Coach Jerome Allen righted the ship against Princeton earlier this month, giving his team a chance to rejoin the conversation in the Ivy League race.
With league play kicking into full gear this weekend, I’ll take my chance at predicting how the 14-game tournament that is the Ivy season will pan out for the Quakers with these four predictions:
1. The Stinker
The Quakers — or anyone else of any consequence in the Ivy League — won’t lose to Cornell, which is just hibernating until its miserable season comes to an end. But could the Quakers lose to Dartmouth, which is now without its best player? Or to a Brown squad on the back end of the New Haven-Providence road trip? It’s going to happen. Penn winning the Princeton contest made fans optimistic and critics like yours truly eat crow. But I’ve watched a lot of Penn basketball this year, and the squad has the tendency of failing to show up until it’s too late, so be prepared for that to happen over the next month-plus.
2. Cashing in
Penn’s nonconference schedule, even with puff teams like Niagara and Manhattan, is still tougher than any other in the Ivy League. Tight losses to George Mason and Temple, and even losing blowouts to Villanova, La Salle and St. Joe’s, have strengthened this team for the Ivy roundabout.
Penn — and sophomore Tony Hicks in particular — was on the verge of losing its cool over the course of its nonconference slate. It’s fair to say, considering how this team came out against Princeton, that the players were as sick of losing as their fans were. The Quakers know how awful it feels to play a game where they failed to give 100 percent effort, and they have some performances from their nonconference season to thank for that.
3. The Big One
In my eyes, Penn has as much talent as anyone in the Ivy League. The Quakers were picked second in the preseason Ivy media poll for a reason, after all.
And they’re going to upset Harvard. Not this weekend. Not in Cambridge, after a trip to Dartmouth the day before, at 9 p.m., on national TV. But late in February, the Quakers will have an upset in them. Sophomore Darien Nelson-Henry will fight all night for position down low, and he’ll win more often than not. That will free Hicks to go off. Senior Miles Jackson-Cartwright and sophomore Julian Harrell will step up on defense, containing Harvard’s guards.
4. First is the worst,
second is …
The Quakers are essentially in a log jam with Princeton and Columbia for second in the Ancient Eight. Columbia has played remarkably well and has done its due diligence early by defeating lowly Cornell, as it should. And Princeton — besides its game against Penn — has looked like the front-runner to compete with Harvard for the Ivy crown.
But Penn shook that order up when the Quakers handled the Tigers earlier this month, and there’s a chance that they are able to keep that momentum going. The Quakers haven’t made it a trend of sweeping Ivy weekends under Jerome Allen, but this team is a different animal. This year’s edition of the Red and Blue runs on energy, both mid-game by getting out and running, but between games as well.
After NJIT, it seemed as though Penn had figured out a winning formula, and hopefully for Allen’s squad, the team will stick to it as the Quakers head into Ivy play. If Penn does, then second is definitely in play.