After losing their first six games to begin Ivy League conference play, the Penn Quakers have begun to salvage this season by going on a four-game win streak, beating the likes of Columbia, Cornell, Brown, and Yale. All of the sudden, the Quaker’s season has been revived and they have something to fight for down the home stretch of the schedule.
At this point, the Quakers’ goal has to be playing in the Ivy League’s new inaugural conference tournament. Held at The Palestra, for Penn to stay home and make the postseason tournament, they need to place in the top 4 of the conference standings. While Princeton is the cream of the crop, holding a perfect 10-0 record, and Harvard and Yale are a step behind at 8-2 and 6-4 respectively, the fourth seed is now ripe for the Quakers’ taking thanks to their play during the past two weeks.
The Quakers have put themselves in the position to seize a tournament bid thanks the solidified eight man rotation, more effective ball movement, and the play of freshman wing Ryan Betley.
Coach Steve Donahue has experimented with ten different starting lineups this season. However, the last four games, Coach Donahue has used the same starting five in Foreman, Donahue, Howard, Betley, and Brodeur. With Goodman mixing in with the guards off the bench, Sam Jones rotating in with the wings, and Rothschild spelling Brodeur, gives Penn an eight-man rotation that is balanced from top to bottom and suited for their 4 out 1 in attack.
While some players, like Ryan Betley, have benefitted from the coach Donahue’s most recent lineup, players that began the season as starters, like Caleb Wood and Matt MacDonald, have seen their minutes drop to zero.
When asked about whether the fluctuating minutes have hurt his play, Devon Goodman told the Daily Pennsylvanian, “I think that coach has been trying to find a core group of guys that can contribute to the team and find that right lineup.”
In their halfcourt motion offense, effective ball movement is critical to the Quakers’ production. During their four game winning streak, Penn has amassed an assist-to-turnover ratio of 75/62 or 1.21%. During conference play, the Quakers assist-to-turnover ratio has been 135-142 or .95%. As you can see, over the past four games, Penn has clearly improved their passing and ball movement in the offense, which has to do with their recent success.
When Penn is running it’s sets cleanly and getting good side-to-side ball movement, it is a tough offense to stop. This was highlighted in Penn’s trouncing of Brown when they scored 96 points, a season high for the Quakers.
Brown had absolutely no answers to Penn’s offensive attack. But, the Quakers’ success did not come from where it may have been expected.
Motion offenses are often expected to produce high-quality three point shots. Smaller teams like Penn are expected even more to live and die by the three point shot. But in the Brown game, it was not the three point shot that buried the Bears, rather, the shots from two. Sure, the Quakers did shoot effectively from long range against Brown, 14-29 (48%), but most of the damage from long range was done by two players, Jackson Donahue and Ryan Betley, who combined for 12-21 on three point shots, while the rest of the team shot 2-8. However, from inside the three point arc, the Quakers team combined to shoot 20-30 (66%). This high 2-point shooting percentage is reflective of how well they moved the ball around in the offense. Many of the Quakers’ baskets in the half court came off of timely backdoor cuts that got behind the defense and created a wide open layup. With Ryan Betley’s four assists, Darnell Foreman's five assists, and AJ Brodeur’s five assists, the Quakers displayed exactly how potent motion offenses can be when there are multiple players on the floor that are good passers.
Ryan Betley has been another key. After not playing in the Quaker’s first nine games, the freshman swingman has improved his play to the point where he is an important cog in Penn’s offense. Betley was given a career-high 30 minutes in Penn’s game against Cornell, and he rewarded the coach with a career performance with 22 points and 8 rebounds. On Friday night, Betley was again given 30 minutes of playing time, and again he responded by scoring a career-high 28 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. On Sunday, Betley continued his effective shooting, going 5-9 from the field and dishing out 3 assists in 34 minutes played.
If Betley can continue to prove coach Donahue right in giving him minutes and a starting role, Betley will develop into a multi-faceted offensive weapon that can be played at multiple positions. This will give opponents matchup problems for the next four years with his height, perimeter shooting, slashing, and passing skills.
Now that the Quakers have begun to turn their season around, it will be interesting to see how well they respond to all of this acquired momentum. Certainly, after winning on the road, against the third-best team in the conference (Yale), Penn will no longer catch opponents off guard. The rest of the Ivy league now has plenty of tape showing Penn playing at its best, and it is a certainty that opponents will be giving the Quakers all sorts of different looks, both offensively and defensively, to expose the Quakers’ weaknesses. But for now, the Penn program and fans should be glad to see that the Quakers have been establishing a blueprint for winning, centered around their solidified eight-man rotation, the emerging stud in Ryan Betley, and their more productive and efficient ball movement.
Photo: Zach Sheldon/The Daily Pennsylvanian