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Credit: Ilana Wurman

That was ugly ... I mean really ugly.

There were no redeeming qualities for Penn basketball’s blowout loss at home against Harvard. None, absolutely none.

It was certainly a far cry from Penn’s game a day before against Dartmouth, a game Penn was able to win with the combination of game planning and the sizable contribution of a few underclassmen.

But from the opening tip on Saturday, it was all Harvard for one simple reason: The Crimson are a much better team.

That isn’t really insight, I admit. But it is an inherent truth that needs to be made clear before any of Penn’s unseemly defeats can be logically discussed.

Harvard has two of the best players in the Ivy League with Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers, the latter of whom started to put things together this weekend. In addition, the Crimson have a strong three-point shooter in Corbin Miller that played a large part in the win over Princeton and some talented, albeit flawed, forwards that round out the roster.

On any given night, the Crimson aren’t likely to run you out of the gym with their offense, but their defense can certainly make any team squirm.

And that’s how Harvard set the tone on Saturday: By completely shutting down the Quakers’ offense and giving them few, if any, open shots.

When Penn was working at its best against Dartmouth, the Quakers were able to penetrate, whether it be Tony Hicks, Matt Howard or Antonio Woods, helping to either get easy layups or to set up Greg Louis for easy dunks.

While Louis got a couple easy dunks in the opening half, Harvard forced the Red and Blue to take midrange jumpers and the occasional open three, neither of which fell. When Penn was able to get the ball inside, junior center Darien Nelson-Henry wasn’t able to find the bottom of the hoop despite trying a myriad of post moves.

As usual, turnovers reared their ugly head for Penn, but, unlike Dartmouth, Harvard was able to actually convert.

All of this is to say that this Penn team is not ready to compete with the top of the Ivy League. Again, this isn’t really insight into the Red and Blue. To paraphrase a famously frustrated football coach, the Quakers are who we thought they were.

This young squad simply doesn’t have the depth or experience at the offensive end to make their defensive efforts stick. It doesn’t help that the Red and Blue matched up with the Ivy League’s top defensive squad, one with the same experience that the Quakers lack.

And while the Dartmouth game was as impressive a defensive game as Penn has put together in recent memory, Saturday was a dud despite the efforts of the coaching staff. Harvard’s forwards proved too much for Penn’s frontcourt, while Chambers and Saunders were simply a step faster than anyone the Quakers placed on them. Coach Jerome Allen moved Penn into a 2-3 zone at one point in the first half, but this simply meant even more uncontested jumpers.

In the postgame press conference, Allen gave a pretty good reason for Harvard’s success on the evening.

“They came tonight ready to play ... The core of that group has experienced winning before,” he said. “We’re trying to learn how to win.”

And that’s the heart of the issue. The Quakers can win games against lesser opponents when they’re playing well, but Penn hasn’t figured out how to give a 40-minute effort to beat a top-tier opponent.

Moving forward, the Red and Blue have the chance to rebound against two decidedly less talented squads in Cornell and Columbia. But when it comes to a game like this, the team isn’t in a place to truly compete with Harvard – or Yale for that matter.

Sorry for the lack of insight, but it boils down to one issue: Penn is far away from the top of the Ivy League, and it’s going to take a whole lot more than one Ivy weekend to get there.

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