Mano-a-Mano: Repeat for Penn Women’s Lacrosse?

Mano-A-ManoPenn women’s lacrosse currently stands undefeated in the Ivy League with three conference games remaining. We have former senior sports editor Megan Soisson and associate sports editor John Phillips here to debate whether Penn wins the Ivy Crown this season.
Megan Soisson: I really can’t see a situation where the women’s lacrosse team doesn’t win the Ivy League. Six years of championships teaches you how to get it done.
Of course, it also puts an enormous target on your back, but I think the Quakers can handle it.
They’re undefeated so far in Ivy play and definitely hitting their stride. It won’t be easy to beat Dartmouth and Princeton, and then Brown will put up a fight in an attempt to play spoiler.
But Karin Brower Corbett is easily one of the best coaches at Penn and she knows how to win. No doubt Penn at least gets a share of the Ivy title. Winning the Ivy League tournament, however, is a different story.
John Phillips: I agree wholeheartedly about the Ivy League tournament, as we’ve seen in recent years, but I wouldn’t be so quick to write it off that they’ll take home the Ancient Eight crown outright.
The Quakers have proven vulnerable so far this season, needing to go to overtime against opponents that, in years past, Penn would have rolled.
But this isn’t one of those teams. This team is more vulnerable than any other from the last six years, and will lose at least one of its next three Ivy games.
MS: I agree this is a vulnerable team. But in conversations I’ve had with Corbett, two things have stuck out:
1) The team prides itself on being gritty and fighting and never giving up. We saw it in wins against Vanderbilt and Cornell. Though in both of those games Penn relinquished big second-half lead, the Quakers found a way to win. Which brings me to my next point…
2) Corbett’s had to instill a new attitude in her team. The current players had never lost to Drexel before this season, and they certainly had never started out 0-3.
That’s cause for a change in attitude, especially in practice. Corbett said she was considering punishment for sloppy play at practice — likely increased sprints — and since then, they’ve been better.
And John, they went to overtime against Vanderbilt, a solid non-league team, and Cornell, who was ranked No. 10 at the time. I don’t think you could say they would have steamrolled those same teams.
JP: I agree that this is a gritty team, and everything that I’ve heard makes me root that their grit wins out. But being gritty is just another way of saying that they can’t play a complete game.
Penn should have put those Cornell and Vanderbilt games away early. They said so themselves after those games. And the reason they haven’t closed is because they don’t have that one player who can put a team on her back.
MS: That’s fair, John — they don’t have one player who can put the team on her back. Erin Brennan was the go-to last year, but they’ve had plenty of time to figure things out without her.
And Lucy Ferguson is a force in the cage who’s been really coming into her own as a leader on defense. I think the Quakers are beginning to peak right now and I believe they’ll do what they need to do in order to win another championship, even if it’s shared.
JP: They’ve had plenty of time to figure things out, and yet there is still no consistency in their offense. What happens when they’re down late in a close game? Who gets the ball then?
Verdict: You’re the head honcho until someone takes the title away from you and Penn women’s lax has ruled over the Ivy League for a long time. This one goes to Megan.

Mano-a-Mano: An Empire State of Mind for Penn

ManoAMano11-1In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, Associate Sports Editor John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor Mike Tony debate whether we can expect Penn to sweep this upcoming Ivy weekend against Columbia and Cornell.

John Phillips: I think the odds are in Penn’s favor, with Cornell being the bigger question mark of the two games.

This is a young squad, and the mistakes down the stretch that they made against Cornell the first time around — like not even being able to inbound the ball with the game on the line — won’t happen again Friday night. Penn knows that it can hang tough with the Big Red, and that confidence goes a long way in determining which version of the Quakers appear on a nightly basis.

Cornell is playing well right now, but there is the revenge factor that can’t be overlooked. Penn let one slip out of their grasps at the Palestra a few weeks ago, and now the Quakers have a chance to make up for it.

Mike Tony: The odds can’t be in favor of a team with this lack of experience in Ivy roadtripping. The Quakers never got things going against Harvard and needed 20 minutes to wake up at Dartmouth, scoring just 18 points in the first half at Leede Arena.
The Big Red gave Harvard everything it could handle a couple of weeks back with an efficient frontcourt. Will Cam Gunter and Henry Brooks be as efficient against Errick Peck and Shonn Miller?

If Penn couldn’t handle Cornell at home with the momentum of upsetting Columbia at the Palestra on its side, why should we believe it can pull off a sweep of both teams now?

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Mano-a-Mano: Will women’s hoops stay in the Ivy hunt this weekend?

ManoAMano11-1In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, Associate Sports Editor Steven Tydings and Sports Editor Ian Wenik discuss whether Penn women’s basketball can stay in the Ivy League title race this weekend by defeating Dartmouth and Harvard.

Steven Tydings: Whether you focus on their strong defensive numbers or their impressive 3-2 start to Ivy League play, you can’t help but see that Penn women’s basketball has improved significantly this year.

That being said, this weekend is going to be extremely tough on them. Two of the teams ahead of them in the standings, Harvard and Dartmouth, come into the Palestra and each come in having won at least five of their last six games.

So I struggle to see how Penn can take both games.

Ian Wenik: I actually think that the Quakers have a great shot at sweeping both games this weekend, but the formula for victory must begin with the interior size of junior forward Courtney Wilson.

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Mano-a-Mano: A Tale of Two Games

ManoAMano11-1In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, Associate Sports Editor John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor Mike Tony debate which weekend game showed us where the Penn men’s basketball team is really at: Columbia or Cornell.

John Phillips: The Quakers are not going to win the Ivy League this year. Let’s not fool ourselves. But this isn’t a team I would want to run into if I were Princeton or Harvard.

And that’s because the Friday night edition of the Red and Blue was a better representation of how they’ve been playing on the whole rather than the squad that appeared (and failed to at key moments) on Saturday.

The Quakers’ youth has started to blossom. Darien Nelson-Henry has proven to be a huge offensive asset for the Quakers, while coach Jerome Allen has finally figured out the amount of playing time that Jamal Lewis and Tony Hicks each should receive.

Meanwhile, Miles Cartwright is finally learning when to score and when to distribute, a clear sign of leadership. And perhaps most important of all, the team is getting stronger despite the absence of Fran Dougherty from the lineup.

Mike Tony: But it’s hard to say the Quakers are happily evolving into a new squad when we saw the same old team collapse Saturday night against Cornell.

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Mano-a-Mano: Who should be steering the ship for Penn basketball?

ManoAMano11-1In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, basketball writer John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor-elect Mike Tony debate who should take the reins at point guard for the Quakers.

John Phillips: I think that, as long as this team still wishes to compete in the Ivy League this season, Miles Cartwright should be the team’s point guard. In coach Allen’s mind, it seems as though the main choice is between Cartwright and Jamal Lewis, and Cartwright needs to be given the chance to be the leader that this team so severely needs.
He’s not a true point guard, no, but he does know the other Ivy teams better than any freshman (obviously), and so he gives the team the best shot. I’d spell him with Crocker, who has shown an ability to be a good point guard, but lacks the other attributes needed to be a consistent player.

Mike Tony: Why not try Tony Hicks at the point? Hicks is averaging 2.14 turnovers per game to Cartwright’s 3.36, and Hicks’ ballhandling has looked better as of late. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was right when he complimented his ability to drive left after the Quakers’ loss to the Tigers.

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Mano-a-Mano: Which Quakers can be clutch?

ManoAMano11-1In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, basketball writer John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor-elect Mike Tony debate who should have stepped up with the game on the line on Tuesday night against Lafayette.

John Phillips: This is a new year for Penn basketball. Zack Rosen isn’t coming in to take that last shot, to be the clutch player that the team needs. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about seniority, and more importantly, about closing experience.

Miles Cartwright is the leader of this team. The only other player an argument could be made for is Fran Dougherty, who wasn’t on the floor Tuesday night. Cartwright has been in tough games throughout his career, especially during last year’s Ivy League run, when every game was a must-win. He watched Rosen, and more importantly, he learned from him.

And while Penn coach Jerome Allen said last night that Tony Hicks made the right call by dishing the rock to a wide open Steve Rennard, if Cartwright drove that hard to the hole, he would have finished the job himself.

Mike Tony: Unfortunately, though, Cartwright’s experience in closing games this season hasn’t been acceptable. He literally fumbled a game-winning opportunity against Drexel and has only led the Quakers in scoring in five out of 14 games this season.

You dance with who brung you, and in this case, Allen was right to ride the lineup that brought Penn back from the dead against Lafayette. You say he would have finished the job if he had drove hard to the hole, but where has that killer instinct been? Not at Wagner, where he froze up in the closing seconds and had to heave up a desperation trey at the end of regulation that had no chance.

You’re right, this is a new year for Penn basketball. So for a team that can’t buy a win, you reward those who are at least getting you close to one. Against Lafayette, that was Darien Nelson-Henry and Dau Jok, not Cartwright.

JP: After the team’s loss to La Salle, it became clear (or clearer) that this team needs a player to step up, take care of the ball and make players better.

During the first half against Lafayette, that was Cartwright. He was attacking the hole with the veracity that he lacked early in the season. Sure, Nelson-Henry’s ability to run the pick and roll effectively can’t be denied, but it takes two to tango, and Cartwright was handling the Leopards in the same fashion that Tony Johnson was picking apart the Quakers on the other side of the floor.

If it had just been on gamewinning opportunity, then allowing Hicks to have that last chance is okay. But when you have two possessions under 35 seconds remaining and Hicks has already failed to convert the first, you have to consider giving the ball to Cartwright, who has clearly learned from his previous mistakes.

MT: This offense needs to be more aggressive, so it’s great that role players like Nelson-Henry and Hicks stepped up to take a combined 19 shots from the field, and most importantly, make 11 of them.

When your go-to guy only shoots six times from the field, someone else needs to pick it up, and that tandem did. Why go to the same player that has let you down multiple times this season with the game on the line when there are other hot hands to go to?

JP: Nelson-Henry cooled off as time went on, and though Hicks shot the ball well (who didn’t?), his decision-making instinct hasn’t been honed. Choosing to pass to Rennard, who was one of only three players who shot under 50 percent for the game, was not the right choice if, as you say, the offense needs to be more aggressive. Cartwright showed he knew when to attack and when to defer last night.

MT: Rennard was wide open in that situation; it’s hard to fault Hicks there for finding the open guy. Just go with what’s working when nothing else is. At that point, it was Hicks, Nelson-Henry, Jok and Louis who were working. Cartwright will have more opportunities to shine in late-game situations, but the future is now. It’s time to embrace it.

Verdict? Mike wins this one. The Quakers came into 2012-13 eager to embrace a new identity as an ensemble rather than the Zack Rosen Show. And it’s only as an ensemble that Penn will start winning games again.


Mano-a-Mano: Is it Greg Louis’ time?

In this installment of Mano-a-Mano, men's hoops beat writer John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor-elect Mike Tony debate whether it's time for sophomore forward Greg Louis  to crack the starting lineup after his 19-point, 11-rebound performance at Delaware.                                                     
John Phillips: The best argument for why Louis should start is the same argument against sophomore forward Henry Brooks. Both guys are talented, and Brooks does have experience at the collegiate level. Yet, a lot of the same mistakes that he made in his freshman year continue to pop up. He gets in foul trouble far too early during contests, putting coach Allen in a bind before the first half even ends. In addition, when he's on the floor, he doesn't put up the points that the Quakers need from the center position.
 While Brooks' biggest attribute is his defensive prowess, Louis is no slouch on the defensive end, and also has bigger upside offensively. Surely, he needs to take less shots from downtown and more midrange jumpers, but he showed the ability to attack the basket against Delaware, putting in a performance that, had Miles Cartwright been on the floor, would have given the Quakers three threats offensively, something this team desperately needs.
                                                                                                                                                       Mike Tony: You're definitely right about Brooks' foul woes. It's outrageous how quickly he accumulates fouls, averaging just 15.1 minutes per game directly because of his 3.56 fouls per game average. Continue reading

Mano-A-Mano: Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

In this week’s Mano-A-Mano, football writer John Phillips and Associate Sports Editor Mike Tony debate the state of the Quakers’ offense.

John Phillips: It’s one thing to have an off week, where a team comes out flat in the first half. But as Billy Ragone said after the game on Saturday, the team hasn’t put together a full game, two solid halves, yet.

A comeback is great, but really, they were two yards away from losing a game on Saturday that — if this team hopes to compete with Harvard and Cornell — they should have dominated. Slow starts are less of a worry than an inability to play a cohesive, clean 60 minutes, which is what this team has shown.

Mike Tony: It’s true that Penn’s offense has yet to play a complete game, but I’ll take at least one guaranteed interval of dominance when it counts against a solid (not to mention scholarship) William & Mary defense and a Columbia ‘D’ that came in ranked No. 7 in the FCS in sacks per game.

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Mano-A-Mano: Splitting up the carries

Last week we discussed which part of Penn’s offense should be the focus (see story), and after Saturday’s game, football columnist Karl Bagherzadeh said the Quakers should go with the run game. In this week’s Mano-A-Mano, football writer John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor Megan Soisson debate how Penn’s backs should be used.

John Phillips: The Quakers have a ton of RBs, and if they plan to run the ball every game as often as they did against Dartmouth, that’s not a bad thing at all. But the distribution of the carries seems off to me. Jeff Jack had the brunt of the carries for the Quakers — including 18 on Saturday — but wasn’t productive, averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt.

Why not let Lyle Marsh or Spencer Kulcsar, backs who have proven to possess big play potential, get more carries and see if they can jump start the ground game?

Megan Soisson: I’m honestly not sure if I can even attempt to explain half the personnel decisions Al Bagnoli and his staff makes, but heck, I’ll give it a go.  Continue reading

Mano-A-Mano: Pass vs. Run

This week, we’re breaking from Mano-A-Mano tradition and having a Womano-A-Womano.

So far this season, it’s clear the Quakers rely more on their passing game than their running game. But should that be the case? Senior Sports Editor Megan Soisson and football beat writer Anna Strong break down the Penn offense and debate which unit is serving the Red and Blue better.

Anna Strong: Of the 723 yards of total offense the Quakers have through the first two games of the season, 486 of them — roughly 67 percent — have come from passing. Penn completes 63 percent of its attempts and averages 10.3 yards per catch.

Averaging a first down per reception is a good sign, and the fact that 27 of Penn’s 39 first downs came from passes shows that Ragone and Holland are capable of making those crucial plays.

Megan Soisson: That first down stat is padded because Penn chooses to pass the ball 57 percent of the time, though most of that came in the first week. And Penn can’t find a happy medium through the air — it’s either seven interceptions or 142 yards. Neither is impressive. Continue reading