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Earlier this month, the Quakers lost a rout to the Jayhawks by a whopping 46 points. As a result of that debacle, tomorrow night's game against Temple becomes huge. The Quakers need to do more than just hang tough. They need to truly challenge the Owls up and down the court for a full 40 minutes. It's not a must-win -- but it's close. Obviously, it is rare for Penn to have anything even remotely close to a must-win game in mid-January. It's even rarer for that sort of game to come against a team of Temple's caliber, which just dropped out of the top 25 last week after a suprise loss to St. Bonaventure. It may seem strange, but the result of Penn's game tomorrow night at the Apollo has undeniable importance. First of all, it is a Big 5 game, and the Quakers are certainly displeased with their 0-2 record in the City Series. "We need to go 2-2 in the Big 5," Penn co-captain Michael Jordan said. "Our goal was to go undefeated, and that's not going to happen." Beyond the Big 5, Temple represents the final giant on Penn's hellish pre-conference schedule. Having already faced Kentucky, Auburn and the Jayhawks, the Quakers are very familiar with the spotlight. This will be their last chance to shine under it until March. "This is obviously a city game, and it's against a ranked team, and obviously a talented team," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's a measure of where we are as a basketball team." Once again, Penn will head into a hostile environment -- none of the Red and Blue's highly ranked opponents this year have visited the Palestra. And, as they did with Kansas, the Quakers will face an angry opponent. The Owls will be doubly hungry, wanting to avenge last season's overtime defeat, as well as their recent loss to the Bonnies. Although the Quakers managed to hang tough with Kentucky and Auburn earlier in the season, the Kansas loss seemed to shake their confidence at least a little bit. Penn lost its next game by two points to Villanova and then won by two over Lafayette. This past Saturday, Penn looked to be in real danger of losing to a far inferior Lehigh squad. Out of the embarrassment at Allen Fieldhouse, however, Penn can salvage a lesson -- good teams capitalize on the mistakes of their opponents. Temple is not perfect, and the Owls will make mistakes. The Quakers can win this game if they capitalize on those errors. But the question is not whether Penn can beat the Owls. It is whether these Quakers can really beat -- not just hang close with -- a top-flight team. If Penn loses tomorrow night, that question will hang over the Palestra throughout the Ivy League season. "We need to beat a good team -- a team that gets a lot of recognition," Jordan said. "When you play teams close, you can say it's a moral victory, but you want to win. You get nothing for second place." Jordan is well aware of what a big win over a top program can do for a team's confidence from his experience a year ago when Penn knocked off the then-No. 6 Owls in the second game of the season. After Jordan's 22-point performance at the Palestra, the Quakers won 13 of their next 15 games. This time, the Quakers face Temple in the middle of the season, with a very different team. If Penn does defeat its city foe, the result might be very similar, though. "Certainly, we were at a different stage last year," Dunphy said. "We're in a bit different situation with two freshman forwards, not with the savvy of Jed Ryan and Paul Romanczuk. [Still] we want to play well, and if that results in a win, that will help us a great deal." Now, the Quakers have a modest two-game winning streak going, and they will visit the Apollo tomorrow, and they know that a win might make good things happen. A lot of noise around the team will stop. There will be no more question of whether the Quakers can hack it with the top teams, and their belief in themselves should almost certainly rise back up to where it was at the beginning of the season when Jordan spoke of loftier goals than just making it to the NCAA Tournament. "This is a big game," Jordan said. "A win would definitely help our program and our confidence. I think we need to win this game, and it'll start us. It'll make three [consecutive wins] and hopefully we'll run up to the tournament." It's hard to say what will happen if Penn loses, beyond the persistent presence of lingering doubts for the next two months. It really would depend on how Penn loses. If the Quakers play well and lose, as they did against Auburn, it might not be so bad. One thing is certain. The Quakers cannot afford another performance like they had at Kansas.

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