THERE ARE A lot of really good college basketball players in the city this season. But you could certainly make the argument that none of them is playing any better through the first month than Zack Rosen. And there's no reason to think you wouldn't be able to make that same contention 3 or 4 months from now.
Simply put, Penn's 6-1 senior guard has been the best thing on the court just about every time the ball goes up.
Last night at the Palestra was no different, as the Quakers evened their record at 5-5 with a 69-60 win over a young Delaware team (3-4) that was coming off an 11-point CAA home win over preseason favorite Drexel. There were a bunch of reasons they got it done. Rob Belcore had 11 points, 10 rebounds and played some pretty decent defense, especially when he was primarily responsible for guarding Devon Saddler and his 24-point-per-game average. Sophomore Steve Rennard made both of his three-pointers in a career-high 14 minutes off the bench, after not playing at all this season. This, after scoring four points in 12 games all of last season. But that's what can happen when one of your starters, soph Miles Cartwright, doesn't suit up after taking a hit to the head in practice.
"We always talk about being ready when your number's called," said coach Jerome Allen. "That's an example. Make sure you're ready. I'm not sure we win if not for him. It makes my words more credible.
"The sign of a good team is when 15 guys prepare to contribute."
Fair enough. Still, it doesn't hurt to have a commodity like Rosen leading the way.
It wasn't so much that he finished with 29 points, eight more than his average. Or that it was a season-high two points better than he had against Temple in the opner, and one off his career best, which he's done twice, once coming against Delaware. It was that he had eight assists and just one turnover, even though the rock is mostly in his hands, while playing all 40 minutes. Nonetheless, it's largely about presence, and will.
"I'm a tough critic, especially from a point guard standpoint," said Allen, who indeed played the position at an extremely high level. "So I tend to reflect back on possessions where he didn't make the right play. But I obviously love him. He does a lot for us. And he wants to be coached. He takes my criticism, and he responds as a leader.
"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any player throughout the whole country who's doing more than he's given to us. If you do find him, he's a pretty good player."
The Blue Hens took their only lead on the first basket of the second half. The Quakers then scored nine straight, and 17 of the next 19, with Belcore contributing three field goals that included his lone trey (off a Rosen feed).
Delaware got to within seven with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. But of Penn's last 14 points, Rosen had a hand in all but three. First, he found Tyler Bernardini for a straightaway triple. And he hit eight free throws in the final 1 minute, 52 seconds, the first four when it was still one shot and the bonus, to finish 12-for-12.
"What he does is make difficult shots," said UD coach Monte Ross, the former Saint Joseph's assistant. "Even when he's guarded well. I thought we did a good job on him. But one, he gets it up. And two, he makes them. He's tough.
"He's 60 percent on field goals [actually 57.3 coming in], and 60 from three [58.5]. And he was 8-for-19, 1-for-7 [the make was late in the first half]. People are going to look at me like I'm crazy, because it's 29 points, but . . . I have nothing but the highest praise for the way he carries himself."
And this group.
"It's actually more fun having him as my roommate," said Belcore. "He's like no one I've ever met, honestly. In everything he does. If you follow him for a day, everything he does pursues excellence. And this is coming from someone who's nowhere near that. I really admire him. But don't put that in the paper. I don't want him to know."
The Blue Hens got 13 points from Kyle Anderson, and 10 apiece from three others. But Saddler, a second-year man who was the nation's second-leading scorer, had six in 23 minutes on 2-for-8 shooting. He also had four turnovers. And after the last one, with a little over 13 minutes left, he didn't get back on defense enthusiastically enough for the UD staff. They let him know about it. And they didn't put him back in. It's one of those teaching moments that every coach has to deal with from time to time. Ross made the correct call. Hopefully, it will serve both him and Saddler well in the immediate and long-term future.
The Quakers, who were coming off Saturday's eight-point loss at Villanova in which they outplayed the Wildcats in the second half, now head to UCLA before taking a well-deserved 2 weeks off.
"Villanova was so disappointing for us, because we really only played about 7 or 8 minutes of our brand of basketball," Allen acknowledged. "You only get so many opportunities to play this game. I'm not sure how much we fed off losing. What drove us was trying to play the style we're capable of."