Penn is rated by some measures as the best 16 seed in six years. Penn is rated by some other measures as the best 16 seed ever. They have an 11% chance according to KenPom of pulling the ultimate upset, which is absurdly high (although it doesn’t take into account the bonus KU receives from being able to play essentially a home game).
But at the risk of being kicked out of the analytics enthusiast community, it’s worth remembering that for all of Penn’s impressive statistical resume, it’s still players who have to go out there and actually score the points. So how does Penn go about doing that? And how do they go about stopping one of the best offenses in the country?
The biggest problem from KU’s point of view is the sheer number of threes Penn takes. The Quakers shoot 34.7 percent from deep, which is slightly under the national average, but they take roughly 42 percent of their attempts from deep, which is where the problem lies.
It’s not too hard to see Penn taking 30 threes, and while that will necessitate them taking some bad ones, it’s also possible (though admittedly not likely) for them to make 15 or more of those 30 threes. That’s where the problem is. In tiny samples, shooting a percentage way higher than their season-long average could give them the firepower needed to pull the upset.
I took a look at Penn’s results based on their 3-point shooting, and found the following records based on 3-point percentage:
Less than 33.3%: 10-7
Over 38%; 8-1
Or, in other words, Under 33.3%, 10-7, over 33.3%, 13-1.
Record by threes made:
11 or more: 4-0
It’s not hard to envision Penn clearing the 33.3 percent bar. Nor is it hard to see them making 7 or more threes.
Penn also likes to attack via their center, AJ Brodeur, a small center by Power-5 standards at 6-8, 220. However, as one can imagine, he is very skilled. He’s one of the best passers in the Ivy League regardless of position, can put the ball on the floor, and score with both hands. He shoots under 30 percent from three on the season on 67 attempts, but he looks comfortable shooting them. It’s not surprising, then, that Penn uses him in a variety of ways.
Here he gets the ball on the wing and is able to use his speed to drive in and score:
Next, we see Brodeur get the ball on the block and everyone clears out, leaving him a rather simple hook shot:
This is a bit longer, but if you stick with it you can see a lot of his value: he’s a good enough screener, a good roll man, is quick enough to beat help defense, and is really smart about getting to good spots on the floor to receive a pass:
Here Brodeur shows off his passing ability:
Brodeur is the key to this game for the Quakers. If Kansas can defend him 1 on 1 (a tall task considering he is shooting 61 percent on twos), it means they can stay hugged to Penn’s shooters and not give up open looks, which the Quakers will need to win.
It’s also worth noting Brodeur has a high turnover rate to go with that high assist rate, and if the Jayhawks can force some turnovers it could lead to some rare transition baskets. More on that next.
Penn’s defense is a respectable 74th on KenPom, and they arrive at that number by doing a couple things: taking away three point attempts, and forcing you to take mid range twos whenever possible.
Penn ranks 38th nationally in 3PA/FGA, and it hasn’t just been against Ivy teams either. Against top 100 teams they allow teams to take just 29.4 percent of their shots from three, and against top 160 teams it’s 30 percent. It’s important to point out those samples are extremely small, 2 games and 8 games respectively, but it is clearly a priority to limit threes.
They also force teams to take right around a third of their shots from the mid range, which ranks just outside the top 50 nationally. Kansas ranks in the top 70 nationally in mid range shooting, so it’s not a death knell if they have to take a few of them, but obviously they would rather avoid them if possible.
Penn is also good at getting back in transition, ranking inside the top 100 in that department, and they’re really good at not allowing teams to score after giving the ball away, so transition opportunities won’t be plentiful for Kansas.
Fortunately, I think Kansas will have plenty of opportunity to score in the halfcourt. For all that AJ Brodeur does for them offensively, Kansas should be able to take advantage of him on the other end.
Here Harvard puts him in a pick and roll and he... does nothing I guess. He doesn’t hedge, trap, tag the roll man, or do anything. Harvard’s ball handler had a good shot if he wanted it, a wide open pass, or a 3-point play.
I’m guessing Penn will mostly live with giving up these shots, but again in pick and roll coverage Brodeur doesn’t really get back to his roll man and doesn’t challenge the shooter, dropping way too deep and giving up an open look. Also look at what that does to Penn’s other defender on that side of the floor. He either has to leave the roll man wide open, or go down to help him and give up a potentially wide open three:
I also don’t think Kansas will have a ton of trouble getting at least decent looks from three if they need them, for a few reasons. First, Penn doesn’t extend their perimeter defense to NBA range too often.
Second, ball screens up top cause them to give a ton of room. Here’s Penn giving a ton of room to 41 percent shooter Jalen Brunson:
It’s worth noting it’s harder to make threes off the dribble, but it just so happens KU’s point guard is one of the best in the nation at it.
Lastly, I just don’t think Penn is going to be able to get up on KU’s guards like they do against mid major guards, or else Kansas is going to go right by them and it will either be a layup line or Brodeur will get in a ton of foul trouble, which Penn can’t afford.
Kansas will obviously have a big advantage inside, especially if Udoka Azubuike gets out there for a few minutes. One thing to watch for is Silvio de Sousa on the offensive glass. He had 4, 3, and 5 offensive rebounds in the Jayhawks’ Big 12 tournament games, and while Penn ranks 11th nationally in defensive rebounding, that’s more a result of Ivy opponents not attempting to hit the glass. Kansas could, and should, pick up a few extra points that way.
In order for Kansas to avoid the shock of the century, they’ll first and foremost need to keep Penn from taking a ton of open threes. I don’t think Penn can score enough from two, and they don’t hit the offensive glass enough, to pull the upset without shooting the lights out from three (or getting off 50+ attempts).
I’m less worried about the other side of the floor. Even if Penn limits 3-point attempts, the Jayhawks take care of the ball so well, and are so much more athletic, that they should put up plenty of points. Can Penn do it? Absolutely. But I think their odds are worse than the numbers suggest.