On Saturday, Penn men’s basketball (22-8, 12-2 Ivy) will take on Yale (16-14, 9-5) at the Palestra in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament. The winner will advance to the Ivy Championship and get a chance to play the winner of Harvard-Cornell for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Before the Quakers square off against the Elis for the third time this season, here are three major storylines to follow.
Penn is heavily favored, but can’t afford to underestimate Yale
After all, it was just last weekend that Yale defeated Penn on from Paul Atkinson. That loss did come in New Haven and only after the Quakers made several critical errors in the final minute, but it should serve to prevent the Red and Blue from approaching the game with too much confidence.
Even if the Quakers had held on to beat the Elis last weekend, it woudn't change the fact that this Ivy League season has been historically evenly-matched. Per Kevin Whitaker of NYC Buckets, the Ancient Eight has had more games decided by one possession this year than any other conference since at least 2002.
Last season, a similar No. 3 Yale team upset Harvard to reach the conference final. The Elis have proven that while the matchup seems lopsided on paper, they are more than capable of flipping the script.
In other words, it would take an upset for Penn to be eliminated before Sunday’s championship, but it would be silly for the Quakers’ players and fans to dismiss the possibility.
Can the Quakers contain Yale’s backcourt of Trey Phils and Miye Oni
When Penn defeated Yale 59-50 at home in early-February, Yale’s star backcourt of Trey Phils and Miye Oni were held to only 14 total points on a combined for seven for 21 from the field. Last Friday, in the Elis’ 80-79 win over the Quakers, Phils and Oni combined for 47 points on 15 for 24 shooting.
That difference is pretty striking, so it wouldn’t be unexpected if the Red and Blue’s biggest defensive priority on Saturday is shutting those two players down.
That won’t be an easy task as there’s a reason Oni and Phils were named All-Ivy first-team and second team, respectively, but the good news for Penn is that its defense has been stellar all season. According to , the Quakers boast the second-best defense in the conference.
And even if Phils and Oni go off again, the Quakers still should have a good chance of escaping with the win. They were a bad turnover away from doing so last weekend in New Haven, and with the Palestra crowd behind them and the stakes even higher, the team should have plenty of energy to feed off in the game’s crucial moments.
How will Donahue spread out playing time
All season, Penn coach Steve Donahue has relied most heavily on a core rotation of six players — the five starters plus senior guard Caleb Wood — but one of the team’s biggest strengths has been the ability of its role players to explode on any given night.
Against Dayton, it was senior forward Sam Jones who carried the day with 15 points. At Columbia, it was sophomore guard Devon Goodman, who went from scout-team to stud with 23 points in a comeback win over the Lions. In other games, junior guards Jake Silpe and Jackson Donahue, and (now-injured) freshman guard Eddie Scott have all provided major lifts.
While Donahue can ill-afford to keep his starters on the bench for too long against Yale, the fact that the Quakers would have to compete again less than 24 hours later in the Ivy League Championship game will surely be in the back of his mind.
Don’t be surprised to see Donahue looking to his bench for a spark early, but if his role players struggle, it will be interesting to see how much he leans on star players like AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley. If the score is close, will Donahue be willing to keep Brodeur and Betley in for the entire game, or will he risk giving them breathers to protect them from fatigue in the championship?
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