In every season, there are games with high stakes played on big stages that come to define a team.
Penn men’s basketball excelled in these moments last season, and that helped it win the Ivy League and go on to make its first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years.
As the Quakers prepare to start their season on Nov. 6 with a road date against George Mason, take a look at the games that could end up defining the 2018-2019 Quakers:
Paradise Jam vs. University of Northern Iowa, Nov. 16
The Quakers will make an early-season trip down to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands where they will take on Northern Iowa in the first round of the Paradise Jam. The Panthers are coming off of a disappointing season in which they finished with only seven wins in conference play before losing in just the second round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to eventual conference champions and NCAA tournament cinderella team Loyola-Chicago.
The Red and Blue will have their hands full with sophomore shooting guard Tywhon Pickford, who impressed as a freshman as both a scorer and rebounder en route to an MVC All-Freshman team selection.
The Quakers will be trying to show early on that they can compete against high-major opponents, and depending on how the bracket plays out, the Paradise Jam will give them the opportunity to face the likes of power-conference schools like Kansas State, Missouri, and Oregon State.
Home vs. Miami, Dec. 4
Just like Northern Iowa in the MVC tournament, the Hurricanes fell victim to Loyola-Chicago’s magical late-season run in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This will be the Quakers’ only chance to prove themselves against a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the toughest conferences in college basketball.
Miami will lean heavily on junior forward Dewan Hernandez, who provides the majority of the interior scoring for the team. Losing guard Lonnie Walker IV to the NBA draft will hurt the offense, but sophomore guard Chris Lykes is primed to take a step forward after averaging almost 10 points per game as a freshman.
This game marks the return of a home-and-home series between the Quakers and the Canes that began in 2016 when the Red and Blue lost by 12 in Coral Gables, Fl. Before that matchup, they hadn’t faced off since 2008.
Home vs. Villanova, Dec. 11
The defending NCAA National Champions return to the Palestra in the last game before the Quakers break for final exams. The Wildcats will be bringing a younger and more untested roster than they’re used to after losing top players Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, and Omari Spellman to the NBA draft.
Redshirt seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth will provide the experience and former Philadelphia Archdiocese stars Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree return after promising freshman seasons.
The Quakers are also sure to see a lot of five-star freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly, who leads a strong freshman class for the Wildcats.
The Red and Blue will be looking to stake their claim as one of the top teams in the Big 5, but this is going to be the toughest opponent they face all regular season.
Away vs. Princeton, Jan. 5
The Red and Blue kick off their conference schedule with back-to-back tilts against the Tigers, the first being played at Princeton. This game marks the beginning of the Quakers’ Ivy League title defense.
Princeton just missed out on the Ivy tournament last season, finishing one game behind four-seed Cornell. This season, the Tigers were voted as the fourth-best team in the Ivy League preseason poll, 30 points behind the second-place Quakers.
The Tigers will be led by senior guards Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens, who were both selected to the second team All-Ivy last season. Sophomore forward Sebastian Much also figures to contribute heavily with his all-around game.
Away vs. Temple, Jan. 19
In the penultimate Big 5 matchup of the year, the Quakers will be traveling north to play against former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy for the last time. Dunphy will be coaching his final season with the Owls and current assistant coach Aaron McKie is set to take over his role in the 2019-2020 season.
Dunphy became the all-time winningest coach at Penn during his 17 seasons at the school, leading the Quakers to nine NCAA tournaments. He also has the most Big 5 wins of any coach in history.
The Owls are coming off of a seventh-place finish in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), so they will be looking to improve greatly in the final season of the Dunphy era. Temple is returning junior guard Quinton Rose, who led the team in scoring last season with just under 15 points per game.
Home vs. Harvard, Feb. 16
Penn and Harvard seem to be in a class of their own in the Ivy League. The two heavyweights from a year ago will meet for the first time in the 2018-2019 season at the Palestra, where the Quakers defeated the Crimson twice last season on the way to taking the Ancient Eight crown.
Harvard boasts an extremely talented group of juniors, including last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year forward Seth Towns, first-team All-Ivy center Chris Lewis, and 2016 Rookie of the Year guard Bryce Aiken.
The Crimson, who were the No. 1 seed going into the Ivy tournament a year ago, will be looking to avenge the loss with a fully healthy roster. Aiken didn’t play in that final game and Towns was forced by injury to sit for the final minutes of the game, watching as his teammates fell in heartbreaking fashion.
For more about the upcoming season, check out the project page for the 2018-2019 Penn basketball preview.