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Penn’s depth thrills Steve Donahue as Quakers aim for Ivy League rivals | College basketball preview

Heading into his fifth season as head coach, Steve Donahue is excited about all the possibilities on a team that could go as many as 10 deep.

Steve Donahue's Penn team should be the biggest Ivy League challenger to heavily favored Harvard.
Steve Donahue's Penn team should be the biggest Ivy League challenger to heavily favored Harvard.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Heading into his fifth season as the Penn men’s basketball head coach, Steve Donahue knows who three of his five starters will be: guards Devon Goodman and Ryan Betley and big man AJ Brodeur, all seniors.

The other two spots have lots of possibilities.

Perhaps Bryce Washington at shooting guard and fellow sophomore Michael Wang at forward? Could 7-foot-3 junior Mark Jackson, junior Jarrod Simmons or freshman Max Lorca-Lloyd play center, move Brodeur to power forward and give Penn a twin towers frontcourt?

Donahue lights up just thinking about the potential.

“I think we can go big, I think we can go small, I think we can press, I think we can play zone,” he said. “We’re not going to go seven [deep], we’re going to go eight or nine or 10 deep most games."

Here’s a look at the Quakers’ prospects this season.

Top scorer

It was Brodeur last season, and it’s likely to be him again. So much of Penn’s offense goes through its big men, whether with scoring in the lane or those players dishing back out to three-point shooters. Brodeur can also hit from the perimeter if you give him space.

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One of those shooters is Betley, and he’s raring to go after missing all but the first five minutes of last season due to a ruptured patellar tendon. Goodman can score, too, from the perimeter and especially on fast breaks.

But they know Brodeur is the big dog, as do the rest of the Ivy League and Big 5.

Top defender

Brodeur, and if you’re looking for the team MVP going into the season, you can probably guess it by now. The more interesting question is …

Most improved

Donahue raves about how much work Jackson and Washington put in over the summer.

“To me, Bryce has made the biggest jump,” Donahue said. “Even when he was playing well last year, it was basically just he caught the ball and shot. He wasn’t confident in any other aspect of the game. He is guarding better, he’s rebounding better, he’s handling the ball better, he’s attacking the rim better, his shot is better.”

Jackson’s step-up could greatly help Brodeur, who has averaged more than 30 minutes per game in all three of his seasons so far. Along with the potential tandem, if Jackson can spell Brodeur for good stretches, that will pay dividends in February and March.

“He’s done a great job with his body,” Donahue said of Jackson. “Now it’s just a matter of, can he find himself better than his competition in terms of who he’s fighting for playing time?”

Top newcomer

There are two ways to call this. The freshman most likely to make an early impact is shooting guard Jonah Charles, because he fits between Goodman at the point and Betley at small forward.

The prospect with the biggest pedigree is 6-9 Lorca-Lloyd. He was ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN, and followed in Brodeur’s footsteps at the Northfield-Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts.

Donahue called Lorca-Lloyd “obviously the future.” Like any freshman, he faces an adjustment moving up to Division I hoops, and Donahue’s offense takes some studying. But once he has it down, he’ll play.

Schedule analysis

The glamour nonconference games (not counting Big 5 contests) are at Alabama (Nov. 5, the season opener), at Providence (Nov. 23), and the Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim, Calif. (Nov. 28-Dec. 1). Central Florida is up first, then Arizona or Pepperdine, then Wake Forest, the College of Charleston, Long Beach State or Providence.

Penn plays just two home games through the end of December: La Salle on Nov. 13 and a post-exams freshener vs. Widener on Dec. 21.

Between the travel burden and the wide variance in the Wooden Legacy field, it’s hard to predict a full-season record. So here are some hunches about the known parts of the schedule.

The Ivy League preseason poll was right in pegging the Quakers to finish second behind Harvard. Between the Quakers’ depth and losses elsewhere — especially at Yale and Princeton — Penn should be Harvard’s biggest challenger. But the Crimson hold the trump card as host of the conference tournament at their 1,636-seat bandbox of a gym.

In Big 5 play, 3-1 seems achievable, since La Salle and Temple come to the Palestra along with the traditional split-house game vs. St. Joe’s.