Every Penn student loves to think they have the busiest schedule, but the players on the men’s basketball team certainly have a good claim to that title.
Since the season opener at Fairfield on Nov. 11, Penn men’s basketball has played nine games in only 19 days. Factor in the combined six overtime periods, and the Quakers have played the equivalent of a game every other day across that stretch.
Coach Steve Donahue suggested that the busy schedule has been a function of the unique circumstances of playing Division I basketball at an Ivy League school.
“Scheduling is so crazy, especially in our league,” Donahue said. “One, we play the most non-league games. We only play 14 league games. Everyone else is playing 16, 18, 20. So there are a lot of games to schedule if you want to play 30 like we do.”
Most major basketball programs play somewhere between 28 and 31 games. Historically, Penn and the rest of the Ivy League play fewer to allow the players time off for winter break and finals. This year, Penn will play 30 games, which means they have to fit the same amount of games as major programs in a smaller amount of time. The result: a packed first month before the break.
One problem associated with playing such a packed schedule is the tradeoff between games and practice. When playing almost every other day as they have been for the last few weeks, Donahue and his coaching staff lose chances for on-court instruction.
“There are things that you’d love to go over after each game, and practice for a few days to prepare for someone else,” Donahue said. “That’s been out the window a little bit, but you learn a lot in games.”
Donahue suggested that what made this season’s packed schedule possible was the abundance of games close to home. With the obvious exception of the trip to Florida, the Quakers have largely avoided scheduling overnight trips. Instead, away games are simple bus rides to schools like Monmouth, Villanova, and Lafayette.
As close as they are to University City, those games are all still outside of the Palestra. The Quakers haven’t played on their home court since blowing out Penn State Brandywine over two weeks ago. By the time the Quakers finally return to the Palestra after break, it will have been more than a month between home games. In the meantime, the Red and Blue will play eight straight away or neutral site games.
Once they do return, the script will be flipped. Penn will play nine straight home games, including five conference games at home to kick off the Ivy League slate.
Scheduling quirks aside, the Quakers are well equipped to handle the heavy workload this season. This is perhaps the deepest Penn basketball team in recent memory. While some mainstays such as sophomore Ryan Betley have played all but five minutes or so in every game, the bench has played a fair amount so far – sometimes by necessity.
“It’s a strength of ours that we have a lot of guys who’ve played a lot of Ivy League games, who’ve even started games. I don’t want it to be a strength because we’re fouling,” Donahue said. “We can’t foul and that’s something that we have to get better at.”
With three games in five days next week, the schedule doesn’t get any easier before finals. After that, players can enjoy a merciful two-week break until after the holidays before the start of league play. Just don’t expect the grueling Ivy League season to be any easier.