Lack of discipline is Penn basketball's biggest problem

I was in Boston last weekend for Princeton-Harvard and Penn-Harvard. We already knew that the Crimson are the Ivy League's best team, but the gap between them and the rest of the conference seemed massive on Friday and Saturday.

It's not just because of the quality of Tommy Amaker's players. Princeton has its share of talent, and Penn has plenty of athleticism and skill at both ends of the floor. Harvard's big edge is mental. The Crimson have the ethos and discipline of a winning team.

Jerome Allen's Quakers, meanwhile, seem the opposite. Their offensive efficiency is the worst in the Ivy League, and is ranked 315th overall in Division I. Yet their average points scored per game, 69.9, is almost exactly the same as the conference average of 70.24. It's also pretty close to the national average of 71.72.

The difference is Penn's turnovers. I know that's not news to those of you who follow the team closely, but it still has to be highlighted.

Penn averages 16.4 turnovers per game. That's four full turnovers higher than the national average of 12.32, and almost the same deviation from the conference average of 12.85.

Only four times this season have the Quakers finished a game with 12 or fewer turnovers: November 9 vs. Temple (the season opener), November 16 at Penn State, December 29 at Rider and January 18 vs. Saint Joseph's.

They've also committed 20 or more turnovers in four games: November 12 at Monmouth, November 22 at Iowa, December 4 at Villanova and December 7 vs. Wagner.

Here's the full list of turnovers per game so far this season:

Date Opponent Number
11/09/13     Temple 10
11/12/13 at Monmouth
11/16/13 Penn State 12
at Iowa 25
Niagara 15
11/30/13 at Lafayette 17
at Villanova 24
Wagner 23
at Marist 13
at Rider 12
at George Mason 15
La Salle 15
Princeton 18
Saint Joseph's 10
01/31/14 at Dartmouth 18
02/01/14 at Harvard 13

Allen was not in a good mood when I talked to him after Saturday night's 30-point blowout loss at Harvard, and I didn't expect him to be. He isn't the most talkative type. But he acknowledged that "losing can become contagious," and he lamented - not for the first time, it should be said - his team's lack of "the right mental approach."

I asked Allen whether it has become frustrating for him personally that his players have not been able to execute to the level he demands of them.

"Very," he replied. "It's all on me and I take full responsibility for it, and I've just got to figure out how we can get them to go forward.

Another reporter asked Allen what he learned about his team from being swept by the Crimson and Dartmouth.

Allen paused for a moment before answering that one.

"Right now we don't have what it takes to compete for an Ivy League title," he said, and I could sense the lament in his voice. "Does that mean that we cannot? We still can, but some things are going to have to change."

I asked whether that last sentence was a reference to some of his older players. Allen is not one to call out his players publicly, and he didn't hesitate to once again put the blame on himself.

"I've got to coach the guys and coach them up," he said. "At the end of the day it all falls back on me. I've got to get better at preparing them the right way."

There isn't much time for that, as Allen knows well. Harvard is already two games clear of Penn in the standings, and could be at least two games clear of the entire league by the time this weekend ends.

And not that anyone neds reminding, but seven years without an Ivy League title is a very long time by Palestra standards.