Ivy Weekends are now in full force, and the Quakers are ready.
On Friday, Penn men’s basketball will take the road to Levien Gymnasium in New York to face Columbia before traveling to Ithaca, N.Y. on Saturday to play Cornell at Newman Arena.
It will be the Red and Blue’s first Ivy League weekend road trip after emerging victorious at home last weekend, defeating Harvard, 75-72, and Dartmouth, 54-46, this past Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“I thought the defense was really good. I thought we made it very difficult for both teams to score,” coach Steve Donahue said. “We played together. We played connected. And we worked really hard on every possession.”
As the season enters this stretch of back-to-back games, the Quakers (10-7, 2-2 Ivy) will need to step it up and find consistency in all aspects, especially defense. Although in the midst one of its weaker seasons defensively, Penn has found its groove in recent weeks, putting up exceptional numbers protecting the rim. However, the Red and Blue will have their hands full this weekend against the likes of Columbia (6-14, 1-3) and Cornell (4-13,1-3).
In Friday’s matchup against the Lions, the Quakers will need to contain guard Mike Smith. The senior standout leads the Ivy League not only in points per game but also in assists per game with averages of 20.6 and 4.8, respectively.
“I think it’s going to take a lot defensively to make sure [Smith] doesn’t see any one-on-one opportunities and to shrink the floor to get the ball out of his hands and make the rest of the team operate without him,” senior forward AJ Brodeur said.
Although the former second team All-Ivy selection is coming off of a torn meniscus, Smith has returned stronger than ever, and Penn will need to find a way to slow down the talented guard.
“It’s going to be tough. I remember playing against [Smith] when he was healthy a couple years ago. He’s just really hard to contain, so I don’t know if we can really hope to stop him. We can only hope to slow him down,” Brodeur said.
Columbia relies heavily on their superstar. While Smith is putting up over 20 points per game, no other player on the team is even averaging double figures. If Penn hopes to win, its focus needs to be on Smith and his playmaking abilities.
Similarly, in the second game of the weekend, Penn will need to find a way to shut down Cornell’s star player, forward Jimmy Boeheim. Son of the legendary Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, the junior is averaging 18.1 points per game, second in the league only to Columbia's Smith.
“Jimmy is a good all-around scorer. He takes smaller guys to the post, takes bigger guys off the dribble, and can shoot it from three. He’s just a very unique scorer," Donahue said.
Like Smith, Boeheim has a small supporting cast with only one other player averaging more than 10 points a game this season.
“We will probably have more than one guy guarding him, but once again, when you have someone who is such a good all-around scorer, there’s not one thing we have to do. We just have to make it really hard without fouling,” Donahue said.
A season ago, the Quakers split its two games against both Columbia and Cornell. The Lions were able to rack up the score in those two games and take advantage of the Red and Blue’s defensive miscues, while the Big Red took advantage of having their star player, guard Matt Morgan, who has since graduated.
However, a year ago, Columbia’s Smith was watching from the bench, and Cornell’s Boeheim played a much smaller role. It will be a very different game when the teams take the court this weekend.
If things go their way this weekend, the Quakers can climb the Ivy League rankings, keeping momentum to set themselves up well for the remainder of the season.