Eggleston’s Take: This is everything, ain’t it?

He tosses a couple blades of grass in the air and watches them blow away. Turning back to his caddie, a smile spreads across Roy McAvoy's face as he says, "This is everything, ain't it? This is the choice it comes down to; this is our immortality."

You know the situation for tonight: lose and it's over, win and things get interesting. The players obviously know it too. On the day of the game, the gravity of the situation is apparent in everything that takes place. Guys making eye contact and giving a little head nod goes from meaning, "What's up?" on any normal day to meaning, "Let's do this." People you haven't heard from in months are texting you to tell you they'll be watching. Facebook is covered in messages expressing support.

Once you walk in the gym, it's no different. The Harvard student section will be in there early, loud and obnoxious as always during warmups. If an "errant" outlet pass during layup lines happens to connect with the head of a particularly noisy coed, well, she shouldn't have been standing there. Lavietes is no Palestra, but I assure you that place will be hot, loud, and filled to capacity as it should be for this game.

As the players leave their respective huddles and prepare for the tip, Zack Rosen will take one or two last jumps with his knees to his chest and Rob will survey the court, looking like he's about to kill somebody. My one hope is that those two, along with Tyler, Mike, and Larry take one brief moment to survey the scene around them and think, "This is everything ain't it?".

Eggleston’s Take: On the devastating loss to Harvard

You'd be amazed at how fast several thousand people can disappear. Ten minutes after a hard-fought loss a few of the Quaker players will trickle out of the locker room to glad hand the remaining smattering of family, friends, and media members. Some will ask questions, some will give answers, but almost all will give a supportive pat on the back and a version of "You played a great game." Players train year round to run up and down the court, banging bodies for forty minutes, but the toughest part of some nights is having to muster a weak smile and say, "Thanks."

Next comes that slow, westward trudge up campus. The incline always seems a little steeper walking home after a loss. Buzzing with excitement only a few hours ago, campus is now a ghost town. All you have surrounding you are replays, these infernal, unceasing replays of turnovers, missed shots, and defensive breakdowns. You'd like to speed up and walk away from them but your tired legs won't allow it.

The Quakers will acknowledge that they didn't play their best tonight. Despite that they still fought to the end and gave themselves an opportunity to win the game. As frustrating as this loss is, the schedule is indifferent. Dartmouth will arrive Saturday night desperately looking for their first Ivy win. That's the beauty of League play; Saturday always follows Friday. Penn will have a chance to move forward and show that they're still a contender in the title race.

Eggleston’s Take: On the Rosen Bandwagon

I have been hesitant to pile on the "Zack Rosen is good at basketball" bandwagon so far this season. Saying that would almost be like pointing out that the sky is blue or that Princeton is awful. It's just a fact. I've tried to point out some of the smaller things that have contributed to the Quakers' success, but I would be remiss if I did not talk about the night that The Captain just had.

Did you ever play Sharks and Minnows as a kid? If you didn't please call ten of your closest friends right now and set up a game because you missed out on childhood. Basically, the game ends with one last person making the vain attempt to weave across a field of opponents. When I see Zack Rosen standing near the split P at mid-court, gathering himself as the shot clock winds down, I get this image of a small kid just waiting to make that doomed run through a minefield of sharks.

Scoring 28 points in a college basketball game is no easy task. It gets even tougher when you are a two time First Team All-Ivy player who is the prime focus of the opposing team's scouting report. The degree of difficulty is magnified even further still when almost every single one of your baskets has to come from an isolation with all nine sets of eyes on the court fixed squarely on you. For virtually any other player in the country, it would be unfair how much the Penn offense expects of him. Entire possessions are spent standing around waiting for Rosen to work his magic. But time after time, the minnow finds his way through the sharks, sometimes disappearing among the big bodies, only to resurface right at the hoop and lay it in.

Of course, this game could not have been won without the big first half shots from Tyler, the tenacious defense from Rob, and the clutch threes from Steve. Watching the other players find their roles and learn how to play effectively off of Zack is definitely a positive sign for the Quakers in the final eleven games of the Ivy season. As opposing coaches come up with new and different ways to try to take Rosen out of the equation in League play, Zack will have to find ways to adjust and remain effective. My money is on the minnow.

Jack Eggleston: Quakers’ loss to La Salle not a surprise

The result of the game last night should not have been much of a surprise. Maybe you could be surprised by Rosen being held to single digits or Fran having a career night, but the final score was about what should have been expected. Although the Quakers did not play their best and certainly could beat this LaSalle team on a given night, the Explorers are simply a better team.

Coming in we knew this would be a battle of the backcourts. Neither team has a truly established presence down low. The Explorers clearly decided that they would take their chances with the Penn bigs to make sure they shut down the perimeter trio of Rosen, Bernardini, and Cartwright. As a result, Fran got free for many open looks inside.

Every time a Quaker guard drove baseline, the defensive big man rotated over to stop penetration. Interestingly, almost nobody ever rotated over to the newly unguarded Dougherty in the middle of the paint. One time somebody slid over to draw a charge on Fran and another time Miles made a shovel pass instead of a bounce pass that got stolen. Either LaSalle is a very bad defensive team incapable of making a second rotation or they consciously decided to stay home on the shooters. I think it was the latter.

If you take a quick glance at the results for this Quaker team through their first sixteen games, nothing really jumps out at you. They haven't pulled off any stunning upsets or had any glaring losses. According to Sagarin ratings, their best win is over number 93 Robert Morris and their worst loss is to number 240 James Madison, putting Penn almost squarely in the middle of Division I at 174. A lot of times consistency and ability to play to your true talent level is a good thing, but entering an Ivy season where they'll face one ranked team and a couple other solid ones, the Quakers will have to figure out a way to elevate their play.

All-time scoring update

After I went back and forth several times checking my math tonight, I figured I would share my corrected findings on Penn's all-time scoring list.

Tyler Bernardini has been steadily moving up the charts all season, most recently thanks to 59 combined points in the last two games. Before the trip to UCLA, Bernardini sat at No. 23. After Marist? No. 17. Tonight he passed his teammate Jack Eggleston (not to mention Matt Maloney '95, Barry Pierce '94 and Perry Bromwell '87), and has 1,267 career points of his own. If Bernardini keeps up his pace of 15.6 points per game, he'd be on track for 1,438 career points. That projection has him finishing at No. 11 in scoring for his career.

Meanwhile, Zack Rosen continues to climb up the record books as well. He started the season No. 28, and is currently No. 12 with 1,363 points. If he continues his 20.1 points per game, he would finish with 1,744 points, which would be just shy of Ugonna Onyekwe's No. 2 spot (1,762). 20 points per game is a steep request, but if anyone can do it, it's Zack Rosen, right?

Eggleston’s take: Unsung hero

I had barely made it out of post-game press conferences by the time Jack Eggleston had sent us his thoughts on the game. His player of the game? Rob Belcore.

After the UCLA game, much of the reaction will focus on how a scrappy Penn team led by Tyler Bernardini's impressive outing almost pulled out the win despite Zack Rosen's off night. To me, the story of the game was the confidence Rob Belcore displayed on the offensive end. What he displayed against the Bruins should give Quakers fans a reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season.

Before Rob came to campus in his pre-freshman summer, I happened to watch a DVD of Belcore scoring thirty-seven points in a high school game (most of which came against Danny Monckton's little brother, Trent). Don't ask me how or why this happened but it did. Belcore scored in about every way possible: deep threes, midrange pull ups, and even some post ups. Truly, he put on a show. Every preseason, it would seem like Rob could never miss as the Loyola Academy version of himself would appear on the Palestra and Weightman floors.

But at some point in each season, Rob would pigeonhole himself into that familiar role of glue guy. Make no mistake, he always made tremendous contributions with his defense, hustle, and intelligence, but another dimension sat beneath the surface. Against UCLA Penn fans got a glimpse of what Rob has had in his game all along. The difference was confidence. When he's playing like he can, Belcore picks his spots and never hesitates.

This development could give a much-needed offensive spark to the front court. What we have seen so far and I imagine we will see for the rest of the year is a big man by committee system. Within the Brooks, Dougherty, Gunter, Howlett quartet nobody has truly emerged to cement their role in the rotation. I believe that their minutes will fluctuate based on practice and game performance.

Lastly, I don't mean to downplay what a stellar night Tyler Bernardini had. The problem is I've probably been in the gym more with him than anybody else I know, so the revelation that he can shoot the eyes out of the ball is not much a revelation to me. It was only a matter of time before a night like this happened. And to anybody worried about consecutive un-Rosen like nights from Rosen you can stop worrying. UCLA was game number eleven in a month and the captain has played just about every minute. Once he gets through finals and gets some rest he'll be back to his spectacular self, I promise.

Eggleston’s Take: No winners last night

We tend to think of basketball as a zero sum game. One team wins and the other loses. Last night, that was not the case. Yes, the Quakers scored more points than the Jaspers, Zack Rosen was his usual self, and we saw some promising flashes from Marin Kukoc, but this contest yielded no winners.

From the start of the game it was obvious that the coaching staff was not happy. Tyler Bernardini and Fran Dougherty found themselves seated when the game began, signaling a desire to shake things up after the recent skid. The game ended with the image of Coach Allen a few feet out on the court, yelling at the players and gesturing at them to pick up loose balls. Despite coming out on top, Penn really did nothing the whole evening that would change their coach's attitude for the better.

In the first half, the Quakers were badly exposed on the glass by a Manhattan team that could hardly be considered physically imposing. Getting out rebounded by eleven by the Jaspers is not a good sign of things to come this season. Coach Allen tacitly acknowledged the lack of production from the interior players with a lineup down the stretch that consisted of Rosen, Cartwright, Bernardini, Kukoc, and Belcore. It will be interesting to watch if and how this unit is used in the coming games. These five could be a tough group to match up with offensively but could be exposed just as easily defensively.

I highly doubt you will see any smiles from Coach Allen or Zack Rosen in the post game press conference or at practice on Thursday. All the Quakers know tonight was a missed opportunity to improve before a Big 5 showdown. Sometimes even a win can feel like a loss.

Jack Eggleston: Looking for an enforcer

Prior to Sidney Crosby's first game back in the NHL after almost a year out, Penguins enforcer Steve MacIntyre said, "My job is to make sure [Crosby's] transition back to hockey goes smoothly." Translation: "Anybody who messes with him will be looking at me from his back on the next shift." Crosby is the superstar, the franchise player, and MacIntyre has made it his mission to protect the most important player on the team.

Seeing as how Justin Reilly was already referring to Zack Rosen as "the franchise" when Rosen was a senior in high school, I don't think the Crosby/Rosen comparison is too much of a stretch. The problem for Penn in the loss to Wagner was that nobody assumed the role of Steve MacIntyre. Coach Hurley obviously knows what a tremendous player Rosen is and wanted to make things as tough as possible on him. Wagner doubled him in the back court to make somebody else bring the ball up. They doubled him in the front court to make him give it up. They pestered him all night, leading to two frustration offensive fouls.

Despite managing 23 points on the night, Rosen got nothing easy. All of his made shots were heavily contested. Since heavy pressure on Rosen will likely become a common theme this year, the Quakers need to find ways to protect him and make things easier on him. One way to do this is to try to catch his defender with a transition ball screen. Running into Rob Belcore at full speed would surely make any guard keep one eye over his shoulder the next time he is guarding Rosen in the back court.

The other solution is to keep teams honest by really looking hard for the screener any time Zack is involved in an action. Whether he is the recipient of an on- or off-ball screen, Rosen is likely to attract the attention of both defenders. That means whoever set the screen will be open for a moment. As teams key more and more on Zack, it will be interesting to see if the supporting cast can step up and convert the opportunities that will be presented to them.

Eggleston’s take: Temple

After the Penn loss to Temple, the obvious story is how Zack Rosen nearly led the underdog Quakers to a win despite some curious officiating. One thing really stuck out to me in the game: ball screen defense. Some of the differences between the teams in this department can be traced to coaching and the rest to execution, but the way that Penn and Temple decided to guard the pick and roll was a big reason this game was as close as it was.

I didn't need to watch the game to know that the Quakers drill ball screen defense over and over. Trust me, I already know. Against Temple, Penn was very impressive in their execution against the pick and roll. I counted maybe two or three times at most over the course of forty-five minutes that the bigs failed to do their job. The Owls did not appear prepared for the different coverages the Quakers threw at them.

On high ball screens, the Penn big hedged out to stop the dribbler. Temple, like almost every team in America, has the screener roll to the rim and the opposite big rise to the high post. Instead of chasing his man down the lane, the Penn big who hedged simply switched onto the rising big and let his partner stop the roll man. Rob Belcore was able to deny the pass back to the big on this coverage and really disrupt the Temple offense.

For wing ball screens, Penn changed its strategy. The coverage they used is very popular in Europe, but not very common in the states, especially in college. When the screener arrives on the high side, the on ball defender turns his body to prevent the offensive player from using the pick. The big positions himself between the ball and the basket. This coverage is is especially effective when trying to contain a good guard like Fernandez and when the opposing bigs are not shooters. Confused, Temple guards turned it over twice in these situations, leading to fast break layups by Cartwright and Belcore.

As for the other end of the floor, the Owls couldn't seem to contain Zack Rosen off of the high ball screen. It's no secret that many Penn possessions of the last few years have ended with a pick and roll for Rosen, and it's a safe bet than many more will this year. That makes the Temple defensive breakdowns seem even more baffling. Every time a Penn big ran up to set a late clock screen for Rosen, the on ball defender let Zack go whichever way he wanted. On top of that, the Temple big was a couple steps behind. This allowed Rosen to hit the big shots that kept the Quakers in the game.

Since ball screens are a large part of the Penn offense, it will be important to watch how opposing teams guard them throughout the season. On defense you always have to choose something to give up; Zack Rosen is always hoping you'll choose him.

Positional Breakdown: Power Forward

In the days leading up to Friday's Penn basketball 2011-12 season opener at UMBC, The Buzz is breaking down how the Quakers are shaping up at each position. After taking a look at the small forwards yesterday, we analyze what to expect out of their frontcourt partners.

THE PLAYERS:

Sophomore Fran Dougherty has been the most hyped player of the preseason after a summer of intense workouts. Now, his task is to back up the hype with production. The Quakers are relying on Dougherty to make a huge leap from his 2010-11 averages of 2.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 13.6 minutes, which is perhaps why they're trying to give him an early confidence boost.

Senior Rob Belcore may stand just 6-6, but he has the build, grit, and defensive versatility to serve as an undersized '4.' Expect Jerome Allen to experiment with a small lineup early, and get used to seeing Belcore at power forward if it works.

Freshman Henry Brooks is expected to be brought along slowly, but could blossom into Penn's No. 1 option at the 4. His inside-out game makes the blue-chip recruit a dynamic offensive weapon.

Freshman Greg Louis "will be out for at least several months" after undergoing hip surgery, according to a Daily News report. If he gets healthy, he could add to the Quakers' depth as a stretch-the-floor 4 who can also bang inside.

THE MINUTES:

This is the most difficult position to nail down when it comes to minutes. Our best answer would be, 'Talk to me after Friday.' But if we had to venture a guess, we'd take the safe route and say that Dougherty will get the lion's share of the minutes playing alongside senior Mike Howlett. If Allen lacks confidence in Howlett's health or ability, look for Belcore to slide down low and Dougherty to play the middle.

THE OUTLOOK:

Jack Eggleston had this position on lockdown for the past four years. You could pencil him down for double-digit points on efficient shooting and a handful of rebounds every night, not to mention fiery leadership and hustle. The absence of Eggleston -- invaluable as a steady, stabilizing force -- could hang over this team for the entire season. Or one of these guys could emerge and bring stability to the front court. Whatever the case, it will provide one of the most intriguing stories to follow this season.