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Senior Rob Belcore will likely have the difficult job of defending Quinnipiac junior Ike Azotam, who averages 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Penn will have to contain the Bobcats inside if it wants to gain a postseason victory.

Credit: Megan Soisson

It’s been five long years since the Penn men’s basketball team had life after Ivy play.

It may not be the NCAA Tournament, and it may not be the NIT, but the Quakers begin their postseason Wednesday in the College Basketball Invitational against Quinnipiac at the Palestra.

“It’s nice to still be playing this late,” senior Zack Rosen said. “We have an opportunity to continue the season and compete for a championship.”

The Bobcats (18-13) tied for fifth place in the Northeast Conference and lost in the NEC tournament semifinal to eventual champion Long Island University-Brooklyn, a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Quakers went 1-1 against NEC teams this season, beating Robert Morris on Nov. 19 and falling to Wagner on Nov. 22. Quinnipiac played one Ivy team this year, beating Yale, 68-62, on Nov. 15.

Coach Jerome Allen said the game will “probably be decided in the paint.” The Bobcats are second in the country with 43.5 rebounds per game, while the Quakers sit at 323rd with 30.1.

The team emphasized the importance of getting help inside from its guards.

“We’ve just got to be physical,” sophomore Miles Cartwright said. “I know our bigs are going to fight, but our guards, we have to go in and help them and crash the boards and get to the loose balls first because I know it’s going to be a physical game and a scrappy game so we just have to beat them to the punch.”

“Guards help out on the glass,” Rosen echoed. “That’s it.”

Key to that effort will be containing Quinnipiac sophomore forward Ike Azotam, who averages 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

After a 62-52 loss to Princeton on Mar. 6 to end the regular season and kill Penn’s Ivy title hopes, the CBI tournament offers the Quakers a second chance to head into the offseason with momentum.

“I think it’s important, especially for the younger guys who are coming back next year, trying to get used to a certain standard, get used to a certain way of preparing to compete,” Allen said.

Though he expects his younger players to gain experience from this opportunity, Allen and his team are playing to win.

“We’re going to play the game, we’re going to prepare to win,” he said. “It is part of our season. It’s not a new season, it’s not a pick-up game, it’s still part of the 2011-2012 season and I think we’re going to prepare the same way we prepared all season long.”

When the Quakers tip off at 7:30 p.m., Philadelphia will be abuzz with college basketball. Drexel, La Salle and St. Joseph’s will all be playing their first round games of the National Invitation Tournament at home.

“I think it’s a testament to the quality of basketball that’s played in Philadelphia,” Allen said. “Among the six Division I schools, to have five playing in some type of postseason tournament, it says a lot and I think it speaks volume as to the competitiveness, the quality of the Big 5.”

Though it’s not the NCAA tournament, Penn finally has a chance to prove itself on the national stage — and the team is not taking it for granted.

“You don’t get too many opportunities to come out and compete,” Rosen said. “I’m a competitor and when that ball goes up, it’s going to be like any other game.”

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