That’s all it took to convince me of Penn men’s basketball’s fate this season.
Last year was different. The Quakers had an up-and-down non-conference slate, with the young team turning in inconsistent performances at every turn. In one game, they dispatched La Salle comfortably behind an insane 35-point performance by then-freshman AJ Brodeur. The very next game, Brodeur only scored seven and Penn lost its fourth straight Ivy League game.
I never did end up giving up on the Quakers last year, even when the conference losing streak hit six. The same can’t be said of all of us at DP Sports, but the moral of the story is that it took half the Ivy season for editors of this paper to be convinced.
Maybe my optimism is just stronger than the pessimism of some in our office, but it only took one Ivy League game for me to be sold on this year’s Quakers. You read it here first – I personally guarantee that Penn men’s basketball makes the Ivy League Tournament.
I’m fully prepared to eat my words, but I’m confident I won’t have to.
It's not even a hot take. The majority of the evidence so far easily points to a top-half finish in the conference. For starters, the Quakers have run off their best start in years. The last time Penn started a season 10-5 was more than 10 years ago. That year, the Red and Blue went on to win the Ivy title and secure an NCAA tournament bid.
Last year, the Quakers came up with a big win over Central Florida. They also lost to Navy and George Mason. This year’s performances have been more consistent, the season-opening loss to Fairfield notwithstanding.
The beauty and the pain of sports is that those results don’t necessarily tell us anything about what the team will do in conference play. Past performances do not guarantee future results.
That being said, Penn’s performance so far this year is that of a hungry team ready to challenge for an Ivy League title. The wins over Dayton, Monmouth, and now Princeton have proven that much. Just as important as the wins was how the Quakers got the job done.
Coach Steve Donahue seems comfortable with his starting five. The group – juniors Max Rothschild and Antonio Woods, senior Darnell Foreman, and sophomores Ryan Betley and Brodeur – has been steady. Each of them has played the lion's share of the team’s minutes and ranks in the top five in scoring.
Offensively, balance has made the Quakers hard to defend, while newfound depth has provided the ability to lift the team when it needs a spark. On the other side of the ball, the Red and Blue have limited opponents to just over 70 points per game, three points below the national average.
Of course, the non-conference schedule doesn’t mean much. Until the Ivy League proves itself worthy of an at-large NCAA bid, Penn’s non-conference schedule effectively becomes a series of exhibition games.
With that in mind, the Quakers are 1-0 in the games that matter. That’s as small of a sample size as you can get. But the win over last season’s undefeated champion – Penn's first win over Princeton since 2014 – means something more. To be the best you have to beat the best, and the Quakers knocked down that challenge on their first try.
Penn men’s basketball has me convinced. They are legitimate, serious contenders for an Ivy title this year. If last year’s team could make the tournament at 6-8, this year’s edition should have no problem getting in with two or three losses. I’m not guaranteeing a title just yet, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest the Quakers can’t get it done.
Theodoros Papazekos is a College sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pa., and is a Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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