After a 4-1 start, the Penn Quakers have dropped their last four games. Although they are through past the quarter point in the season, head coach Steve Donahue has yet to establish a consistent allocation of minutes in the backcourt rotation. This is largely in part due to the unpredictable play from the guards.
The best player in the Quaker’s backcourt so far has been Antonio Woods. Woods is a combo-guard who stepped into a role with more scoring responsibility following Tony Hick’s departure. In nine games, Woods has averaged 11.9 points per game, highlighted by a 22 point game against Temple, in which he shot 50% on 3-pointers and kept control of the ball with only one turnover to go along with 7 assists. Despite the potential seen in games like this, Woods has also shown inconsistency throughout this season. In the Quaker’s toughest matchup of the season against the University of Washington, Woods went 0-10 from the field en route to a 37 point loss. For the Quakers to find success this season, the key is to find a consistent scoring punch from the backcourt, especially when Antonio Woods is struggling.
Junior guard Matt Howard built upon his promising sophomore campaign and has produced a pretty solid season for the Quakers, averaging 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. His offensive rating per 100 possessions of 107.1 is the best among all Quaker guards. The biggest knock on Howard this season has been his 3-point and free throw shooting of 26% and 56% respectively. Despite his low percentages, Howard has rightfully not lost confidence in his shot and is getting up an average of 3.8 3-point attempts per game. Even with the streaky start, Howard’s percentages last season of 32% on 3-pointers and 69% from the free throw line suggests that as this season progresses and he becomes more comfortable with Coach Donahue’s first-year offense, his 3-point and free throw percentages should improve.
Losing Tony Hicks set up highly touted freshman Jake Slipe to begin his collegiate career as one of Penn’s starting guards. To this point, the freshmen has not played up to expectations. Specifically, the Cherry Hill native has struggled with his shooting, successful on only 25% of his field goals, 11% of his 3-point shots, and 63% on his free throws. However, Slipe may be experiencing the natural adjustment period that comes with the high school to college transition. This is evident with his team-leading 2.6 personal fouls per game.
At this point in Jake Slipe’s career, he might be best served as the first guard off the bench until he develops enough defensively to guard his opponents without getting himself into foul trouble. This season, the Quakers as a team have struggled to force many turnovers by their opponents (10.1 opponent turnovers per game) and the freshman shares these struggles with his teammates. He has managed .7 steals per game and is yet to record a block. Slipe has the potential to become a better defender than we have seen. When it comes to measuring a player’s individual defense, an important factor is the player’s willingness to be aggressive and communicate. His foul trouble, if anything, shows that he is committed to aggressive defense. Slipe needs to use this aggressiveness to force more opponent turnovers. He also has pretty good size for a freshman at 6-2 and 185 lbs. As he hits the works on his quickness and footwork with the Penn coaching staff, Slipe will no doubt improve as a one on one defender.
With Slipe still adjusting, coach Donahue has given extended minutes to Jamal Lewis, Jackson Donahue, and Darnell Foreman. After struggling to get on the floor consistently in the first 4 games, senior guard Jamal Lewis has played at least 14 minutes in each of his last 5 games.
Against Temple, freshman guard Jackson Donahue played a season/career high of 18 minutes and got all 12 of his points from 3 pointers by connecting on 4-8 from downtown. Jackson Donahue has the shooting range to complement Jamal Lewis’s offensive awareness and defensive experience. The two of them are a nice tandem of talents that Coach Donahue should continue to experiment with giving more minutes.
Slipe has not been alone in his struggles this season. Penn had to be expecting a boost in offensive production from Darnell Foreman. To this point, Foreman has failed to breach double-digits in his scoring output. During the Quakers’ current four-game losing streak, Foreman has shot 22% from the field, no doubt an underwhelming number. However, Foreman has shot very well (83%) from the free throw line. He should look to continue to attack the basket off the dribble for points from the charity stripe. Getting more opportunities at the free throw line will help Foreman get out of his shooting slump by forcing his opponents to play less obstructive defense against him. It is no secret that Foreman earns his bread on the defensive side of the court. If he can become more offensively efficient, Coach Donahue should increase his minutes on the floor.
The Quakers have 10 days off in between their last game against Temple and their next game against Ursinus on December 19th. During this break in action, coach Donahue needs to re-establish confidence in his struggling backcourt. With just four matches left before Ivy-league conference play begins for Penn, the time is now for Coach Donahue to lay the frameworks of success for the rest of the season.
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament