Step back and take a deep breath. And then another one. Breathe until you’ve considered all that Penn men’s basketball has been through this Ivy League season.
The Quakers started 0-3 in the Ancient Eight, lost back-to-back games to Princeton, dropped three contests in overtime, and saw several late leads slip away. After falling to Harvard on March 1, the Red and Blue were 4-7 in conference play, and they ended up needing to win their last three games to keep their postseason chances alive.
But after all the hand wringing, all the tight losses, and all the anxiety-ridden weekend nights, the Quakers are right where we expected them to be: playing in the Ivy League Tournament, albeit as the No. 4 seed, and competing with three of their closest rivals for a coveted spot in March Madness.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. Before its rough stretch starting in late December, Penn was pretty clearly the best team in the Ivy League. The Red and Blue started the season 10-2, beating Villanova for the first time in 16 years and taking out Miami (Fla.) with an impressive offensive display.
The Quakers were the best team in the League then, and if you look at the big picture, they don’t seem far from it right now. In Villanova and Temple, the Red and Blue have defeated two teams that are likely to make the NCAA Tournament as at-larges at the very worst, one more than the rest of the Ancient Eight combined.
That shows Penn’s upside, which, despite the loss of Ryan Betley, might be the highest in the Ancient Eight. If you want to look at recent results, the Quakers still hold the edge. While the Red and Blue were busy sweeping their final three games, their opponents in the Tournament dropped a combined six contests, all struggling to differing extents.
In short: These Quakers are in no way a true No. 4 seed.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the teams Penn could take on next weekend at Yale.
Harvard? Sure, the Crimson have the likely Ivy League Player of the Year in junior guard Bryce Aiken, and they have already beaten the Red and Blue twice this year. But they struggled a bit over the final weekend of the regular season, getting run off the court by a Cornell team on a five-game losing streak before barely squeaking by the long-since eliminated Columbia in overtime.
More importantly, the Penn defense has been able to limit the Crimson in the two games the teams have played, holding them to just 61 and 59 points in regulation. It won’t be an easy task, but if the Quakers heat up on offense against Harvard next Saturday, they might just be able to glide into the Ivy League title game.
Yale? Junior guard Miye Oni has been a dynamic playmaker for the Bulldogs all season, and they’ll be playing in a friendly atmosphere behind the home crowd at Lee Amphitheater. But the Red and Blue dominated the Elis on Friday, taking an early lead and never looking back en route to a 77-66 victory. That game, in particular the 46 combined points from junior forward AJ Brodeur and senior guard Antonio Woods, will no doubt be on everyone’s mind if the two teams play again.
Princeton? Senior guard Myles Stephens has broken the hearts of Penn fans time and time again over the last four years, but right now he isn't getting much help. Without Devin Cannady, the Tigers just aren’t the same team that beat Penn twice earlier this season, stumbling into the Ivy Tournament on the back of three consecutive losses.
It’s important to acknowledge that Penn is just 1-5 against the other Tournament teams this season and that each of them pose a difficult matchup. The Red and Blue will still need something special to qualify for March Madness, but right now, they have the momentum, the talent, and the belief to get the job done.
So yes, while it’s admittedly not too hard to make a case for why any of the three other teams could or even should beat Penn next weekend, the Quakers are a much bigger threat than their No. 4 seed suggests.
Heck, they just might win it all once again.
MICHAEL LANDAU is a Wharton sophomore from Scarsdale, N.Y. and a Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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