Prepare for some bad blood to flow in the Palestra this weekend.
After suffering its only Ivy League loss this season to Harvard two weeks ago, Penn gets a chance at revenge this Saturday in the Palestra when the Crimson come into town. But first, Penn will have to face Dartmouth — a clear underdog in this matchup, and yet one that Penn had a hard time handling two weeks ago in Hanover during a 64-61 win.
The outcome of these two games will be crucial in determining seeding heading into the Ivy League tournament, which will be held at the Palestra during Penn’s spring break. And once the dust clears, either Harvard (14-11, 9-1 Ivy) or Penn (19-7, 9-1) will be at the top of the regular season standings, most likely having secured at least a bid to the National Invitational Tournament as well as some confidence prior to the conference tournament – an affair of March-Madness-sized proportions.
Although clearly the game against Harvard will hold more implications in terms of the postseason, the Quakers are adopting a mindset of “one game at a time.”
“If you start wandering a little with your mind about [the Harvard game], you can really slip up,” coach Steve Donahue said regarding Friday's contest against Dartmouth (6-17, 2-8).
“For us every game is important,” junior guard Antonio Woods said. “We’re still trying to get a regular season Ivy League title. We still haven’t done that in ten years.”
The last instance in which Penn faced these two teams in succession, the results yielded rumblings surrounding Penn’s legitimacy as an Ivy contender. But the past is the past, and, the road is the road. Now on a two-game win streak and defending their home for the first time in five games, the Quakers clearly hold the momentum heading into this weekend’s challenge.
An interesting aspect of the Quakers' recent success has been Donahue’s fielding of four guards in the lineup. Although not a novel idea, especially in college basketball, the move is unprecedented for Penn given their season-long dominance down low with starting big men Max Rothschild and AJ Brodeur.
Donahue, however, chalked the move up to Penn’s team mentality, which depends on throwing whoever is going to create an advantage at any given moment out onto the floor. On those particular nights at Columbia and Cornell, Darnell Foreman, Woods, Jake Silpe, Devon Goodman and Brodeur gave Penn the best chance to win in Donahue’s mind, and clearly coach played the odds right.
“I don’t necessarily think we may ever do that again, and, then again, we may. And I think that’s a strength of our team,” Donahue said. “You try to scout us, and there are so many different things we do.”
Besides the team’s commitment to team basketball and beneficial matchups, the difference for Penn this time around might be the Palestra. Against Harvard, Penn shot worse percentages than the Crimson in field goals, three-pointers, and free throws, demonstrating fatigue on the road as well as the effect of a hostile crowd. Now at home, the Quakers hope to demonstrate an improvement in their game.
“We missed a lot of tough baskets that we normally make,” Woods said. “So for us, it's knocking down shots, making the right plays, and being fundamentally sound.”
Considering Penn’s opportunity to earn a conference title with a win against Harvard, many students and Penn fans, along with those loyal to Harvard and Dartmouth, will be flooding into the Palestra this weekend hoping to witness something special and exciting.
If Penn is truly a better team than it was two weeks ago, the Quakers may be able to make it happen.
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