Last season, Penn men’s basketball had six Ivy League wins in 14 games. This season, it has six wins in six games.
The Quakers (16-6, 6-0 Ivy) have opened conference play on a tear and head off on their first road Ivy doubleheader this weekend against Dartmouth (4-15, 0-6) and Harvard (10-11, 5-1). Penn played its first five Ancient Eight games at home before squashing Princeton, 82-65, in New Jersey on Tuesday, and has only one more home weekend remaining in the regular season.
After winning its first five Ivy games by single-digit margins, Penn turned what was a close game with Princeton at the half into a decisive victory, with all six players that played more than two minutes scoring at least eight points. Senior guard Darnell Foreman led the way with a career-high 21 points, adding five steals and five rebounds, and sophomore forward AJ Brodeur scored all 17 of his points in the second half as Penn pulled away.
Penn’s key strength this season has been its defense. The Quakers rank 41st in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, as well as tops in the Ivy League in field-goal percentage allowed, three-point percentage allowed, and defensive rebounding rate.
However, coach Steve Donahue has said recently that he wants the offense to match the defense. The Red and Blue rank in the middle of the pack in shooting efficiency and points per possession.
During the last few Big Five games and last weekend’s games against Brown and Yale, Donahue experimented with rotating in players in an attempt to bolster the offense. Junior guard Jake Silpe and senior forward Sam Jones were among those to see looks and could factor into gameplans going forward, but it is clear that senior guard Caleb Wood has earned more playing time. He leads the Quakers in Player Efficiency Rating in conference play and has averaged 20.7 points per 40 minutes off the bench.
Donahue is impressed with Wood’s progression into an offensive threat for the Red and Blue.
“At this point in his career he’s a senior, he’s been through it all, he’s our most explosive offensive player skill-wise, and makes others better,” Donahue said. “It enables the floor to be spread for guys like AJ, Max, and Darnell.”
Dartmouth is in the midst of an 0-6 Ivy start and nine-game losing streak, although all six Ivy losses have been within 10 points. That includes the overtime loss to Harvard and away losses to Brown, Cornell, and Columbia by margins of three points or fewer. The Big Green spread the ball around on offense — its four leading scorers average between 10 and 13 points per game.
For the Crimson, this will be one of the more important weekends of the season as they face the two other best teams in the Ivy League. While 5-1 thus far, the Crimson have yet to face an Ancient Eight team of Penn or Princeton’s caliber, meaning this weekend could be an important preview for the Ivy League Tournament in March.
Harvard could be without star sophomore guard Bryce Aiken, who last weekend reinjured his knee that kept him limited or out for much of the last few months. Without Aiken, the Harvard offense that has an Ivy-worst 41.2% field goal percentage and 0.973 points per possession will funnel to forwards Seth Towns and Chris Lewis.
Towns has caught fire in Ivy League play, averaging 21.5 points per game with an absurd 22-of-38 (57.9%) clip from three-point range. For his career, he has shot 42.3% from three, so he will cool down eventually, but sustaining that heater is crucial to Harvard’s success. Lewis has two games in conference play with 16+ points but also has three games with seven or fewer points. Prior to Ivy play, his last game with 16+ points was on November 30 against Northeastern.
With victories this weekend, Penn can solidify itself as the team to beat in the Ivy League and pack its lead atop the standings. It can also book a sweep of the Ivy League in its first go-around.
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