#5 Villanova Wildcats (16-1) vs. Penn Quakers (4-8)
When: Saturday, January 17, 2015, at 7 p.m.
Where: The Palestra, Philadelphia, PA
Penn’s Previous Season Record: 8-20
Key Players for Penn: #11 Tony Hicks (6-2, 180) Jr., G; #10 Darien Nelson-Henry (6-11, 265) Jr., C; #22 Mike Auger (6-7, 225) Fr., F
Scouting Report: There’s still plenty of basketball left, but so far it’s not looking too good for the Penn Quakers. Last year brought a disappointing season for the Quakers, who only won eight games, despite having a roster loaded with promising talent. This year, they’re looking to do some addition through subtraction. They graduated five players and lost another four due to various reasons. However, they are currently on pace to match last season’s record of 8-20, but not if junior guard Tony Hicks can help it. Hicks has been the cornerstone of the team since last season. Although he has been a starter since he first stepped into the Palestra, he emerged to the forefront of the team last season. Hicks leads the team with 14.9 points per game. He is capable of scoring in a variety of ways, but can be streaky at times. If he finds a rhythm, he’ll be dangerous all game long. If he goes cold, he will have a harder time breaking out of that slump. This season, he has gotten better from long range. Last year he made 31.9% of his threes. This season, he is currently making 36.9% of his three point shots. However, one area of his game that has not improved is his ball security. Hicks is turning the ball over at a greater rate than he did last year. He averages close to four turnovers a game. In the Wagner game, he was a non factor, scoring only eight points but also turned the ball over an alarming seven times. Most of the offensive production will come from him and Darien Nelson-Henry. Nelson-Henry provides a lot of size upfront. At 6’11” and 265 pounds, he’s hard to miss. Nelson-Henry has been improving with each passing year. He’s right behind Hicks in scoring, with 11.2 points per game. He’s also Penn’s top rebounder, using that size and strength to grab an average of 6.3 boards per game. Nelson-Henry has been playing well as of late. He almost had a double-double in the previous game against Niagara, where he finished with nine points and nine rebounds. In the two games before that, he put up 15 and 18 points. During that two game stretch, he shot a combined 14-for-19. Penn is fortunate to have these two talented players and they’re also blessed with a lot of depth. The Quakers may just be as deep, if not deeper, than the Wildcats. They will put in six to eight different players off the bench on any given night. One prominent player that comes off the bench regularly is forward Mike Auger. Auger missed a chunk of the season due to a foot injury, but has come back and played in the last three games. He’s got some solid size and a wide frame. He’s a good rebounder (averaging 6.0 a game) and can chip in points here and there. Also keep an eye out for guards Antonio Woods and Camryn Crocker. They both do a little of everything for the Quakers. Despite playing off the bench, Woods actually receives the most minutes out of everyone on the roster, even those in the starting lineup. He averages 29.8 minutes a game and had some solid praise going into the season. The freshman guard has good athleticism and quickness and uses that to his advantage as he attacks the basket. Woods is more of a slasher than he is a shooter, so you can sag off of him at the perimeter.
Outlook: Penn has some size upfront with Nelson-Henry, but he’s not perfect. In fact, on a few occasions, he’s been outplayed by the player matched up against him because they were simply more physical. It will be interesting to see how Penn defends Villanova. The emergence of the frontcourt over this season has been awesome for the Wildcats. It makes them more versatile overall. As Xavier head coach Chris Mack found out, you can’t focus all your attention on JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu. Should Penn look to lock down the paint, it will just open up the perimeter, allowing Villanova to knock down open shots. Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis both had great games on Wednesday night. Penn could take the same approach that Seton Hall took in shutting down the perimeter, but that allowed for a career day for Ochefu. Regardless of whatever method Penn uses, I’m not too concerned for the Wildcats. They have more talent across the board, from their starting lineup to the players on the bench. The press is going to give Penn’s top scorer, Hicks, a hard time. He is rather turnover prone, so the Wildcats should look to exploit it. Jay Wright isn’t going to say it, but I think you can pencil in the Wildcats for another Big 5 sweep and the crown for the best in Philadelphia.