On March 30, 2010, Jerome Allen was hired as the full-time head coach of Penn basketball. Just 33 days later, on May 2, Kyle Smith became the coach at Columbia.
And since each took over, Penn has held the head-to-head edge over the Lions, winning four out of six matchups and finishing ahead of Columbia in the Ivy League standings in each of the past three seasons.
But the gap appears to be closing.
No, Columbia basketball has not passed Penn basketball as a brand. And when the two squads meet this Saturday, the Quakers may very well blow the Lions out of the water.
But unlike Allen’s 4-13 squad, Smith’s team appears to have taken a leap forward from last season.
After going 4-10 in Ivy play last year, Columbia was picked to finish last again in 2014.
Yet even after losing two tough road games against Yale and Brown last weekend, the Lions still seem poised to rise above their lowly preseason ranking.
Why? The answer is simple: improvements across the board.
Seven of Smith’s players are scoring more points per game than last season, and a group of three sophomore guards has been the emblem of Columbia’s step in the right direction.
Maodo Lo, Isaac Cohen and Grant Mullins have each played a big role in Columbia’s 13-8 start to the year, providing consistent minutes in the starting lineup. Lo and Mullins, in particular, have been scoring forces, providing the Lions with steady points after inconsistency plagued their freshman seasons.
Meanwhile, Penn has seen everything but consistency out of its starting five, and the Quakers’ top sophomores have been no exception.
As one of the Red and Blue’s leading guards, Tony Hicks has seen increased minutes. He has also put up more turnovers and fouls alongside his heightened scoring role, something that severely limited him in the Quakers’ loss to Dartmouth last week.
And Darien Nelson-Henry hasn’t been able to find consistency either. The 6-foot-11 center has eclipsed 30 minutes in a game just once this year, and a concussion held him out for a stretch around New Year’s.
But more important than the growing pains of Nelson-Henry and Hicks is how reliant the Quakers are on their current seniors.
Watching any game this year, the Red and Blue have revolved around the play of seniors Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Fran Dougherty. If the two are playing well in tandem, as they did against both Princeton and NJIT, the Quakers are able to notch some solid wins.
But come next season, those two will be gone. As will Cameron Gunter and Steve Rennard, two of Allen’s cogs off the bench.
Who does Columbia lose? No one.
And if Smith is already getting his players to take a step forward in year two, or year three in the cases of Alex Rosenberg and Cory Osetkowski, the Lions can be expected to be even better with another year under their belts.
But looking at the Quakers, it seems like the team has taken a step back each of the past two years instead of making progress, especially with every player returning after last season’s 9-21 disappointment.
So you can throw out Penn’s 26 Ivy titles to Columbia’s one. You can ignore Penn’s 137-86 advantage over the Lions head-to-head dating back to 1902.
Because ultimately, if Smith can keep finding ways to get the most out of his recruits while the Quakers stay mired in mediocrity as they have been for the past seven seasons, the perceived gap between the two schools will continue to shrink.
STEVEN TYDINGS is a Wharton sophomore from Hopewell, N.J. and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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