It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
I don’t know if Jerome Allen has ever read “A Tale of Two Cities,” but he should.
For Penn basketball, this Ivy season has truly been the best of times and the worst of times.
Last weekend serves as a prime example. The Quakers forced 25 turnovers at Brown and then fell apart defensively the next night at Yale.
It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness.
Throughout the year, coach Jerome Allen has urged critics to believe in his process — that strong team defense and intelligent, clean offense win games.
Yet this team is young, and with youth come foolish errors. The Quakers have been turnover-prone since November and haven’t improved much since.
Overall, the Quakers average 15.9 turnovers per game, while in Ivy play thus far they are also last in the league with 14.8.
It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity.
Despite the mental errors and the inconsistency, there have been flashes — such as Penn’s victory over Harvard at the Palestra — when an innocent observer couldn’t help but believe that the stars were aligned for this squad.
Freshman guard Tony Hicks has proven to be a stud, taking the team on his back on numerous occasions. After averaging just 5.1 points per game in the first 10 games of the season, he has put up 12.25 points per game in the last 20 contests.
Put Hicks and fellow frosh Darien Nelson-Henry alongside a healthy Fran Dougherty and a Miles Cartwright with a year of running the ship under his belt, and that same innocent observer can’t help but believe that this team can compete in the Ivy next year.
And then the Quakers lay an egg like they did in New Haven on Saturday, and all those aspirations disappear. In their place lies a feeling of incredulity for believing this team had gotten things together.
It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness.
The more one focuses simply on the Quakers and less on the rest of the Ivy League, however, the easier it is to make an argument for improvement. But perception is everything, especially in sports.
The honest reality is that the Quakers will improve, and the honest question fans and the team itself must ask is whether that improvement will be enough.
Following Yale’s victory on Saturday night, many spoke of the Bulldogs in very much the same way that the optimists amongst the Quakers do about Penn.
Think a lot of buzzwords like growth and potential.
Yet at the end of that conversation, the Crimson elephant in the room was raised.
What about Harvard? The Crimson won the Ivy League this year even after two of their top scorers had to leave the team for the year, and they will likely return next season.
As good as Penn or Yale is going to get, the road to the top of the Ivy League is cluttered with hopeful teams.
It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.
The most telling quote of the season came two weekends ago, when Hicks said, “A lot of times we just kind of get down on ourselves as a team — we just don’t have the fire to compete.”
It’s for this very reason that tonight’s contest against Princeton matters — either this offseason will be one of promise, or one of heartache.
With this team searching so hard to find a consistent pulse, a win against Princeton would provide much-needed team momentum throughout the offseason.
If not, that fire might never get started.
“A Tale of Two Cities” ends in a bittersweet fashion, with Sydney Carton sacrificing himself so that his true love can live happily.
For this team, there will be no sacrifice for the greater good. Either they succeed, or Allen will simply be remembered as just another coach who couldn’t.
JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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