I’m a superstitious sports fan. If I’m standing when my team scores a touchdown, I can’t sit down. If my team falters, I won’t wear the same jersey the next game. And if my team loses more than they win in my presence, I convince myself that I must be cursed.
So after witnessing Penn men’s basketball’s two most lopsided losses of the season, I began to worry that I might be bad luck. I sat in the stands the Friday after Thanksgiving, among a strongly pro-Pitt crowd, to see Penn suffer a 20-point defeat to the then-No. 17 Panthers. And then on New Year’s Day, I sat on press row in front of the Cameron Crazies to watch a 30-point loss to then-No. 5 Duke.
After falling to the Blue Devils, Penn was 6-8. Sure, the Quakers hadn’t even faced an Ivy foe yet, but the large margin of defeat was demoralizing. As a DP column on Jan. 13 read, “this squad must prove that its tough first-half schedule was worthwhile,” and at the time, I was skeptical.
Since the Blue Devil beatdown that opened 2012, however, the Quakers have shown great improvement, going 4-1, including a 2-0 Ivy road trip and an 84-80 upset of St. Joe’s Saturday to end their nonconference slate — an important finish heading into the rest of the Ivy season, coach Jerome Allen said.
“It builds momentum, it gives the guys a sense of what to expect as far as what it takes to win,” he said. “It’s easier to teach when you win than when you lose because you’ve really got the guys’ attention to make them not settle or be content.”
Though Penn finished 8-9 in nonconference play, each loss — besides those against Pitt and Duke, as well as an 11-point loss to La Salle — was by single digits. Penn had its chances to add to the ‘W’ column against strong opponents, coming painfully close against Temple, UCLA and Davidson.
The team was disappointed with each loss, but it is clear from their current three-game winning streak that the players both learned from the losses and increased their competitive drive.
“We were in all those games, so we can play with anybody,” senior Tyler Bernardini said. “We can win every game that we play in.”
Sure, they’ve only played two games of their 14-game tournament, but it appears as if the challenging nonconference schedule is paying off. After so many tests early in the season, the obstacle in front of them — the incredible unpredictability of the Ivy League — seems surmountable.
“We talk all the time about how competitive the league is,” Allen said. “On any given night, anyone can be beat [anyone]. It’s imperative that we maintain focus for these next five weeks or so, because victory and defeat are so fragile.”
But if the Quakers can play consistently, they will have a chance to run the table this season. They have the talent and determination to win any game — even when I bring my superstition to the crowd.
ALYSSA KRESS is a junior communications major from Abington, Pa., and is a Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. She can be contacted at Kress@theDP.com.