Turn Back the Clock: March 17, 2006

After clinching a second consecutive Ivy League championship, the Penn men's basketball falls just short of upsetting No. 2 seed Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

March 17, 2006

Appearing in the Big Dance for the ninth time in 14 years, the Quakers went head-to-head with the Texas Longhorns, one of the top teams in the nation.

Led by Ivy League Player of the Year Ibby Jaaber, the Red and Blue gave the Longhorns a run for their money before ultimately falling short, 60-52.

Penn led 23-22 at halftime, due in large part to coach Fran Dunphy's savvy gameplan.

While the Longhorns' lineup featured several future NBA players, including LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson, the Quakers used a controlled pace early to slow down the game.

Dunphy's gameplan effectively tried to eliminate the talent gap between the two teams, and allowed the Quakers to dictate the style of play.

And for the first 20 minutes, Penn controlled the game, limiting the Longhorns ability to score on fast-break opportunities, or in transition.

Although the Longhorns eventually took the lead midway through the second half, the Quakers remained competitive throughout.

Brian Grandieri's layup cut Texas' lead to one with 6:28 to play, and after the Longhorns missed a shot on the other end, the Red and Blue called timeout.

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Annual alumni game ends in tie

In a shockingly close finish on Saturday afternoon, the Penn alumni game ended in a tie, 67-67

The Red and Blue teams were tied at 65 in the final minute when Tim Krug (C' 96) made a shot to put the Blue team up two. The Red team quickly responded with a two of their own from Brian Grandieri (C' 08).

So with the game tied in the final seconds, Krug drew a foul and went to the line for two free throws. Unfortunately, he succumbed to pressure, missing both free throws, including an air ball on his first attempt. He made up for it on defense with a steal to preserve the tie.

“Historically, I’ve been a poor free throw shooter,” Krug said. “Being out of shape and at the foul line at the end of the game, being a bad free throw shooter, isn’t the best place to be.”

The Blue team (0-0-1) led for much of the contest thanks to some strong jump shooting early from multiple players, including Joe Gill (C' 08), who hit two early three pointers.

With the team behind early, the Red team (0-0-1) resorted to the worst of basketball’s vices: cherry-picking. Penn coach Jerome Allen and Stan Greene (C' 78) failed to get back on defense in order to get the glory of an easy layup on the other end.

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Top plays from La Salle’s win; Quakers head north

I planned on taking it easy on my live blog of the Hawks-Explorers game, maybe updating five times per half, but that plan went downhill fast. It was, legitimately, the most entertaining game I've seen all year, although all ESPN seems to show is the Big East, so that doesn't say too much. You can look at the box score, but here are a few things you might not have noticed.

I will never stop liking St. Joe's fans, but two of their roll-outs, while funny, were completely incorrect.

  • “Keep Exploring the bottom of the A-10.” - the Explorers may have played the easiest imaginable non-conference schedule (two of their wins came against 1-9 St. Bonaventure and one versus 3-8 George Washington), but still they are 5-5 in the Atlantic 10. An even record in the nation's 8th-best conference according to the RPI. So while that sign is great, the Explorers are proving it wrong.
  • “St. Joe’s salutes La Salle fans (both of them).” Again, these two signs are funnier than the Red and Blue Crew's entire season besides the Drexel game. But the La Salle fans were loud, and down the stretch louder than the St. Joe's contingent. True, there weren't a whole lot, but they were just as plentiful as the Villanova fans in the Holy War, and 10-times as ruckus.

Now, here's my top 5 plays of the game. As Chris Rock used to say as "Nat X" on Saturday Night Live would say, why only five? Because the Inquirer could get a top 10, but I work for a college newspaper and the man would let me get half of that. Okay, really I only have five good ones. (And I refuse to pull a SportsCenter and make "La Salle three-point shooting" one of the top plays.)

First, a couple honorable mention:
- St. Joe's Ahmad Nivins throwing Jerrell Williams to the ground to make way for a wide open dunk on his team's first possession. Oh how that was not indicative at all of what happened the rest of the way...
- La Salle's Rodney Green blocking 6-foot-10 Pat Calathes from behind and going the other way. He got fouled, but didn't make the layup, costing him a spot.

5. A Hawks fan in the Qdoba shootout won free burritos for a month, doing basically nothing. I what I believe was 35 seconds, he hit a layup, an elbow shot, an elbow shot from the other side and another layup. That's pretty hard to screw up. In the Penn equivalent you must hit a layup, free throw, three-pointer and a half-court shot for the same prize. Even without the half-court shot the Penn contest is much harder.

4. On a drive in the first half, Calathes took it down the heart of the lane, and while getting his jersey pulled (by I believe Paul Johnson) he threw down a nasty dunk over the La Salle junior. After the play he slapped the ball into the crowd and received a harsh warning from an official (though he didn't receive a technical).

3. With his team up by one with under 30 seconds to go, Kimmani Barrett got the ball in the post, was double-teamed, but somehow flipped the ball over the big men for the eventual game-winning basket.

2. Eight-minutes in, Williams went up for a monster dunk, taking off from outside of the lane on the right side, and Nivins absolutely rejected him. The 6-9 big man got his entire palm on the ball just before the height of its path, and threw it down. Needless to say, the Hawks fans went berserk.

1. With just over a minute to go and the game tied at 86, Yves Mekongo Mbala missed only his second shot of the night, but Green, a 6-5 guard came flying down the lane for a thunderous dunk to take a two-point lead. It was probably the loudest a La Salle crowd got since Donnie Carr. No Fran Dunphy. No Bill Raftery.

I don't have much to say today about Penn basketball, but that Remy Cofield still isn't practicing with his foot injury. Glen Miller wouldn't say what it was, how long he's out for, or whether or not he'll play against Harvard and Dartmouth. He's "day-to-day." If the injury isn't "out for the year", chances are it's "day-to-day."

Getting through the seven-hour bus trip to Dartmouth can be rough, and Brian Grandieri will spend his time watching Lost. That show could even make the Hanover, N.H., trip seem quick. It'd take a bus ride to Japan and back to watch all the episodes of that show.

Quick postgame notes

  • Tonight's game marked the first time in Brian Grandieri's career that Penn lost an Ivy League contest at the Palestra.
  • As a team, the Quakers shot 9-17 from downtown, hitting three more triples than the Bears. The difference was the play inside. Despite Brown's smaller size, the Bears etched out 30 points in the paint (compared to Penn's 24) thanks to a number of smooth backdoor cuts. More importantly, the Bears got to the free throw line 26 times -- Penn was 2 of 6 from the charity stripe. Brown's 61.5% clip wasn't impressive, but it was good enough.
  • Grandieri overcame his recent shooting woes tonight, going 9-15 from the field and 2-4 from beyond the arc. He was the Quakers' only reliable option in the second half -- especially with Kevin Egee on the bench in foul trouble -- and hit a number of clutch shots down the stretch.
  • Cameron Lewis did not see any action tonight, and though Remy Cofield did see 12 minutes, he left the Palestra wearing a Tom Brady-like protective boot.

Tomorrow's game against Yale has been moved up to 6 pm. If you can't make it to the Palestra, ESPN Classic will be televising the game. Stay tuned to The Buzz for more coverage.

P.S. Jack Eggleston was a guest earlier this week on UTV's DP Roundtable and was asked about the incident with Noah Savage at the end of the Princeton game. With Princeton inbounding the ball under its own basket down by 3 with 9 seconds to go, Savage took a swing towards Eggleston's groin area and was called for a technical foul, essentially ending the Tigers' chances. On an earlier possession, Savage missed an important shot that would have put his team in better position to win. On the show, Eggleston said that right before Savage picked up the "T," Eggleston -- who played with Savage a lot over the summer -- said something to him about the missed shot, prompting the hot-headed reaction. Zidane, anyone?

Notes from practice today… and Ibby goes to Italy

I caught the first hour or so of practice today, and though Glen Miller refused to do an interview, here is what I saw and can report.

After missing last weekend's road trip because of a concussion suffered in practice last Monday, Tyler Bernardini showed up to practice in street clothes about half an hour late and handed some forms to the trainer. After a brief discussion with the trainer that I was not privy to, Bernardini went into the locker room and changed into his basketball clothes and started to practice with the team.

In the drills I saw him run, he did not appear to be limited in any way. When Penn practiced its offense, he went at 100%, making hard cuts and knocking down shots from the get go. Obviously, given the dangerous nature of concussions, this information does not necessarily mean that he will be cleared to play tomorrow. All I can report is that, from what I saw in my hour at practice, he looked like he might very well be able to play.

While Miller declined an interview with me at practice, he did do an interview with Comcast, in which he said that Bernardini is "day-to-day." Apparently, that is all of the information that the team has.

In other news, Brian Grandieri, who played through a groin injury last weekend, also practiced at full strength. Though he certainly isn't playing his best basketball right now, you really have to admire the grit and determination that he has shown this season. Grandieri has fought through injuries every time he's set foot on a basketball court this year, but he never complains about it and always plays hard. His leadership in games is just as evident as it is in practice, bad knees and bad groin and all.

Finally, a few days ago, I told you about Ibby Jaaber's outstanding play this season in Greece. Well now, he's heading to to the prestigious Euroleague. Jaaber will compete on Lotomatica Roma (that's in Rome, for those of you Italian scholars). Read more about it here.

Check out tomorrow's DP for more coverage on the Penn-Princeton game, and stay tuned for updates on The Buzz.

Beyond the Arc

Non-conference play is finally over, and it sure wasn't pretty. What arguably killed the Quakers the most, or at least the most glaring statistical weakness, was three-point shooting. Last season during non-conference play, Penn shot 35 percent from three-land, improving slightly to 38 percent during Ivy League action. This season, the Quakers have converted an icy 28 percent of their three-point shots. But what's even more telling about Penn's shooting as a team centers on one player's dramatically reduced production from behind the arc: Brian Grandieri.

Grandieri, who netted 16 of 30 three-point shot attempts last season during non-conference play, has hit only 9 of 33 from downtown so far this season. Why this sudden drop-off? Last year, with the help of Ibrahim Jaaber, the Quakers were able to penetrate defenses much more easily and kick the ball out for open looks.

This season, with the injury to Darren Smith and subsequent absence of a reliable point guard, the Quakers haven't yet found their slasher. Penn has showed positive signs recently with its inside play, and the team has rebounded every bit as well as it did last year. But its inability to penetrate has yielded remarkably lower assist totals this season, which also leads to colder three-point shooting.

Grandieri didn't forget how to shoot the three; he just hasn't gotten the good feeds that he was used to in years past. Now, as the Quakers head into conference play, someone needs to step up on the perimeter and break down defenses in order to get Penn's three-point threats open looks at the basket.

One option might be Harrison Gaines, whose deft ball-handling skills and quickness could prove to be a major asset against the slower and less athletic teams in the Ivy League. If the Quakers can continue their improvement in the paint and add some semblance of a perimeter game, they might just be able to squeak back into the Tournament.

Move over Pats, Quakers are setting the real records

Sorry, Andrew, one post illustrating what happened last night is not enough.

Penn's six points, 5.9 percent shooting and one field goal in the first half were all the worst by any Division I basketball team in the shot clock era. Even the 30-point total was Penn's worst in 40 years. Here are a few stats that I found must supplement the last post:

  • Penn had 16 turnovers and 12 missed shots before scoring a single point
  • 10 players attempted a three pointer for Penn, seven of which didn't make one
  • Nine players had multiple turnovers, five (Brian Grandieri, Jack Eggleston, Tyler Bernardini, Justin Reilly and Andreas Schreiber) had four or more
  • The five starters (Grandieri, Eggleston, Bernardini, Reilly and Cohen) had eight more turnovers (21) then points (13)
  • The starters had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.095
  • Six players had more turnovers than points
  • Schreiber (2-for-5) and Bernardini (2-for-9) were the only players to make more than one basket

I could go on, but I don't want to see grown men crying before New Years. Here are some quotes from Penn head coach Glen Miller after the game:

"That's probably the worst performance that any of my teams have ever had -- and I've been a head coach for a long time. I'm very disappointed."

"We were just very lethargic and unsure of ourselves. We certainly didn't handle the five days we had off. We're a much better team than that."

"I want to give [the Eagles] credit. I think they're a better basketball team than their record [4-9] and I think that will come through when they get in league play."

Since it's a new year coming up soon, Penn fans can look on the bright side:

  • Penn's 36 rebounds equaled FGCU's total
  • Joe Gill, playing in the first half for (I believe) the first time in his career had a wonderful game, hitting his only shot attempt, scoring four points, and dishing out one assist to no turnovers in seven minutes
  • None of this matters until the Ivy League

Elon afterthoughts

Scoring or passing? Talent or experience? When it comes to point guards, Glen Miller seems to be valuing the latter in each case, which is how Harrison Gaines has ended up with a reduced role in Penn's last two games. Aron Cohen dished five assists in 25 minutes Thursday; Gaines had four fouls -- chalk up at least one to frustration -- in 15 minutes.

It seemed like Gaines had secured the spot before stepping on campus -- and he essentially had. Before the season, Miller and his staff were telling anyone who would listen that Gaines was going to start and that he would wow them all. But Miller acknowledged after the Elon game that the dynamics at the position have changed. Gaines has lost that favor, at least for the time being.

"We were high on Harrison," Miller said. "But he's a young point guard ... He's learning, he's getting to see a lot from the bench, and Aron's done a good job of organizing us in practice, getting us into [our] offense, and on the defensive end he's done some good things too ... Right now Aron has more experience and that experience has come to the forefront."

Putting both of them on the floor wouldn't make much sense because it would require keeping a better scorer -- Mike Kach, for example -- on the bench. So who should the every-day point guard be come Feb. 1? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Thursday's game had the feel of a bad dinner party. Not as many people showed up as you would have liked, and everyone couldn't wait to get out of dodge once it was over.

The most-beleagured-award goes to Elon, though. The team drove from Chattanooga to Philadelphia after losing the night of the 18th; after losing to Penn, the team packed up for a bus ride that night to Charlotteville to play Virginia tomorrow afternoon. Three games in five days and 1,600 travel miles, according to the Elon athletic department. And still no road wins this year. Next time people get down on Penn basketball, remind them that the Quakers program is good enough that it can avoid anything near that scheduling hell (thanks to the Big 5, Drexel, preseason tournaments in Philadelphia and eager-to-play schools sprinkled throughout Jersey). Give some holiday thanks for that.

Phoenix coach Ernie Nestor said he made the decision to bus the entire trip because of "economics." No kidding.

Not that the Quakers were riding on easy street, either. Miller praised his team for getting by during finals on miniscule doses of sleep and practice and still coming ready to play against Elon. Brian Grandieri called the last two weeks "miserable" and did his best to expedite the postgame proceedings. When Tyler Bernardini began to respond to the final question with an anecdote from his high school days, Grandieri slapped his leg, laughed, and gave the freshman a wrap-this-thing-up look. Bernardini obliged, and the Quakers were mercifully out the door, free to enjoy their first winning streak of the season.

Reaction to Grandieri’s comments

There were a few comments on our website today about the wisdom of Brian Grandieri's comments after Saturday's loss to Howard. I had the chance to ask Glen Miller about it at practice yesterday; here's what he said:

He's a captain, he's been around a while and he's played on some successful teams, so we're going to assume that he knows what it takes. He's led us in the preseason, he's led us throughout our first three games, so if he feels that way it's his right as a captain to voice his opinion. It's nice if it's kept in the locker room, but what he said is what he said. He was speaking on emotions and that's the way he felt, so hopefully it will have a positive effect on our team going forward.

Freshman forward Tyler Bernardini took a similar view, but also said that the older and younger elements of the team each need to make some changes.

Hopefully the older guys are starting to look at some of the younger guys and feeling more comfortable with our abilities ... It's more them adjusting to us and realizing, hopefully, that we can contribute as well.

He [Grandieri] is working hard every day in practice, and he's proven his skills and what he can do, and I feel like it's time that we all need to step up and start to prove to him that we can help, too. The guys that he was playing alongside with, Ibby [Jaaber] and Mark [Zoller] -- they're storied people in the Penn program. Right now, he's playing along a lot of guys that are young and have no credibility, so we have to kind of establish that credibility.

What do you think about Grandieri's actions? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Also, be sure to check back with The Buzz later tonight for live updates of the game against The Citadel.

More on M. Hoops’ long night

What a rough game to watch, as Penn loses its third game in as many tries. After the overtime loss to Drexel, you had to be pretty confident in the Quakers' chances of not seeing to drastic dropoff from last season as well as being the favorite in the Ivy League. But two games later, this squad is reeling.

What was most troubling was the defensive effort from Penn.

For a team that allows 29 points per game and 48 percent shooting from the three point line, I can't imagine how a 1-3-1 defense was the best option defensively.

The Red and Blue played that set - with the point guard up top, big man in the middle with someone on either side of him and an athletic guard or swingman patrolling the back line - almost the whole game. And as a result, the defense allowed Howard to shoot 22 threes, making 12 of them. Many of these came from the corner, the area of the court that is traditionally most succeptible to threes in the 1-3-1 scheme.

Still, some execution would have prevented the onslaught that ensued. The Bison put up 80 points on Penn after averaging 56 in their first two losses to Duquesne (129-59) and Virginia (92-53).

Howard shot 57 percent not only by hitting wide open threes, but also beating Penn defenders off of the dribble. Quakers forwards seemed a step to slow against the small Bison side, and they conversely couldn't use their size to their advantage. Penn inside was not particularly strong or intimidating, and recorded no blocks (after altering nine shots in the first two games).

And yet what was even more disturbing was the lack of communication.

Howard players were left wide open, and not just for three, but often under the basket. Whenever players screened, or crossed each other, Penn defenders struggled to cope, for example two defenders heading to the same offensive player on an off-the-ball screen.

This miscommuncation manifested itself on the offensive side as well. The Quakers had 14 turnovers from eight different guys - Grandieri was the only player who played over five minutes that didn't give one away (Howard had four such players). Many of these were not so much bad passes, but bad decisions - throwing a pass into heavy traffic or to a place that a cutter wasn't heading.

Key stats:

  • Penn forced only 9 turnovers and had two steals.
  • The Red and Blue actually shot better than the free throw line than their Saturday night opponents - 56.5 percent for Penn to 54.5 for Howard.
  • The four freshmen - Jack Eggleston, Tyler Bernardini, Harrison Gaines and Remy Cofield - had nine assists and only five turnovers, while the rest of the team had six assists and nine turnovers. This was mainly thanks to Gaines' five dimes as opposed to two turnovers, as only Gaines and Bernardini (two) had more than one assist.
  • Eugene Myatt (36 points), Kyle Riley (19 points) and Kandi Mukole (10) scored 65 points on 28 attempts, while the Quakers scored 65 on their 54 total shots.
  • Penn shot 28.5 percent from three-point range (4-for-14), it's highest single-game clip of the season.
  • Read Monday's paper to hear captain Brian Grandieri's strong words following the surprising loss.