College basketball is back.
While on Tuesday most eyes will be focused on a pair of blue-chip battles pitting Duke versus Kentucky and Kansas versus Michigan State, Penn men’s basketball will also take the floor for the first time this season on the road at George Mason.
George Mason (0-0) promises to be a stiff, early test for the Penn squad, who are coming back from a 2017-2018 season in which they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade. The Patriots, who compete in the Atlantic 10 conference and finished 16-17 last year, currently sit at No. 116 in the 2019 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, while the Quakers (0-0) are 35 spots back at No.151.
It’s normal for teams to play sluggishly this early on in the season — especially on the road — but Penn coach Steve Donahue thinks the Red and Blue are well-equipped to put in a solid performance.
“With a veteran group that we have coming back, I think we’ll be ready to compete and execute,” Donahue said.
That veteran group returning from last season includes two 2018 All-Ivy performers in junior forward AJ Brodeur and junior guard Ryan Betley, as well as several other upperclassmen who have taken on prominent roles in the rotation during their time at Penn.
Perhaps what will be most interesting to see against George Mason, though, is how much — and how well — the team’s freshmen play. Donahue said that he expects both 6’10’’ forward Michael Wang and 6’4’’ guard Bryce Washington to get minutes, although what their exact roles on the court will be remains to be seen.
Wang may be used as a front court substitute to give starters Brodeur and senior forward Max Rothschild a rest, but he has also demonstrated a high degree of versatility on the offensive end that could allow Donahue to insert him with Brodeur and Rothschild in a three-big lineup. Similarly, Washington may get opportunities at both the point guard and shooting guard spots.
“[Wang and Washington] had a great preseason and I think we need them to grow. You want to win all these games but also we want to make sure we’re making our overall team better,” Donahue said. “So the more experience they can get I think that will help us come January.”
Brodeur agreed, adding that it will be important to see how the freshmen respond to the pressure of playing against another Division I opponent where the stakes are higher than in practices or scrimmages.
“It’s going to be a big indicator of how well they are going to be going down the line,” Brodeur said. “Mainly we’re looking for how hard they work, the effort they put in, and their willingness to be coached — which I think they have shown a lot of really good signs in, but we’ll see how they start reacting in games that really matter.”
The overall game-day experience will also be somewhat unique for the Red and Blue. Normally, the team would depart the night before for road games of this distance — George Mason is located 150 miles away in Fairfax, Va. — but since the game comes on Election Day, the team will depart on the day of so that players are able to vote at their polling stations.
That should do little to affect the team’s energy and excitement come tip-off, though.
“It’s just another day that we’ve been waiting for since the end of last season,” Brodeur said.
“Now that we’re finally getting back into it a lot of guys are really excited and we’re hoping to bring around a lot of the new guys to get to that level of excitement.”
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