While many Penn students will be spending time with their families, eating turkey, and watching football over the break, Penn men's basketball will hit the hardwood in Anaheim, Calif.
Continuing the team's tradition of Thanksgiving trips, the Quakers will compete in the Wooden Legacy over the break. The annual tournament consists of an eight-team bracket, with each team being guaranteed three games. This year's teams are Penn, Central Florida, Arizona, Pepperdine, Wake Forest, Charleston, Providence and Long Beach State. Penn will open against UCF on Thursday and then will face either Arizona or Pepperdine in the second round.
"There's such a great field of teams in this tournament, but for now, we're focused on Central Florida," coach Steve Donahue said. "We're not worried about games down the road; we're focused on Central Florida."
Against UCF, all eyes will be on redshirt junior forward Collin Smith, who leads the Knights with 15.8 points per game on a 59% shooting clip. Smith is coming off a 23-point, eight-rebound performance against Charleston.
"The thing [Smith] does really well is that he gets to the rim and converts layups at a high efficiency," Donahue said. "We've got to make sure to catch him further out and make him shoot over us."
In the team's first five games, the Red and Blue have struggled defensively. They rank in the first percentile in Division I in defending spot-up jumpers, allowing 1.195 points per spot-up jumper, and they've also performed below-average in transition defense.
"When you take into account pace of play, we're actually a top-100 team defensively," said Donahue, who stressed that statistics can be misleading early in the season. "The Lafayette game skewed a lot of the statistics because [the Leopards] really found a groove on spot-up threes. The thing that we always work on is that we don't allow catch-and-shoots and don't foul at the rim, and if we continue to do both of these things well, I think we're gonna see more success defensively."
Despite their struggles on defense, the Quakers have had success against power-conference opponents through five games. Penn toppled Alabama in the season-opener and held off 13.5-point favorite Providence on Saturday, both of which were road contests. The group also maintained its Big 5 win streak with a 16-point victory over La Salle.
"With what we do on offense and defense, we match up a lot better against these high-major teams like Providence and Alabama. Our system is designed to pick those teams apart," senior forward AJ Brodeur said. "When we play mid-majors, those teams are very used to playing these mid-major teams that are less athletic but have higher basketball IQs than high-major teams."
Brodeur emphasizes that this is the most talented team he has seen in his Penn career.
"This year, we definitely have — top to bottom — the most pure talent and athleticism that I've seen," Brodeur said. "The year that we won the Ivy League, we had a lot of guys working hard, but not as much raw talent. As senior leaders this year, we have a responsibility to help these younger guys unlock their potential."
Spending time away from home during the holidays can be tough, but the Quakers will still have plenty of holiday festivities.
"We're going to be together for a lot of the trip in hotels and stuff, but we're also going to Disneyland for a little bit," Brodeur said. "We're all extremely grateful to be able to go to [Anaheim] and play three games in a beautiful city."
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.