There are natural comparisons in life.
Some are wrought by way of proximity. The guy who lives next door to you has a new car while your own is a hunk of junk.
Others come out of anticipated encounters. A friend — the one from high school who always seems to be doing better than you — is coming to town, and you’re doing everything you can to make sure the hangout doesn’t end in tears.
And others still are spawned thanks to shared ambition. I’m thinking of that girl who always asks you how you did on the organic chemistry exam just so she can tell you that she thinks she set the curve.
For Penn basketball, Drexel’s the Camaro-owner next door, Villanova’s the old friend with the job offer and a cute new girlfriend and Harvard’s the girl who is rubbing her 95 in its face.
While the Quakers spent the break beating up on a Niagara team that is currently 1-7 despite having one of the nation’s top scorers in their lineup and losing to a Lafayette team that had lost its first five games of the season by an average of seven points, all three of those teams were making waves.
Despite losing star Damion Lee to an ACL injury against Arizona, the Dragons went to Madison Square Garden and showed that they’ll be a forced to be reckoned with come March. Taking part in the Preseason NIT tournament, Drexel beat Elon and Rutgers to have the opportunity not just to play in the World’s Most Famous Arena, but to also make a statement to put down on its resume.
And even though the Dragons didn’t beat Arizona, they did take the No. 4 team in the country to the wire. Drexel jumped out to a double-digit lead early and ended up losing by just four, 66-62.
The next night, even without Lee, they were able to take down Alabama, a team they may be competing with come March.
Good thing for the Quakers is that, even though their car couldn’t keep up with the Dragons’ own, they won’t have to race until next season.
And if Drexel had a good weekend, then Villanova had the best one possible.
The Wildcats’ start of the season already was fantastic. They headed to the Bahamas with an undefeated record, but had the odds stacked against them. Standing before a Battle 4 Atlantis title for Villanova was USC, Kansas and Iowa.
But the Wildcats routed USC, then surprised everyone by defeating the No. 6 Jayhawks, 63-59. On the way, coach Jay Wright’s squad held star prospect Andrew Wiggins to a single-digit point total.
To take the title, Villanova beat No. 23 Iowa, who blew out the Quakers in Iowa City the week before.
While Penn avoided a matchup with Drexel this year, the Red and Blue head up to Villanova on Wednesday for a game that should be considered a success if the score is kept within ten.
At this rate, the Quakers will enter into conference play with a record similar to the one they carried last season, despite all the talk of cohesion that coach Jerome Allen perpetuated over the offseason.
And at the end of this ride sits Harvard, the crowned jewel of the Ivy League. Before the season, Penn seemed in the tier just below Harvard, along with Princeton and Yale. While the Tigers have started hot and look poised to compete for the Ancient Eight crown, Penn has fallen off.
Harvard swept away the competition at the Carrs-Safeway Great Alaska Shootout and have top grades through nonconference play, with the one knock on its resume coming against Colorado.
While the Crimson seem prepared to set the curve (which doesn’t seem to be too difficult, nowadays), Penn is just trying to pass the class.
That’s the thing about these connections though. While comparisons are only natural to make, and helpful in seeing the lay of the land, Penn’s problems start at home.
Fans and critics have the luxury of being able to compare, but Penn has to focus simply on getting its engine going, its pieces to come together and getting to the point where the team is proud of its play.
Because at the end of the day, if you take care of that shoddy 1986 Dodge minivan, you’ll drive it with pride. And for Penn, playing with pride would be a start.
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