Penn guard Ryan Betley attempts a shot against Brown guard Brandon Anderson.
Will Snow/The Daily Pennsylvanian
Benjamin Simon & Avi Cantor
The Empire will be running a series titled “Q and A,” where writers will provide in-depth answers to a couple of burning and/or interesting questions surrounding a specific City 6 team.
Where is AJ Brodeur?
Many Penn fans have worried about the role and presence of star forward A.J. Brodeur this season. The big man has averaged 10.8 points per game, down from 13.8 points per game last year, and has compiled only one 20-point scoring game in his first 12 games. On top of that, Brodeur is averaging only 1.2 blocks per game, a significant decrease from 2.4 the year before. It may also be concerning that Brodeur has fired only 100 field goals (8.3 per game) all season, third on the team. Brodeur, as the team’s best player, should ideally be shooting more than that. But the reality is, there’s nothing to worry about.
Brodeur has transitioned more to the ‘4’ this season. In his new role, Brodeur has been getting less looks. While this is concerning, it’s all part of the transition. After an offseason away, he has added new parts to his game, developing a 3-point shot (1.4 3-point shot attempts per game). Even though he hasn’t shot particularly well (23.5%), head coach Steve Donahue and Brodeur himself have shown confidence in letting that part of his game develop.
If Brodeur begins to find his 3-point shot, that added dimension of his game will fit nicely into Donahue’s system, regardless of how many points he averages.
Additionally, Brodeur has still shot 53.6% from the field and 59% from 2-point range, showing that he is taking high percentage shots and converting. That’s all Penn needs out of Brodeur-- not to force shots and make the ones around the rim. On the defensive end, although his lower number of blocks may be worrying, his new role at the ‘4’ has forced him out of the paint more. In turn, he has had less shot blocking opportunities, but still holds the highest defensive box-plus minus (3.5) in the Ivy League.
Furthermore, Brodeur’s game cannot be represented by statistics. Teams are more weary of Brodeur, who has attracted double teams and aggressive fronting. Opposing teams’ attention paid to Brodeur has opened up options for others as well. Guards Ryan Betley and Darnell Foreman have taken advantage of that, both averaging a career high in points. Coach Donahue has also shown over the years that he values his bigs’ ability to pass the ball. Brodeur has done just that, moving the ball when the shot isn’t there, averaging 2.7 assists per game, tied for second on the team. With so many offensive weapons, his willingness to pass the ball has opened up opportunities for everyone else on the floor. He’s very much still an integral part of the offense, just in a different way than had been expected of him coming into the year.
How is the bench shaping out heading into conference play?
Prior to the season, Penn’s team was touted as one of its most deep in recent years. A little more than two months into the season, the bench is beginning to shape itself out. Senior Caleb Wood has been the x-factor and spark plug. The guard is sixth on the team in scoring (8.1 points per game) and second in 3-point makes (23) despite only playing 15.5 minutes per game. Wood has spelled both Wood, Foreman, and Betley, playing primarily off the ball where he has thrived as a scorer. Wood's scoring punch is much needed when the starting guards need a breather. More minutes should also be thrown his ways as the most efficient 3-point shooter in the Quakers' rotation.
Freshman Eddie Scott and junior Jackson Donahue have rotated in at the wing spots as well. While Scott erupted against Monmouth for 21 points and 13 rebounds on 8-8 from the field in 36 minutes, he has yet to score above 6 points or play more than 12 minutes in any of his other games. Scott has been up and down, sometimes struggling to establish himself in the offense despite his clear talent. However, in the last two games, while it has not been confirmed, Scott has seemingly been sidelined with an apparent wrist injury after wearing a brace for the past few weeks. The long break will definitely be helpful for the freshman's injury.
Meanwhile, Jackson Donahue has been asked to do the same job he was asked to do last year: compete, shoot lots of threes, and play defense. Donahue has done just that, but he could see more minutes in the future if he can shoot at a higher clip than 33%. Sam Jones has also seen his minutes increase, averaging 10 minutes and 9 points over the last three games. Jones played a big role in a road win against Dayton where he scored 15 points, proving that he can be the knockdown 3-point shooter off the bench that the coaches need. While Devon Goodman hasn’t played in 2 of the last 3 games, he saw minutes early in the season and could see them if one of the point guards needs a spell. These guys are the primary players in Donahue's system who should see minutes as the year progresses.
Has Ryan Betley developed into a legitimate number one scoring option?
One player who hasn’t wavered in his performance at all throughout the season has been sophomore guard Ryan Betley. After missing the first nine games of his freshman year, Betley showed an incredible amount of potential both last year and this year. He currently places third in total 3-point field goals in the Ivy League. He also is managing to place ninth in points per game and ninth in turnover percentage. As a result, Betley has become the most consistent scorer on the team. The 6-foot-5 guard has narrowly missed scoring double digit points in only two games (one being against Penn State-Brandywine, where he played only 15 minutes).
Betley has quickly shown that he has a special ability to score. However, while he is often touted as a pure shooter, the guard has shown that when he is hot, he can also put the ball on the floor, create for himself, and score in the lane. Going into the season, most would not have envisioned the well-rounded offensive arsenal that Betley is continuing to build off of.
In addition, Betley has proved that he can do it under pressure. He collected his first double digit scoring game of his freshman year against Princeton, the top team in the Ivy League and Penn’s archrival. In the semifinal of the Ivy League Tournament, once again versus Princeton, Betley took over the game, dropping 18 points and 12 boards enroute to a close loss.
This season, Betley has shown up in pressure filled situations as well. In a Herculean manner, the sophomore played over 40 minutes twice and wasn’t fazed either time. Betley scored 14 points in a game against La Salle where he played 46 minutes and, against Monmouth, he scored 26 points in 55 minutes of play. Betley has shown that he is a real number one scoring option, especially in the 3-point heavy offense that Donahue prefers to run.
What has freshman Jarrod Simmons shown so far in his time at Penn?
Even though he has appeared in just ten games (two of which were for 10 or more minutes) freshman forward Jarrod Simmons has shown that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. When given more playing time, Simmons has turned some heads. Against Howard, Simmons scored a modest 9 points, but snatched up 8 boards, 3 steals, and 1 block in just 14 minutes of play. Against Penn State-Brandywine, albeit a Division 3 school, the 6-foot-8 forward compiled a commanding 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal in just 10 minutes of play.
Coach Donahue raved about Simmons ability to play following the Penn State-Brandywine game, citing that he has the potential to be a great player in the future given more experience. “I think Jarrod’s got a chance to be a great player. One, he can really shoot. He’s got a really good feel for the game. As he gets stronger and more confident, I think he’s gonna be a handful.”
Although he hasn’t received many minutes on a deep Penn team, the big man has showed that he will play hard and with energy when given the time. As the year progresses Simmons may see minutes if people are in foul trouble, and if he does, his ability to score (3.4 offensive box plus-minus, third on the team of players averaging regular minutes) and attack the boards (15.3% rebounding percentage, first on the team of players averaging regular minutes) will continue to show signs of a bright future.
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament