Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It’s been a tough string of close losses for Penn, but they’re hoping to end their skid when Binghamton visits the Palestra on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
The Quakers have lost five games in a row, including their last three by a total of just 11 points. Binghamton, on the other hand, has won two straight under first-year head coach Tommy Dempsey following a four-game losing stretch to open the season; their wins, however, came against St. Peter’s University and D-III Marywood University.
Dempsey, who came over from Rider University in the offseason, is a 38-year-old Scranton native with a 121-109 (.526) career record in his eighth season as a D-I head coach. He inherited quite a rebuilding job from former Temple star Mark Macon; the Bearcats went 2-29 in Macon’s third and final season, losing their first 26 games of the year.
Binghamton has gotten some help from a bunch of new faces, starting with Wissahickson High grad Jordan Reed, a 6-foot-4 freshman guard. Reed leads the team through six games with a 17.8 points-per-game average as one of only two Bearcats averaging in double figures, along with senior guard Jimmy Gray (10.0 ppg).
Also contributing nicely is junior college transfer Roland Brown, a 6-8 forward who’s averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game after transferring from Gulf Coast Community College (Fla.). Brown is one of three JUCO transfers along with Brian Freeman (4.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Rayner Moquete (8.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg), who’s a pretty good 3-point shooter at 40.7 percent (11-of-27).
Senior wing Taylor Johnston has missed the last two games after suffering an ankle injury against Army; he was averaging 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.8 minutes per game, all of which were easily career highs.
Meanwhile, the Quakers are still waiting for a reliable third scoring option to emerge besides juniors Fran Dougherty (19.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Miles Cartwright (15.7 ppg, 3.3 apg). A pair of freshman guards, Tony Hicks and Jamal Lewis, are third and fourth on the team despite averaging 5.7 and 5.0 ppg, respectively. Hicks, a 6-2 Chicago native, is the most talented offensive player of the Penn rotation but his defensive lapses have limited him to just 19.5 minutes per game to begin his career.
Penn coach Jerome Allen is going to continue playing a roster that goes legitimately 13 deep, waiting for someone–if not a few people–to start emerging on both ends of the court. There are a combined eight sophomores and freshman amongst that group, and even the juniors outside of Cartwright and Dougherty had very limited game experience prior to this season.
The schedule is about to get a lot tougher for the Quakers, with Penn State, Villanova and Delaware waiting after Binghamton while Butler and La Salle loom on the horizon, so the youngsters are certainly about to find out where exactly they’re at. This is going to be an up-and-down year for Penn, and this matchup against the Bearcats might be the last chance for an “up” for a few weeks.
(Note: Sample sizes are still quite small, so take all statistics named below with a grain of salt; at numbers courtesy of college hoops statistician Ken Pomeroy.)
There’s very little that’s pretty to look at regarding Binghamton’s advanced numbers. They’re 345th overall in adjusted offensive efficiency (.851 points per possession) and 341st on defense (1.10 ppp), ranking in the bottom third in most major advanced statistical categories.
Reed, the leading scorer, has a below-average offensive rating of just 93.2 due to his only hitting 55.3 percent (21-of-38) of his free-throws so far; he’s gotten to the line twice as much as any of his teammates. On the bright side, he has been one of the top-100 rebounders in the country on both the offensive and defensive glass–again, very small sample sizes, but he is averaging 12.0 boards per game.
Penn’s biggest problem so far has been taking care of the ball; so far, they’re averaging 17 turnovers per game against just 13 assists. They turn it over on 24.3 percent of their possessions, which is 291st in the country.
Looking at the Quaker roster, only one guard who’s played more than 40 percent of available minutes has a turnover rate (percent of his usage possessions that end in turnovers) below 20 percent, and that’s Cartwright. Someone else needs to emerge as a reliable ball handler, and that option might be sophomore guard Patrick Lucas-Perry, who sports a nifty 11.3 turnover rate but has just 68 minutes on the court so far this season.