Back on track, now it's time for Penn men’s basketball to get back on top.
The Quakers are preparing to resume their Ivy League title defense with a weekend slate against Cornell and Columbia, fresh off of claiming the outright Big 5 championship with victories against Philadelphia rivals Temple and Saint Joseph's.
Penn’s Big 5 success came off the heels of a rough four-game stretch where the Red and Blue (12-6, 0-2 Ivy) dropped two games to Ivy foe Princeton along with contests against Toledo and then-winless Monmouth. While there is a dramatic difference playing nonconference games and those in the Ancient Eight, junior forward AJ Brodeur believes the Quakers' Big 5 success will help them get back to the top of the conference.
“That four-game streak we had, it really just looked so uncharacteristic of us. For whatever reason we started to slow down,” Brodeur said. “We just beat two really tough teams in Temple and St. Joe's. We know that getting into Ivy League play is a lot different than our nonconference schedule, so we are going to have to really lock in and focus, and if we do those things, I really feel like we will be able to pick things up to get back to where we need to be.”
Despite the slow start, there is still plenty of time to make up ground in the League. Despite this, senior guard Jake Silpe understands the challenges that come with Penn’s current position in the standings.
“Being 0-2 now in the Ivy League, it's a whole new season," Silpe said. "Our backs are against the wall a little bit. We know the work that’s cut out for us, and we need to approach every week in practice like we have the past two weeks.”
While Cornell (9-9, 1-1) and Columbia (6-10, 1-1) might not be traditional Ivy powerhouses like Princeton, Harvard or Yale, there is certainly plenty for the Quakers to prepare for as they make the trip to New York. First on the docket for the Red and Blue is coach Steve Donahue’s former team, Cornell.
Donahue coached for the Big Red from 2000-2010, and his tenure is most famous for three straight NCAA tournament trips, including a run to Sweet 16 in 2010. Since coming to Penn, Donahue has never lost to Cornell, boasting a perfect 6-0 record against them in his three full seasons at the helm.
This season’s Cornell team is led by first team All-Ivy senior guard Matt Morgan, who is the likely frontrunner for Ivy Player of the Year so far. Morgan lead the League in scoring last season and is once again at the top of the list with 23.3 points per game.
“I have played him for the last four years, so I have a lot of experience against [Morgan],” Silpe said. “He’s just a very quick guard, very athletic and explosive. He kind of lulls you to sleep on the offensive end, so you never really know when he’s going to shoot or drive, and he has a quick burst.”
“The game plan for Cornell is relatively simple: Limit [Morgan’s] touches, limit his shots," Brodeur said. "If we can manage to slow him down, then it will put us in a great position to win that game.”
While limiting Morgan's production will be crucial to the Quakers' success against Cornell, Columbia provides a different challenge with a more balanced scoring approach. Three different players are averaging more than 13 points per game this season for the Lions.
“Personnel wise, they are very similar to how they have been the last few years," Brodeur said. "They have a lot of good players who can hurt us in a lot of different ways. Playing up at Columbia is always tough to do. For some reason they always give us a very good game.”
While the Quakers defeated each of these teams twice last season, going on the road in the Ivy League is never an easy task, especially when coming in with a winless conference record. However, as the Quakers showed the last two weekends, they are more than capable of bouncing back from the tough start.
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