As the winter sports start to head down the final stretch, we discussed which Penn Athletics team has the most critical games in the upcoming weekend.
Associate Sports Editor Matt Fine: Men’s basketball has the most important weekend of all Penn sports.
Following a disappointing start to their Ivy League season — including a blowout loss to conference-leading Yale — the Quakers had two fantastic performances in wins against Harvard and Dartmouth at the Palestra this past weekend. While this may be foreshadowing good things to come for the Red and Blue, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves...yet.
Dartmouth and Harvard make up the bottom two teams in the Ancient Eight standings, each with only one conference win in six outings. For Penn, which currently sits in fourth in the standings, this weekend will showcase its true place in the conference.
The matchup against second-place Columbia (16-7, 5-1 Ivy) will test whether the Quakers can hang with the teams most expected to compete for an Ivy title and NCAA tournament berth. They will also take on fifth-place Cornell (9-11, 2-4) in a game that will either see Penn separating itself from the bottom half of the Ancient Eight or settling into the middle of the pact as a team unlikely to compete for a championship this season.
Despite the good wins last weekend, we still don’t know just how good the Quakers are. This weekend, we will find out.
Sports Editor Tommy Rothman: The women’s basketball team has the most at stake this weekend. Why? They’re in the hunt for an Ivy title. In fact, they’re in the driver’s seat at 5-0.
But a loss in Saturday’s game against second-place Cornell (13-7, 5-1) would bring Penn’s title chances into question. Last season, a loss at home against the Big Red crippled Penn’s already slim chances of defending its Ivy title. This year, the Quakers have a much better shot, but that also means they have more to lose in any given game — so even if they top Cornell, the other contest this weekend (against a struggling Columbia team) is a must-win, too.
And don’t forget, even if the Red and Blue win the Ivy League by a wide margin, they’ll face a lot of scrutiny from the NCAA selection committee when it comes to seeding in the Big Dance. Losses to Cornell, Columbia or any other Ivy team won’t look good on their resume.
Associate Sports Editor Thomas Munson: When Cornell walks into the Palestra on Saturday, it will present Penn wrestling with arguably its toughest matchup of the season.
While the Big Red are clearly the kings of the Ivy League, having won 13 straight titles, the Quakers have finished second in each of those seasons and the winner of the Penn-Cornell matchup has produced the Ivy League champion for the last 29 seasons. If the Red and Blue want to keep their second-place streak alive they will likely have to upset the Big Red this weekend because of their loss to Princeton earlier in the season.
For Penn to have any shot at mounting an upset they will need all of their ranked grapplers to produce victories. Most notably, senior 184-pounder Lorenzo Thomas will have to overcome the brick wall that has been Gabe Dean.
If there’s a time to overcome that wall, however, it’s now. Dean saw his 52 match win streak snapped last weekend, making him appear vulnerable. If Thomas can finally take down his old foe, the Quakers stand a puncher’s chance at dethroning the Big Red.
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