Through the early part of the Ivy League schedule, Penn men’s basketball has gotten off to a perfect 3-0 start in conference play. Within the Big 5, though, things have not been nearly as rosy.
The Quakers (12-6, 0-3 Big 5) have gone winless in the famed Philadelphia circuit, dropping their first three contests to Villanova, La Salle, and Temple. On Saturday, the Red and Blue will get one final chance to avoid a Big 5 shutout when they host crosstown rival St. Joseph’s (9-9, 0-2).
“We want to win Big 5 championships. That’s a thing we’re trying to do,” coach Steve Donahue said of the team’s future goals. “That’s how we recruit. We like to think of ourselves as a Big 5 team that competes in the Ivy.”
While Penn will not top the quintet in 2018 — that honor will go to Villanova, the nation’s No. 1 ranked squad — contests versus Philadelphia rivals inevitably bring an added amount of energy, urgency, and gravity to the Palestra.
“It’s a sort of desperation mentality; it’s the same thing we had last year when we were 0-6 [in Ivy League play],” junior forward Max Rothschild said. “We don’t want go winless in the Big 5.”
If Penn is to pull out of its Philadelphia funk, it will need to rely heavily on its stalwart core — the Quakers have used the exact same starting five in each one of the season’s 18 games, a marked level of stability for a team that gave starts to nine different players a season ago.
“I know what those five will bring every game,” Donahue said of guards Darnell Foreman, Antonio Woods, and Ryan Betley as well as forwards AJ Brodeur and Rothschild. “They’ve deserved it. They’ve competed in all aspects of the game.”
Still, playing time has become available for players further down the depth chart. In last Saturday’s 60-51 loss to Temple, junior guard Jake Silpe — who came into the game having played just 36 minutes on the season — saw an extended 15-minute look off the bench.
“We experimented a little bit against Temple because we need to get better. I don’t want to stay stagnant.” Donahue said. “Jake has been improving over the last two months. He deserves an opportunity.”
“We as players can’t act like we’re [guaranteed playing time],” Rothschild added. “We just need to remain humble, with a workmanlike mentality.”
Saturday’s contest will come during something of a lull for the team — since beating Columbia two Saturdays ago, the Red and Blue have had consecutive weekends off from conference play, with the Temple and St. Joseph's home games representing the only action between the Jan. 13 and Feb. 2. While Big 5 play is far from a reprieve, the squad has welcomed the opportunity to stay home and prepare for the Ivy League’s stretch run.
“We’re doing a lot of scrimmaging in practice; we want to try different guys, try different things,” Donahue said.
“We had a lot of away games; we were pretty tired right before winter break,” Rothschild added. “It’s nice to have some time to practice, focus on ourselves, and get better.”
Saturday’s contest will represent the Red and Blue’s final nonconference action of the season — the remainder of the team’s contests will come versus Ivy League foes.
That is, of course, unless the Quakers take part in a certain tournament come March.
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