With just four regular season games remaining, Penn men’s basketball is gearing up for what could be a make-or-break weekend for their playoff chances.
The Quakers are heading up north this weekend for their final regular season road trip. On Friday, the Red and Blue will face off against Yale and look to repeat their success against the Bulldogs from earlier this season. The following night, they will look for revenge against Brown in a game with serious postseason implications.
During their earlier loss to Brown (13-10, 6-4 Ivy), the Quakers (13-10, 5-5) were without senior guard Ryan Betley, who suffered an injury during Penn’s win over Columbia on Feb. 8. That may be different this time around as coach Steve Donahue was cautiously optimistic that Betley has a chance to return.
“We’ve got to see how he looks this week, I’m hoping we get him, I can’t [say] how many minutes he’ll play, but hopefully he’ll be out there,” Donahue said.
Penn will hope that the outcome of this road trip differs from their last, when it fell to both Dartmouth and Harvard, ending any momentum that it had coming off of a big win over top-ranked Yale (20-6, 8-2).
The success of the Quakers tends to be strongly correlated with the success of AJ Brodeur, and in the team’s losses last weekend, the senior forward struggled mightily. He scored just 20 points on 35.7% shooting across the two games, which forced the Red and Blue to look elsewhere for scoring.
“Individually, I could have done a lot more,” Brodeur said. “Against Dartmouth, I was missing shots that I usually make, I wasn’t getting to my spots, and I wasn’t getting as aggressive as I usually am.”
Brodeur’s performance not only hurt his team, but it also took him off pace to become the program’s all-time scoring leader. He would now need to average 20.75 points per game to break the record during the regular season. However, Brodeur is optimistic that he can get back on track on both offense and defense.
“This weekend I’m going to make sure I put a real emphasis to go after every rebound and every loose ball, just limit every opponent to just one shot per possession,” Brodeur said. “I think that’s where I can help the team going forward, especially this weekend where Yale and Brown are two of the best offensive rebounding teams in our league.”
Last time the Quakers faced off against the Elis, they won in thrilling fashion at the Palestra. They were able to hold star guard Azar Swain to just 13 points and limit the impact of Yale’s bench. As they look to repeat their success against the No. 1 team in the Ivy League, this time in a more hostile environment, the Red and Blue will have their hands full.
“There’s no simple thing we can do [to beat Yale], there’s about five or six real important things,” Donahue said. “You can’t let them get the ball moving and get everyone involved and get threes. With that being said, they’re the best inside scorer in the league. We did a good job of making them work for shots and still protect the three-point line.”
At this point in the season, every game matters. However, it would not be the end of the world for the Quakers if they dropped their game against Yale. That is, as long as they are able to handle the Bears the following night.
As it stands currently, Penn is one game back of Brown in the Ivy League standings at No. 5. Because the Quakers lost to the Bears earlier this season, another loss would cost them the tie-breaker and effectively end their chances of making the Ivy League Tournament. With a win, however, their path to the postseason would become a lot more clear.
The Bears have been somewhat of an enigmatic team this season. They have looked impressive at times, such as when they defeated Harvard. However, at other times they have looked like the worst team in the Ivy League, such as last weekend when they were destroyed by Cornell – a team that is not known for playing great defense – by a score of 63-45.
Last time the Quakers and Bears faced off, Penn took a six-point lead into halftime but was demolished in the second half en route to a 12-point loss. This was in large part due to Brown senior guard Brandon Anderson’s stunning 31-point performance. If the Quakers want to walk away with a victory this time around, they will have to limit the senior, who is averaging 18.0 points per game this season.
Betley’s veteran experience and Brodeur's contributions on offense are bound to be a boon for the Quakers as they look to make a final push for the playoffs.