The recent storylines of the Penn and Butler basketball seasons couldn’t be more different.
The Bulldogs (21-14) spent the last two years in the national spotlight — NCAA tournament darlings who defied all odds to reach the national finals twice in two years.
The Quakers (20-12) are coming out of the national cellar — still fresh off the worst season in program history in 2010 — and haven’t been to the big dance since 2007. Their last tournament win was 18 years ago, when Penn coach Jerome Allen was the starting point guard.
History aside, both will meet at the Palestra Monday night in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational, and if this weekend’s postseason action has taught us anything, history, rankings, seedings and standings must be put aside.
“They still have to come on the road and play us,” said sophomore guard Miles Cartwright, who led the Quakers with 23 points in a first-round win over Quinnipiac Wednesday.
“I know [the Bulldogs] have a couple guys who have been there, been in that situation and that’s going to help them,” Cartwright said. “But I don’t feel like it’s a great advantage. I feel like we have experience too. We’re going to use that to our advantage too.”
While Butler may have postseason experience, coach Brad Stevens fields a young team this year. Only three players who logged more than 10 minutes in the NCAA title game last year remain.
One of those, 6-foot-11 junior Andrew Smith, now leads the Bulldogs with 10.9 points per game. The center scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in Butler’s 75-58 win over Delaware in a first-round CBI game last week, and will be a tough matchup for Penn’s young post players.
After six consecutive postseason appearances —five of them in the NCAA tournament — and three conference championships in four years, Butler finished tied for third in the Horizon League and exited the conference tournament in the semifinals after a 19-point loss to Valparaiso.
“They play extremely hard,” Allen said of the Bulldogs. “They defend, they rebound the ball, they share the ball and it should be a good test for us.”
Allen knows Butler’s postseason experience will be an advantage.
“That’s something you can’t discount,” he continued. “The fact that those guys have been around, they’re used to playing on the road. They’re used to playing in the middle of March, so certain things won’t be foreign to them.”
While both teams would certainly rather be playing in a certain other tournament come March, neither is taking Monday’s matchup lightly.
“On the periphery it might seem like we’re not really playing for anything, but this means the world to us,” Cartwright said.
While Allen only takes things one game at a time, he’s hoping the experience in the CBI breeds some desire for a bigger stage next year.
His hope is that “come next September, that’s all they’ll be thinking about.”
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