Opinion: In one week's time, Penn will be penning their name into the NCAA Tournament field
The Pennsylvania Quakers men's basketball team currently sits in third place in the Ivy League standings, having punched their ticket into the Ivy Conference Tournament a little over a week ago.
While a betting underdog, the best (and healthy) version of this Penn team is without a doubt the best team in the Ivy League. And, taking a further scope, has the makeup to be a problematic NCAA Tournament opponent for a two or three seed.
Following a 2-4 conference start, Penn rattled off eight straight victories before losing to Princeton on Saturday. Although, with the impending rematch between Princeton and Penn in the first round of Ivy Madness, one can assume both Steve Donahue and Mitch Henderson weren't showing all of their tricks.
In fact, dating back to December 9th, Penn has been a top-100 team in the country, per Bart Torvik. Penn is the second highest in the Ivy in this timeframe, just a couple spots below the Yale Bulldogs. Even more, Penn's offensive efficiency during that span tracks at #63 nationally. This offense is really, really potent.
The offensive prowess is largely in part to the fact that the Quakers have one of the highest scoring backcourts in the entire country. Jordan Dingle is second in the country in points per game, at 23.6. Dingle is incredibly hard to defend because of the myriad of ways he can beat you. He shoots above 36% from beyond the arc, and pairs that with an uncanny ability to drive hard to the hoop and get to the line. Jordan doesn't shy away from contact, and has attempted 165 FT's, which leads the Ivy League.
Clark Slajchert pairs with Dingle in the backcourt. Slajchert, another junior, has had an impressive season in his own right. He's averaging 13.5 ppg and provides a lot of stability to this Penn roster. The Quakers also have the added bonus of backcourt and wing scorers coming off the bench as well as the starting lineup. Max Martz is the third leading scorer for Penn at 11.0 ppg, and shoots the three at a 41% clip. George Smith can get red-hot at times, and shoots 45% from beyond the arc.
In the interior, Nick Spinoso, a 6'9 sophomore, has had his best games of the year when the light has been at its brightest. Spinoso averaged 11.5 ppg against Princeton this season, who Penn will see March 11th in Ivy Madness. The tandem of Spinoso and fellow 6'9 big man Max Lorca-Lloyd, play bigger than advertised.
Simply put, this Quaker team is a whole lot of fun. Their offense is a powder keg that can explode at any moment. Defensively, Penn can be a bit passive. But, when uber-motivated and healthy, the Quaker defense has been largely above their season mean.
Penn held the top-seeded Yale Bulldogs to just 64 points in a win a couple weeks back. This tallied as Yale's third worst offensive performance of the conference season. Penn also held Princeton to just 66 points in regulation on Saturday, which marks as one of their conference lows as well. All of this is to say that Pennsylvania has an extra defensive gear they can get to in the big games.
And also, there's got to be a sense of urgency to do it this year for Penn. Not many of the main cast of characters are seniors, but one has to expect Dingle to follow suit of other great Ivy guards of recent years. Mike Smith, Jalen Gabbidon, and Jaelin Llewellyn have all left the Ivy to go to a Power-5 school in the past couple years. Dingle has been exceptionally special, and he'll have plenty of phone calls after the season. Clark Slajchert could have his fair share of suitors as well. So, this has got to be the year for Penn, and Steve Donahue knows it.
The Quakers open play in Ivy Madness against second-seeded Princeton on March 11th.