For a one-hour span on Saturday night, I was unsure how I would write this column. The Princeton men’s basketball team had just suffered a painful 48-45 loss to Cornell. The previous night, your Penn Quakers handed the Big Red a 79-64 loss — its first in the Ivy League. Hard to talk trash in that situation.
Then I checked the Penn-Columbia score, and my fears subsided. The Quakers had returned to form, suffering a 66-62 loss to the middle-of-the-pack Lions.
Let’s not forget, we are talking about a 4-16 Penn team. Not exactly the same powerhouse that has captured a record 25 Ivy League championships over the years.
As a Princeton basketball fan, a part of me feels for what Penn must be going through this year. It’s tough to go from perennial contender to league also-ran. The Tigers suffered through a similar stretch earlier in the decade. There were three dark years — we refer to them as the Joe Scott era — but those days are a thing of the past.
This year’s Princeton team looks special. Former player Sydney Johnson, himself an owner of two Ivy League championships, has the Tigers poised to return to their past championship form.
Douglas Davis and Dan Mavraides make up one of the most dangerous shooting duos in the Ivy League and both will return next year. Ian Hummer is one of the most talented freshmen in the Ivy League, and, as the wins keep coming, recruiting will only improve.
To be fair, this year’s Penn team also appears special. It takes a truly unique team to go 1-13 in non-conference play (Tyler Bernardini, as you read this, try not to cry). And no, losing one game to Villanova by 38 points does not mean you have a difficult schedule. Princeton and Penn had three common non-conference opponents this season: Monmouth, Lafayette and St. Joseph’s. The Tigers went 3-0 in those games; Penn, 0-3.
But those three games do not even begin to tell the story of the Quakers’ incompetence this year. Your team failed to win a game in The Palestra — that old, rickety gym you still call home — until, well, last Friday’s victory over Cornell.
Whatever happened to that famed Philadelphia home-court advantage? I think it’s safe to say the Tigers won’t exactly fear Penn’s hecklers when they take the court.
At the end of the day, this game will be decided not by past wins or losses, but by the players on the court. And that’s where Penn finds itself in big trouble. The Quakers’ current savior comes in the form of Zack Rosen, a scrawny, red-headed, New Jersey point guard who looks like someone that should be playing left bench on his high school’s JV team.
As a matter of fact, that’s what Rosen did for most of his time at New Jersey powerhouse St. Benedict’s. I saw Rosen play one high school game and the results were not pretty. Surrounded by players who went on to star for Big East teams like Louisville and Villanova, Rosen laid a Hall of Fame-worthy stink bomb in a loss to hated rival St. Patrick’s.
I hope for the sake of competition that Rosen’s game has improved since that point, but I have news for you Penn fans: there’s a reason that Brian Scalabrine never left the bench for the New Jersey Nets.
Now back to the one reason Penn fans still have hope: that perplexing win against Cornell. All I can really say there is “Thank you.” Without that win, Princeton would be facing much more of an uphill climb to the Ivy League title.
Instead, Princeton and Cornell are still equal in the league loss column, and Penn fans mistakenly believe they have a good basketball team. It will make a Tiger victory that much sweeter.
ZACH KWARTLER is an Executive Editor for Sports for The Daily Princetonian. He can be contacted at email@example.com