Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Penn’s off to a 1-5 start after a tough trip through the NIT Season Tip-Off (0-4), but the youngest team in the city has a few bright spots as well. Here’s some news and notes about the Quakers’ first few weeks of the season:
Dougherty’s Hot Start
It was expected that Fran Dougherty’s output would increase in a much-expanded role for his junior season, but he’s certainly outperforming anybody’s expectations.
After a sophomore year in which he averaged 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds as a role player for the Quakers last year, the co-captain forward is averaging 19.8 points and 9.2 rebounds through Penn’s first six games of the year.
“You know, so much emphasis has been put on just Fran, I think it’s been an overall effort by the team,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said after the Quakers’ most recent game, a loss to Lehigh on Tuesday. “Guys getting him the ball in areas where he can be effective, us having more of a conscious plan to just play from the inside out.
“Obviously you know Fran improved his skill set but I think it’s a team sport and guys have to trust him enough and be willing passers.”
What is most impressive about Dougherty’s performances thus far into the season is not just the numbers that he’s been putting up, but the way that he’s been doing it. A much more versatile scorer than he showed last season, the 6-8 Archbishop Wood graduate has shown an ability to score both around the rim and in the mid-range game, and has even added a 3-point shot to his arsenal though so far he’s just 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc.
Though Miles Cartwright (15.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) has had a decent start to the season, it looks like Dougherty could be emerging as the number-one option on this Quakers squad.
Freshman Learning Curve
Penn’s been getting an average of 59.1 minutes per game from three freshmen (Tony Hicks, Jamal Lewis and Darien Nelson-Henry) through the first six games, more than twice as many minutes as last year’s first-year players did for the Quakers. It’s been a mix of good and bad in the early goings, though that’s certainly to be expected when first transitioning to a much higher level of play.
“I think Tony had a better game today and so did Darien, they stepped it up,” Dougherty said about the Lehigh loss. “I don’t know what their problem was yesterday [in a loss to Fordham] but they came out a little bit slow and today I think they improved a lot and showed they can really play.”
After arriving in Philadelphia more than 25 pounds above his current playing weight and looking like he might need a year to get in shape, the 6-11, 250-pound Nelson-Henry had his best game so far with six points and two rebounds against Lehigh; he’s averaging 10.0 mpg.
Lewis has started the last two games at point guard, averaging 5.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.4 steals in just under 30 minutes per game. The strong-bodied guard has shown his best assets on the defensive end, where he played a big part in holding Drexel star Frantz Massenat to just nine points in the Battle for 33rd Street last Saturday.
“I think Jamal had a strong tournament,” Dougherty said regarding the NIT. “He’s been pretty good for us on defense, pressuring the ball.”
Playing six games in 11 days to kick off the season has been a little bit of a test for the youngsters, but one of their captains didn’t think it had affected the team too much.
“I think we were ready, especially the older guys, we’re used to it,” Dougherty. “Every year it seems like we have a bunch of games in the beginning of the season with no real rest. It might be a little difficult for the young guys who just aren’t used to it yet, but I think we’re in pretty good conditioning.”
One addition little test came with having just 24 hours to prepare for Lehigh, something that the freshman will have to get comfortable with over the next few seasons. Ivy League squads play all league matches on Friday/Saturdays, with either two home games or two away games each weekend.
“That’s what I tell them,” Dougherty said. “I said ‘This is what the Ivy League season is like, so we shouldn’t be surprised by playing two games in a row.’”
Interesting thoughts on Tuesday night from Lehigh coach Dr. Brett Reed, who had just one day to prepare his team to play Penn after previously focusing on Monday night’s Fairfield matchup. Reed noted some of the difficulties in preparing for a team that will play 13 different players, letting the hot hands stay on the court while rotating the rest.
“It’s actually a very difficult team to prepare for,” he said. “I give Penn a great deal of credit. They play with a great deal of energy, they play with a great deal of intensity, they’ve played a number of different players so it’s almost like a wave of different players and you don’t necessarily know who is going to play or step up to those roles.”
Though Penn had a clear size advantage over a Lehigh frontline that consists mostly of stretch-fours Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, Reed still believed his team needed to shut down the paint to win the game.
“We have quite a bit of respect for some of their (guards) and even their forwards that they can score on the interior and they have the versatility to be pretty effective,” he said. “They also spread you out with their constant movement, with four-out, especially with as many guards as they play. It can get us extended, so that was a focus, to make sure that our interior defense was at least solid.”
(Note: As it’s still early in the season, this section comes with a warning that these are small sample sizes and are subject to change. This is only a glimpse of what has happened so far, not something to project for the rest of the season. All stats from the wonderful Ken Pomeroy.)
It’s fairly easy to notice a theme running through every interview with a Penn basketball player or coach in this early season–defense.
“It’s been shown on the defensive end we’re not ready to play,” Dougherty said after the Lehigh game, “especially in the beginning of second halves. I think that’s when teams go on their runs and we’re not really able to answer.”
However, through the first six games the numbers say otherwise–while the Quakers are holding opponents to a slightly above-average .994 points per possession (158th nationally), their offensive is only scoring at a .954 ppp clip (253rd). That’s not the worst in the Ivy so far–Cornell (296th), Hale (263rd) and Dartmouth (276th) are all worse at getting the ball through the bucket–but it certainly could use some improvement.
“I just think overall we have to do a better job of valuing each possession offensively and it’s a process, but I don’t use that as a cheap crutch to stand up on,” Allen said on Tuesday in a rare moment of discussing that end of the court. “For us, I think if we limit some of our turnovers we could get more opportunities at the basket, you get more opportunities at the basket you’ll probably score the ball more. The sooner they start to understand that, then the better we’ll become.”
Allen was spot-on with the turnovers, which have been the Quakers’ biggest offensive problem to date. Penn’s coughing it up on 24.3 percent of possessions (284th nationally), their worst performance in any category of KenPom’s important “Four Factors.” However, they are forcing turnovers on 23.1 percent of opponent’s possessions, which is 100th-best out of the 344 D-I teams in the country.
Individually, only Dougherty (113.6), Cartwright (102.3) and sophomore reserve guards Patrick Lucas-Perry (108.6) and Camryn Crocker (106.8) have individual offensive ratings above the average of 100, though Lucas-Perry and Crocker have only played a 108 combined minutes so far.