Wood and junior Antonio Woods stand behind the arc during a free throw attempt during the Ivy League tournament final at The Palestra.
(Benjamin Simon/The Empire)
Avi Cantor, Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Kansas Jayhawks (27-7 overall, 13-5 conference)
Senior guard Devonte’ Graham (17.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, .403 FG%, .412 3P%, .834 FT%)
Senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (15.1 PPG, 4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, .442 FG%, .453 3P%)
Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike (13.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .774 FG%)
Redshirt sophomore guard Malik Newman (13.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, .461 FG%, .409 3P%, .812 FT%)
Junior guard Lagerald Vick (12 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, .489 FG%)
Summary of Season:
The Kansas Jayhawks competed in several early season showcases and got off to a fast start winning seven straight games to begin the season. The stretch included a defeat over #7 Kentucky during the State Farm Champions Classic in mid November. Kansas then suffered back-to-back double-digit losses to Washington and #16 Arizona State before going 9-1 in their next 10 contests, only coming up short against #18 Texas Tech. During that stretch however, the Jayhawks defeated two ranked teams (#16 TCU and #6 West Virginia). Kansas would double their loss total to six over their next six games, losing to #12 Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor. Despite those losses, the Jayhawks had a 5-1 record over a six-game span to end the season. Entering this year’s Big 12 conference tournament as the #1 seed, Kansas got revenge against Oklahoma State, who beat them twice during the regular season, by defeating them in the quarterfinals. Kansas would go on to win the Big 12 tournament, taking down Kansas State in the semifinals and then West Virginia in the finals to earn an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Penn Quakers (24-8 overall, 12-2 conference)
Sophomore guard Ryan Betley (14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, .425 FG%, .389 3P%)
Sophomore forward AJ Brodeur (13.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 BPG, .546 FG%)
Senior guard Darnell Foreman (10.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, .447 FG%)
Senior guard Caleb Wood (10.1 PPG, 2 RPG, .472 FG%, .382 3P%)
Junior guard Antonio Woods (7.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, .424 FG%)
Summary of Season:
After opening the season with two single-digit losses, one coming in double overtime against fellow Big 5 school La Salle, the Penn Quakers won five of their next six games. Throughout the 2017-18 regular season campaign Penn would go on six different win streaks with a loss sprinkled in every so often. Those rare losses did not come against average opponents, as the Quakers fell to quality competitors like #4 Villanova, Temple, and Harvard, to name a few. What really put Penn over the top was their play during the conference season. The Quakers went 12-2 in the Ivy, only losing to Harvard and Yale, who finished second and third respectively in the league. Penn ranked first in the Ivy in limiting opponents from behind the arc, only allowing them to shoot 27% from three, second in the Ivy. In the second ever Ivy League tournament, Penn defeated Yale in the semifinals, eight days after losing to them on the road. In a game that will go down in the history books, Penn beat Harvard in a tightly contested battle to clinch their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007.
What Penn will need to do to win:
The key to beating Kansas is something that the Quakers work on quite often and is constantly preached by head coach Steve Donahue. Donahue is notoriously pesky about having his team run their opponents off of the three-point line. This skill will come in handy against a Kansas team that shoots 40.3% from beyond the arc. This tactic was exposed by Washington head coach Mike Hopkins who handed the then number 2 ranked Jayhawks their first loss of the season after holding them to 25% from three. Since then, Kansas’ six other losses ended with the Jayhawks carrying a less than average three-point shooting percentage.
What Kansas will need to do to win:
Three words: Shut down Brodeur. Massachusetts native AJ Brodeur is one of the best forwards in the Ivy and is an integral part of both Penn’s offense and defense. The sophomore forward places in the top 20 in the Ivy in several categories, according to ESPN, including points per game (11th), rebounds (2nd), field goal percentage (3rd), assists (13th), steals (16th) and blocks (3rd). Shutting down a threat like Brodeur eliminates passing to perimeter shooters like Ryan Betley and Caleb Wood, puts more work on Max Rothschild, who is known to have issues with fouling, and gives point guards Darnell Foreman, Devon Goodman, and Jake Silpe less people to pass to.
Devonte’ Graham vs. Darnell Foreman and Penn’s backcourt defense
Devonte’ Graham is Kansas’ leader, a Naismith Trophy finalist and bonafide playmaker. Penn’s senior guard Darnell Foreman, along with fellow Quaker backcourt teammates, will be tasked with slowing down Graham. Graham has scored in double-digits in all but three games this season and when he’s not efficiently scoring, he is distributing the ball and creating opportunities for teammates. While Graham’s scoring is impressive, his growth from last season can be seen in his assists per game, which has increased from 4.1 to 7.5. Foreman and the Quakers’ backcourt must force the other Jayhawk players to beat them by forcing the ball out of Graham’s hands. If Penn wants to win this game, they must limit Graham’s impact on the offensive end by disrupting his timing and giving him different defensive looks, which Donahue does a strong job of doing throughout the course of games.
Malik Newman and Caleb Wood
Malik Newman’s decision to return to Kansas after entering the NBA draft has paid off this year as he has put together a solid sophomore year. Newman is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard who can score from all three levels. While opponents primarily focus on Graham and Mykhailiuk, Newman takes advantage of that by attacking open lanes and knocking down open shots. When Newman is forced off his spot or has to put the ball on the floor he flourishes with his instinct to attack the rim off of a quick first step. When given the time to spot up from deep he is as lethal as they come, as he averages about 41% from downtown. The former top 10 national recruit is someone to watch out for, especially if Penn decides to double-team Graham or focuses a lot their attention on Mykhailiuk.
Caleb Wood’s journey as a Penn Quaker can be summed up in one word: resilience. Wood was head coach Steve Donahue’s starting point guard when he first arrived last season but that did not last. Wood found himself on the bench and struggled to find consistent playing time during the later parts of his junior year. That lack of substantial playing time carried over into this season until Wood put together a string of decent performances midway through this year. Although he did not get inserted into the starting lineup, Wood’s minutes began to increase as a result of his play. In 12 of Penn’s last 15 games, Wood has scored in double-figures, shot 47% from the field and 36% from three. With Donahue coached teams being known to take a lot of threes, expect Wood to be a big part of Penn’s offensive attack against Kansas.
Despite ESPN analysts’ prediction that Penn will lose by 14 and that the Jayhawks have a 93% chance of winning the game, Penn has been exceptional at shutting down offenses (specifically three-point driven ones) and sparking their own within two or three plays. This game won’t be the blow out that many fans are expecting and the Quakers won’t go down without a fight as they look to ride their momentum into Wichita. Additionally, Kansas head coach Bill Self said that he is “optimistic [Udoka Azubuike] can get in the game tomorrow. I’m not overly optimistic he can play significant minutes, be a real positive force inside.” The 7-foot, 280-pound center would be a matchup nightmare for the Quakers, but if he is indeed limited in minutes, Donahue’s squad doesn’t match up too poorly on paper. Azubuike’s health will be a huge factor in Penn’s ability to keep up on Thursday afternoon.