Five thoughts about Penn’s Big 5 opener

On Wednesday evening, Penn’s men’s hoops team played its first Big 5 game of the season, falling to Villanova, 65-53, at the Palestra. I took in the game from press row and wrote a game story for CSNPhilly.com. But I have a lot more thoughts about what turned out to be a fun night at college basketball’s most historic gym. In honor of this being a Big 5 game, here are five of them:

1)   Everyone that has seen Penn play over the last three seasons must have been pleased that the Quakers didn’t get run off the floor by a nationally ranked team, especially following last year’s 103-65 disaster vs. ’Nova. But following the game, head coach Jerome Allen equated any talk of moral victories roughly with a foot rash, saying over and over again that he expected to win. He played the part, too, by talking quietly and looking sullen throughout the postgame press conference. Whether or not Allen truly feels that way is beside the point. I’m sure, to some degree, he is excited and hopeful that his team is progressing quite nicely. But the fact that he acts that way – and transfers that win-every-game attitude to his players – is the perfect method to bring this program back to its glory days.

2)   Zack Rosen has the ability to be the best player on the floor, no matter who the opponent is. He showed that against Pittsburgh last month and again vs. Villanova on Wednesday, finishing with a team-high 20 points and five assists. That type of performance did not come as a surprise to Jay Wright, who recruited the Penn point guard. Rosen’s high school teammate, ’Nova shooting guard Corey Stokes, also wasn’t surprised, saying, “He’s always been a great basketball player and a great leader.” Of course, this is no great news flash. But I think it’s fair to say that Rosen has to be considered a frontrunner to take home Ivy League Player of the Year honors. And if he can mesh well with freshman Miles Cartwright, Penn will have a truly dynamic backcourt. Speaking of Cartwright …

3)   I got a chance to talk one-on-one with Penn’s star rookie for a feature I’m doing on him for CSN later in the week. Cartwright has already impressed me with his fearlessness on the basketball floor, but he impressed me even more with his thoughtfulness off of it. I’ve compared him before to Ibby Jaaber, but maybe it’s time to even up the ante. What if I were to say he could be the next Jerome Allen?

4)   In an interesting twist, the Quakers threw a variety of matchup zones against Villanova. Wright compared Penn’s defense to Syracuse’s famed zone, which might be a stretch. But it seemed to work well, as ’Nova was held to its lowest point total of the season. Allen, however, still expressed dismay, saying, “I can count on both hands and both of feet how many defensive mistakes we made.” And when asked about Stokes’ 34-point game, he said, “If we would have held to our principles then I don’t think he would have had a night like he had.” Again, this goes back to the idea that the coach likes to demand perfection from his players, but in reality he probably should be more worried about the team’s poor free throw shooting, carelessness with the ball, missed layups and lack of frontcourt depth.

5)   I think people need to stop making bold declarations about Penn that aren’t very bold at all. I can count on both hands and both feet all the people that have proclaimed that the Quakers can be “competitive” in the Ivy League. Of course, they can be competitive. It would be an insult to the program to think otherwise. If you dismiss last year’s 5-9 record and look only at the talent level on this team when healthy, you’d be foolish to think they can’t win the Ivies. In my opinion, if the Quakers do not finish in the top three in the conference, it will be a massive disappointment. And those kind of expectations are good. Jerome Allen wouldn’t want it any other way.

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