Survive and advance.
The commonly used saying during the NCAA basketball tournament means it doesn’t matter how you win. As long as you win and “survive” each round, you advance closer and closer to the national title.
Penn basketball wasn’t at its best this weekend.
The Red and Blue struggled with free throws down the stretch against Cornell, shooting 50 percent from the charity stripe in the last two minutes. Against a Columbia team that is 3-12, they had 20 turnovers. They never seemed to have offensive rhythm outside of AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley, who accounted for 50 of the team’s 77 points.
But none of that matters because they still found a way to win.
The Ivy League regular season isn’t a beauty contest anymore. The top team from the regular season doesn’t earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid; the bid goes to the winner of the Ivy League tournament.
As great as this 3-0 conference start is, it’s not as if the Red and Blue are playing perfect basketball. Coach Steve Donahue acknowledged after the victory over Columbia that this team is still constantly trying to improve week to week and is learning how to close out basketball games.
Compared to last year, it’s not like the Quakers are having to lose games to learn their lesson anymore. They can still adapt and improve, but they're winning at the same time.
That is what great teams, like Duke, Michigan State, and Villanova do. They might experience growing pains early through the season, but they still find a way to win tough conference games when it matters most.
It feels like the Red and Blue have learned the hard part of losing close games. And now, they're using those past experiences to win the games they need to win this season, even if it isn’t pretty.
This team is clearly good. The offense is strong and balanced, scoring 78.5 points per game, which leads the Ivy League (a number that could increase if Brodeur continues to rain down threes like he did Saturday night). The Red and Blue hold a quality non-conference win at Dayton, ranked No. 77 in RPI. They’re in first place in the Ivy League and are the second highest ranked team in the RPI behind Princeton, who the Quakers already beat.
But this team looks like it's able to find a way to survive and advance every week during the Ivy regular season. It feels like this team is ready to make the jump from good to great.
Does the offense still have stretches where it goes cold? Yes. Does the team still need to learn how to stay poised late in close games? Yes.
But the Red and Blue are on their way to being great. And if they keep it up, they’ll have the opportunity to survive and advance in the NCAA tournament.
Carter Thompson is a College junior from Tallahassee, Fl., and is an Associate Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at email@example.com.