Team preview: Penn

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2011-12 season, exclusively on Insider

Updated: October 18, 2011, 10:49 AM ET
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

It's been five years since Penn last won an Ivy League title, and to Quaker fans, that must seem like an eternity. For a time, Penn won Ivy championships so routinely that it almost came as a surprise when another team finished first.

But after winning seven titles from 1999 to 2007, the Quakers no longer rule the Ivy League. Jerome Allen, a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year who helped Penn capture three conference championships, is determined to return the Quakers to their winning ways.

Last year, in Allen's first full season as head coach, Penn seemed to turn a corner, finishing in the top half of the standings for the first time in two years.

"I personally think it's all about embracing the process in terms of re-establishing a winning tradition," Allen said. "What you try to do is connect yourself with as many winning experiences as you possibly can. I think we had a lot of winning experiences last year, whether it was in terms of wins of basketball games, or just wins of halves, or winning a segment, or just playing the right way. Obviously, in terms of being Ivy League champs, we fell short of that. That's our ultimate goal. But I did think that we showed signs of becoming winners."

Penn's return to conference contender may not be as far away as some might think. Though the Quakers' overall and league record was mediocre, they lost four of the five overtime games they played, two of which were to the teams that tied for the conference championship, Harvard and Princeton. Three of the overtime losses were amid a brutal stretch of five games in eight days that included a three-game road trip.

"The fact the young men battled and gave themselves opportunities to win, it said a lot about their conditioning, both physically and mentally," Allen said. "Although we lost all three [overtime] competitions [against Harvard, Princeton and Cornell], I feel like it just showed signs of being resilient and finding a way to give yourself an opportunity to win."

Penn also played Kentucky close, leading for much of the first half, and gave Big 5 rival Villanova fits. The Quakers' capacity to be competitive with two top 25 teams as well as the league co-champions gives Allen reason to be optimistic in a very Yogi Berra way.

"We're very far away," he said, "but we're close at the same time."

PLAYERS

As it did last season, Penn will rely primarily on its perimeter players for its scoring. The Quakers boast one of the best backcourts in the league, led by two-time first-team All-Ivy guard Zack Rosen (14.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, .420 3PT). After leading the conference in scoring his sophomore year, the 6-1 senior saw his scoring average fall off by more than three points per game last season.

Part of the reason for the drop-off was because he was doing more to get his teammates involved in the offense. Rosen's 152 assists rank fourth on the school's all-time single-season list, and he is the first player in program history to record at least 100 assists in each of his first three seasons.

"He does a lot for us from the locker room to the court," Allen said. "I wish he was a much better defensive player. But having said that, you couldn't ask for a better leader among the group."

Allen believes the cornerstone of any successful team is defense, and there's no question he'd like to see all the Quakers -- not just Rosen -- improve in that area. Last season, Penn had the worst field goal percentage defense in the league (.461). The Quakers weren't necessarily a bad defensive team as much as an inconsistent one. Their reluctance to concentrate on defense on every possession cost them more than a few games.

Tyler Bernardini (12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg) is a fifth-year senior, a rarity in the Ivy League. After being voted the 2008 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, the 6-6 guard had his career derailed by injuries. He appeared to return to form last season, coming on strong late. He scored in double figures in 17 of Penn's final 19 games.

Although Bernardini led the team with 37 steals, Allen would like to see him do more defensively, particularly rebounding the ball.

"We all know that he's a tremendous shooter," Allen said. "But he has some other natural abilities. If he exhausts them this season, it will make us a better team."

Miles Cartwright (11.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.0 apg), a 6-3 sophomore guard, had an impressive debut last season. Cartwright set a school freshman record, scoring 18 points in the Quakers' season opener against Davidson. He went on to start the final 19 games of the season and average more than 37 minutes a game in conference games. He capped off his spectacular season with a dunk against rival Princeton that made ESPN SportsCenter's top plays.

"It's important for him not to rest upon that," Allen said. "He's going to be asked to have more of a leadership role this year on both ends of the floor."

After a solid sophomore year, Rob Belcore (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) was hampered by injuries and migraines last season and the Quakers missed the 6-6 swingman's versatility.

"Rob is one of our more experienced players," Allen said. "He'll be counted on a lot to do a number of things -- to defending the other team's best player, to maybe playing a little bit of the four, to sometimes being one of the primary ball handlers. He serves this group in several capacities."

When Belcore was out, Zack Gordon (1.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg), a 6-6 senior forward, stepped in admirably.

Sophomores Dau Jok (0.2 ppg, 0.2 rpg), 6-4, and 6-2 Steve Rennard (0.3 ppg, 0.3 rpg) give Penn depth at the guard spot.

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Marin Kukoc, 6-7 sophomore swingman who sat out last season with a back injury, is ready to go this year.

When it comes to post players, Allen has the option of going with injury-prone or inexperienced. Mike Howlett (3.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg), a 6-9 senior center, has shown flashes of productivity when he wasn't sidelined by either a foot injury (sophomore season) or a shoulder injury (junior season).

"He came back and played toward the end of last season and he had some games where he was really, really the difference," Allen said.

Larry Loughery (2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a 6-6 senior forward, also has had an injury-plagued career, missing all but one game last season.

If Howlett and Loughery aren't healthy, that leaves either sophomores or freshmen to man the low post for the Quakers.

Allen believes Fran Dougherty (2.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg), a 6-8 sophomore who started two games last season, benefited greatly from the minutes he played last season and should be a better player after having gained valuable experience as a freshman.

Cameron Gunter (0.7 ppg, 0.3 rpg), a 6-8 sophomore with a 6-11 wingspan, would be a matchup nightmare for opponents if he were a bit bulkier.

"It could be one or two guys stepping up. It could be a committee," Allen said of his frontcourt rotation. "At the end of the day, I have 200 minutes in my pocket. I can't give them to you, but you can go and earn them. Everyone has an opportunity, and whoever really wants it the most will obtain them."

Once again, Allen has brought in another large freshmen class: 6-8 forward Henry Brooks (Miller Grove HS/Lithonia, Ga.); 6-7 forward Greg Louis (William T. Dwyer HS/West Palm Beach, Fla.); 6-0 guard Patrick Lucas-Perry (Flint Powers Catholic HS/Flint, Mich.); 6-3 guard Camryn Crocker (Los Alamitos HS/Los Alamitos, Calif.); 6-10 forward Keelan Cairns (Barking Abbey School/London); 6-6 guard Simeon Esprit (Barking Abbey School/London).

"There are a lot of variables that go into how soon these young men develop, but I think they'll all get the opportunity to compete for minutes," Allen said.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: C+
INTANGIBLES: B

With so many young players on the roster -- two-thirds are freshmen and sophomores -- Penn appears unlikely to challenge for the league title. And yet, the Quakers could be only a couple pieces away from contending.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Allen will be blending his seniors with his underclassmen. How well the experienced and inexperienced players mesh could go a long way toward determining the success of the season.

He also must find a way to achieve more balanced scoring. Last season, Penn's opponents knew how to beat the Quakers by shutting down their guards. It will be up to the post players to make sure that strategy doesn't work this year.

And more production out of the frontcourt would help raise Penn's scoring average, which was the second worst in the Ivy League. The Quakers shot the ball well (.454); they just didn't shoot it enough (50.6 attempts per game, second fewest in the league).

Penn got better last season, but the Quakers still have a way to go before they are once again among the elite Ivy teams.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.