I’m a big fan of letting things play out before rushing to judgment — when friends and colleagues begin to panic, I'm always the one who argues that things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Five minutes into the season, there were fans who wrote off Penn men’s basketball. Losing the previous season’s leading scorer to injury means a re-evaluation of expectations. Whether the Quakers are conference favorites without junior guard Ryan Betley is a question worth asking. Whether their season is effectively over is just panicking.
After the Toledo loss, I got similar reactions, but I reminded my panicking friends that we didn’t know the extent of the injury to freshman forward Michael Wang, and that one non-conference game does not define a season. After the Monmouth and first Princeton games it became harder to make that argument, but I still felt that Penn was a better team than how they played. I felt certain that coach Steve Donahue and the Quakers — the same group that beat Miami (Fla.), No. 17 Villanova, and New Mexico in consecutive weeks — would bounce back.
Now it’s time to be concerned.
Penn men’s basketball is in serious trouble, and the slump is coming at a pretty inconvenient time. A four-game losing streak is always a bad sign, but the way in which the losses came was the most discouraging sign of all.
Toledo is a good team, and the Quakers had a bad day. That happens. Losing by 32 points shouldn’t.
Monmouth was winless, but still beat the Quakers at the Palestra. A home loss to a winless team shouldn’t happen.
Then came the back-to-back losses to Princeton.
The bottom line: The threes aren’t falling, the offense goes stagnant for long stretches, and seemingly every layup goes halfway down before changing its mind and reversing course. This is an 0-2 team, and deservedly so.
So, here’s the question: Which Penn team will we see the rest of the way and into March? Should we expect to see more of the team that rattled off a 10-2 record with a solid away win, and two wins over power programs, one of whom was ranked? Or are we going to get more of the team that has lost four games straight, can’t seem to buy a shot, and is winless in league play?
I still think the real Penn is somewhere closer to the former. This team has the talent and the coaching to win nine or 10 games in the conference, win the Big 5, and get hot in March and make a run. That is why I’m not panicking. But I am concerned; it seems increasingly possible that the Quakers continue to play like a team that is missing their best player and flounder to a bottom-four Ivy finish.
It’ll only take one game to get the mojo back. Last week, Penn was literally one bucket from winning. One layup that spun out changes the narrative. This week it would have taken several, but both games make clear that the problem isn’t with talent or effort.
The back half of the Big 5 slate awaits. Winning one of two there secures a share of the team’s first city title since 2002 and regains some momentum before the Ivy weekend schedule starts in February. If the Quakers don’t turn it around now, their opportunities to bounce back are only going to continue to shrink.
If last month taught us that this team can beat anyone, the past few weeks showed that it can just as easily lose to anyone. That’s concerning.
THEODOROS PAPAZEKOS is a College junior from Pittsburgh and a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.