The leaves are falling, the weather is cold, and Penn men's basketball is preparing for another campaign with expectations as high as ever.
The primary goal? To earn at least a berth in the Ivy League Tournament, to be held March 10-11 at The Palestra. The key phrase in that sentence is, of course, “at least.” The real ambition for any Ancient Eight team is to win the Ivy tournament and get to dance with the top programs in the country at the NCAA Tournament.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before the Quakers can even begin to dream about March Madness, they have to get down to business in the regular season, which starts Nov. 11 with a contest against Fairfield University at the Stags’ home court in Connecticut.
The next games that the Quakers will have circled on their calendars are showdowns against La Salle and Navy on Nov. 13 and 15, respectively. Last season, the Quakers battled the Explorers to an impressive 77-74 win on the road, and will hope to make it two in a row on the 13th. The Red and Blue had an equally impressive road performance against the Midshipmen earlier last season, but fell 70-68 in a heartbreaker. Because of the close nature of these games, Penn can use these matchups to gauge their progress from last year to this year. In an ideal world, the Quakers will build on last season’s strong showings on the road and earn solid wins against both teams on their home court.
The next set of games that are notable for the Red and Blue are a set of away games in Florida as a part of the Gulf Coast Showcase, an elimination-style tournament that features eight mid-major programs from across the country. This will be Penn's first time in such an event since 2012-13. The Quakers are guaranteed three games from Nov 18-22 and will get valuable early-season experience with a “win or you’re done” tournament atmosphere that will come in handy come March.
The Gulf Coast Showcase is actually just the beginning of a long road trip for Penn, who will be playing eight consecutive games away from the Palestra and not returning home until the tail end of December. On this road trip, the Quakers will battle Villanova, a yearly championship contender that is sure to give the Red and Blue all they can handle and more. Coach Steve Donahue will be looking at the clash with the Wildcats as a golden opportunity to show the whole country the progress that Penn has made, and even if a victory may be overly optimistic, a solid performance could do wonders for the confidence of the team.
On January 5, the Quakers will begin conference play, and what better way to start it than with a home game against Princeton? Besides being rivals by nature, the Tigers are perennially one of the best teams in the conference and will be the first barometer the Red and Blue have to see how they might match up in this year’s Ivy League. Following the game against Princeton, the Quakers will play another six games at home, spanning all of January.
The most difficult stretch of the season is surely the five-game conference game road trip in early February. Trips to Princeton, Dartmouth, Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell will prove stern tests of Penn’s mettle, and the road trip will almost surely feature several make-or-break type games with the conference season winding down.
After a couple home games, the Quakers finish the season on the road at Yale and Brown. As if any of the Quaker faithful need reminding, it was last year’s end-of-season win against Harvard that sealed a place in the conference tournament. If this season is more of the same, these last two games could effectively be tournament games.
It is never too early to look ahead to some of the more intriguing matchups on the calendar. For Penn men's basketball, a season full of optimism features a plethora of compelling games that could prove vital to the team’s success. Should the Quakers handle the twists and turns of a difficult schedule, they could find themselves back in the Ivy League Tournament, where they can dare to dream of some March madness of their own.
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