Out with the old and in with the new.
The 2016 portion of the Penn men’s basketball season is over, and with it the bulk of the non-conference schedule. 2017 brings with it the new challenge of Ivy League play. The Quakers (6-5) open the new year at Princeton (7-6) on Saturday in the 235th meeting of the rivalry.
Despite non-conference play being largely behind them, that is not to say that the 2016 portion of Penn’s season should be easily dismissed. Coach Steve Donahue says he likes the way his team has performed so far this season.
“I think we had a really challenging non-conference schedule,” he said. “We’ve definitely gotten better, but at the same time we have a long way to go.”
According to Donahue, the Quakers have been good, but his focus was on improvement — especially regarding consistency and attention to detail. The Red and Blue don’t have many particularly bad losses — a tight game to Navy notwithstanding — and have claimed a few big wins, including one over rival Drexel and a nine-point win at nationally-ranked Central Florida. The keys for the stretch run will be steady growth by the team’s young core and consistent offensive production.
“The offensive side of the ball has been inconsistent for us. We’ve taken care of the ball for the most part, but I just think we can execute better,” Donahue said. He did acknowledge the difficulty of the schedule his team has faced, most notably top-ranked Villanova, but says that his team has played well against fellow mid-major teams.
“For the most part, our defense has been really good,” Donahue said. “Our defense continues to improve, and it’s been pretty consistent. Just challenging shots, [and getting] turnovers.”
Additionally, production from underclassmen has been a major catalyst for the Quakers. Probably their best player so far has been freshman AJ Brodeur, who leads the team in both points and minutes.
For Brodeur, the Princeton game represents his first taste of both the historic rivalry and Ivy League play. The Tigers enter the matchup as the favorites to win the Ivy league, and ride a five-game winning streak against the Quakers. For their own part, Penn looks to continue its three-game win streak and avenge last season’s heartbreaking losses, which came by a combined three points.
Donahue said that preparation for the game is simply business as usual for the Quakers, asserting that there is no difference in how the Quakers approach Princeton compared to their other opponents. He admitted that memory of last season’s defeats drives him, but downplayed its effect on the team, quipping that “half the team wasn’t here [to remember it]”.
With last year’s results in mind, Penn must learn from its mistakes in the conference’s most historic rivalry. Donahue blames the losses on a lack of the little things, despite playing a pair of strong games otherwise. That seemed to be the story in the beginning of this season as well. With a clean slate to start conference play, the long road to an Ivy League title starts in Princeton. A good start to 2017 would be a huge first step.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.