By Michael Bean, Special to Burnt Orange Nation
Michael Bean is a 2003 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a college basketball junkie. When he's not busy avoiding his writing assignments for his Steelers blog, he's making outstanding guest contributions to the Horns blog.
Thanks to Peter and Andrew for letting me provide BON with a preview of Texas' opening round opponent in the NCAA Tournament, the Quakers of the University of Pennsylvania. I graduated from Penn last May and have been following this team diligently this year, so I'm pretty sure I'll be able to provide better analysis than Captain Kirk "Should Be Cleaning Toilet" Bohls, Suzanne "I look like a Bovine" Halliburton or whichever B-grade writer is previewing the game from the Austin American Statesmen.
Penn comes into the tournament having lost last Tuesday to its arch-rival Princeton by one point at the buzzer. If Penn had won that game, they most likely would have stayed on the 14-line and could have avoided this disastrous match-up with Texas. Before the loss, Penn had breezed through Ivy League competition, losing only once on the road at Columbia. Penn's non-conference schedule was far more interesting. The Quakers played Colorado, Villanova, Duke, Temple, and St. Joseph's -- all formidable opponents. Against Duke, Penn was down only 7 late in the second half before being put away. Against Villanova, Penn took the Wildcats to the wire, losing by only 7. Despite losing all these games, Penn can at least hang its hat on having been able to compete against the biggest of the behemoths in college basketball. Will Penn be overwhelmed? No. Will they have extreme match-up nightmares? Yes. Let's take a look.
Ibrahim Jaaber, the Ivy League Player of the Year and #2 NCAA individual leader in steals, leads Penn's back-court. Listed at 6'2", Jaaber is a lot like former Longhorn Royal Ivey. With a 6'10" wing-span and lightning quick hands, Jaaber is Penn's most athletic and capable player. Coach Fran Dunphy, who has been wooed by Spurs coach Greg Popovich for the past five years, has mentioned that scouts within the Spurs organization have compared him to Tony Parker. Is he as fast as Parker? No. Can he finish like Parker? No. Nevertheless, the comparison is flattering and not entirely unfounded. If Jaaber could gain a few pounds (he's ridiculously wiry) he might have a chance to be a sub in the League. Penn's backcourt also features sophomore David Whitehurst, a top 5 track and field athlete in high school who is still learning how to play organized basketball. Despite being a great athlete (a much better athlete than Paulino), Whitehurst still doesn't know how to play in the half court. Because Penn will try to slow the pace of this one down in an attempt to avoid running up and down with the more athletically gifted Horns, Whitehurt probably won't make much of an impact.
Other than Jaaber, Penn boasts a few other white guys that can hit open shots. Not all that threatening to a Texas team with speed, height, and the ability to play hard nosed man-to-man defense. I believe Jaaber will hold a streaking Gibson in check, but if Paulino and Abrams hit a few shots, and if the Texas guards make a concerted effort to get the ball into the bigs, the Horns should roll.
I should save my time and not even bother writing about the matchups in the paint. Texas clearly holds a dominant advantage inside and should win by 20+ if Tucker and Aldridge get 30 shots between the two of them. Penn does have one interesting forward in Mark Zoller, a 6'7" junior who is both crafty in the paint and has the ability to step outside and hit jump shots. In last year's tournament, Zoller performed admirably against Boston College's HUGE inside presence, scoring nearly 20 pts and hitting over 55 percent of his shots. Penn's only chance is for Zoller to draw a couple of early cheap fouls on either Tucker or Buckman.
Here at BON, Coach Barnes' inability to teach half-court offense is well-documented. If he can find a way to get the Horns running and find different ways to get Aldridge touches, this one should be over early in the second half.
Coach Dunphy as I mentioned, has been wined and dined unsuccessfully by Coach Pop, who we all can agree knows a thing or two about the game. Dunphy was born and raised in Philadelphia, and simply would prefer to finish his coaching career in the city he started in.
I've been telling my brother Peter, and whoever will listen to me, that Penn will win one a game in the NCAA tournament NEXT year. They return just about everybody and actually have a few legitimate athletes that could play at bigger name schools. Preparation for next year should start around 11 pm Central Standard Time on Friday night...
Prediction: Texas 69 Penn 57