Last year, they started 0-6 against the Ivy League. Now, the Quakers have won their first three Ivy games for the first time since 2012.
Penn men’s basketball resumes Ivy League competition this weekend with a doubleheader at the Palestra against Brown and Yale, hoping to maintain its hot play as of late. The Quakers (13-6, 3-0 Ivy) finished up Big 5 play last week, falling to Temple but topping Saint Joseph’s for a 1-3 record against Big 5 foes, and have won eight of their last 10 games.
Sophomore guard Ryan Betley is excited about the team’s quick start but eyes improvement.
“We’ve played as a team, and I like the fact that we’ve won obviously, but we want to close out games, not have any lapses during games where we let the opponent get back into it, stick to our stuff on offense and play great defense,” Betley said.
The Quakers’ lack of offensive firepower outside of Betley and sophomore forward AJ Brodeur early in Ivy play has coach Steve Donahue considering changes to the rotation. With fatigue from back-to-back games a concern, Donahue switched things up against Temple and Saint Joseph’s, giving junior guard Jake Silpe, senior guard Caleb Wood, and senior forward Sam Jones more playing time than usual.
“We’re not doing that well on offense, so I’m looking for ways to extend our team and get better. [Silpe and Jones] in particular have played really well in practice and I felt they would help us, and I thought those were good games to see if they would,” Donahue said. “The five core guys are terrific, I just think we need more guys to help us with back-to-back weekends.”
After last season’s sixth-place Ivy finish, Brown (9-8, 2-2) is already halfway to matching its four 2016-17 Ivy wins with nail-biter triumphs over Yale and Dartmouth by one and two points, respectively.
Brown’s four leading scorers are all guards, most notably sophomore Brandon Anderson and freshman Desmond Cambridge. Anderson is enjoying a breakout season, improving to 18.6 points per game, good for second in the Ivy League. Cambridge was thrown right into the fire and has started every game for the Bears, with his 15.9 points per game good, for fifth in the Ancient Eight.
The fastest-playing team in the Ivy League, Brown plays some of the highest scoring games in the conference. The Bears average 77.1 points scored per game, but also allow 76.6 points per game, the most and second-most respectively.
Meanwhile, the Red and Blue defense is not only one of the best in the conference, but also the country. Notably, Penn ranks fourth in assists allowed per game, seventh in three-point percentage allowed, and ninth in defensive rebound percentage.
Part of that, Donahue says, is due to the emergence of junior forward Max Rothschild, whom the Quakers have played alongside fellow big man Brodeur.
“Our ability to play those two guys together, I give AJ credit too. AJ has been able to move out to the perimeter, where his ability to pass and play like a perimeter player and let Max work inside,” Donahue said. “Then, defensively, those two guys’ ability to defend ball screens and switch with two bigs out there, very few teams in our league can do that.”
After splitting with Brown, Yale (9-11, 2-2) came back from a 15-point deficit to hold a second-half lead over Harvard, but eventually succumbed to the Crimson 54-52.
However, Yale bounced back the next night with a 74-64 win against Dartmouth, highlighted by 25 points from guard Alex Copeland. The junior has been an enigma in the first few games of Ivy play, exploding for 26 points in the second matchup against Brown but scoring only 10 and 11 points in the other two conference games.
Both Brown and Yale look like vintage trap games. As long as Makai Mason is out injured, neither team is on Penn’s level, but both are good enough to compete with the Quakers on any given day. Throw in the fact that Penn’s next game after the weekend is against Princeton, and it seems to be the makings of a formula for the Red and Blue getting upset.
But after coming back from 0-6 start to Ivy play last season, this team has a special recognition of just how important each Ancient Eight games.
Don’t expect either game to be a blowout, but Penn’s talent will just be a little too much for the Bears and the Elis down the stretch. Free throw troubles might make things close again in the final minutes, but the Quakers should be able to hang on in these ones.
Scores: Brown 66, Penn 74; Yale 59, Penn 64
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