It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about the start of the college basketball season, because this year is going to be so, so exciting for Penn basketball. Both the men’s and women’s squads will be in the thick of the title hunt, and never in the last decade have both teams been simultaneously this good.
The men's return to the top of the Ivy League last season was one of the biggest stories in all of Penn Athletics. Riding one of the most cohesive starting fives in the conference and a deep and ever-changing rotation of bench players, the Quakers won their first league title in 11 seasons and took down Harvard in an all-time classic to earn the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Once there, as one of the best No. 16 seeds ever, the Quakers gave Kansas a run for its money before eventually bowing out.
As for the women’s team, the only obstacle it could not overcome last season was Princeton. The Quakers finished the regular season solidly in second place with a 11-3 Ivy record, but lost to the Tigers twice in the regular season and again in the tournament championship.
Much like Penn’s two programs, the Ivy League itself has seen a huge uptick in the quality of play. 12 of the 14 All-Ivy selections for the men’s side are returning this year, meaning that the league’s best players already have a wealth of experience. And that doesn’t even include the recruiting classes that both men’s and women’s teams brought in — a top 50 class nationally, a bevy of four-star recruits, and the 34th overall women’s recruit all reside at Ivy schools.
Both of Penn’s teams have their stars. The men’s squad returns four of five starters from last season, led by juniors AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley, and has the depth necessary to make another run at the Ivy title. Meanwhile, reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Eleah Parker will look to take that next step to become one of the best players in the league, while senior guard Ashley Russell will fill the leadership void, both on and off the court.
Yet the beginning of both teams’ seasons will be defined by replacing program legends. The men’s position battle centers on the point guard, where Darnell Foreman’s graduation leaves a hole not just in the starting lineup, but in the heart of the team. For the women, the loss of a trio of starters, including former Ivy League Player of the Year Michelle Nwokedi and all-time assists leader Anna Ross, has left the roster wide open for younger players to make the most of their opportunities.
But more than just the players and the stats, we look at the cultures surrounding Penn’s two basketball programs. How did coach Steve Donahue bring the men’s team back to its former Ivy glory? And how does the women’s team rebrand itself after losing a historic senior class?
The stories that answer those questions are just the beginning. Players will fight their way into the rotation, break school records, and continue to grow, both on and off the court and we’ll be there to share their stories with you along the way.
Last year was an incredibly exciting ride for Penn basketball, filled with triumphant highs and gut-wrenching lows. Don’t expect anything less this season.
For more about the upcoming season, check out the project page for the 2018-2019 Penn basketball preview.