Brian Kotloff | Outsmarting Harvard?
November 28, 2011, 11:32 pm · Updated November 29, 2011, 3:06 am·
Megan Falls | DP
If you looked closely enough, maybe you could have seen Jerome Allen gritting his teeth as he admitted that his team was weaker than its opponent.
“Obviously, they have some natural advantages over us as far as height, strength and jumping ability,” he said when diagnosing the Quakers’ 78-58 loss to Big East power Pitt on Friday.
Rarely does Allen, the driven coach and fierce competitor, make such a concession. He expects his players to match any opponent they encounter in on-court confidence and performance. In his mind, Penn should carry the same historical clout as Kentucky or Pitt or UCLA or Duke.
So when he spoke those words in the Palestra’s media room, it was hard not to raise an eyebrow or two. This was a defeated military general pointing out that the enemy had bigger guns.
In a normal year, the mismatches would end once the Ivy League season begins in January.
But a thousand miles away, league-favorite Harvard swept through Pac-12, ACC and Conference-USA foes on back-to-back-to-back days to capture the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament title. During their sunny weekend in the Bahamas, the Crimson looked the part of the major-conference titan, not the little-engine-that-could Ivy school.
Ivy teams aren’t supposed to feature 6-foot-8 behemoths who own the paint (Harvard senior Keith Wright) or springy 6-7 forwards who fill highlight reels with emphatic swats and alley-oops (junior Kyle Casey). They usually don’t outmuscle Florida State or even overwhelm Central Florida, and their blue-chip freshmen typically don’t watch from the bench because minutes are sparse on such a loaded squad.
Yet that’s the powerhouse coach Tommy Amaker has constructed up north. And if Allen and the Quakers want to hold themselves to the highest standard, that’s the powerhouse Penn needs to dismantle once the true test arrives.
The events of this weekend reinforced that even in pursuing the Ancient Eight crown, the Quakers will be at a natural disadvantage. Like Pitt, Harvard is bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than Penn.
Of course, what would basketball be if games were decided using rulers and scales, in weight rooms rather than on courts?
The paper champion doesn’t always win the hardware, which is why the Quakers should stash battles with Temple and Pittsburgh into their memory banks and save room for the upcoming Villanova, UCLA and Duke games.
The same lesson that was hammered home on Friday will be nailed down by the time Feb. 10 — the first time Penn plays Harvard — rolls around.
To win, the Quakers need to use mind over body, will over skill. In this basketball Bizarro World, Penn must outstudy, outwork and outsmart Harvard’s great athletes.
Both Allen and captain Zack Rosen seem to have already faced that fact and are preparing accordingly.
“Against a team like that, you have no shot unless you have great energy for 40 minutes,” Rosen said of Pitt, and the same applies to Harvard.
Every Penn player must realize that having less physical ability should only lead to more effort, more intensity and sharper execution. Because no matter how tall or how powerful the opponents, they still “put their shorts on one leg at a time,” Allen reminded everyone.
They may have some natural advantages, the coach said, “But you’ve got to play the game.”
BRIAN KOTLOFF is a senior communication major from Elkins Park, Pa. He is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His email address is kotloff@theDP.com.