In 2012-13: 9-22, 6-8, 5th place, No Postseason.
Yes, it is I, The AQ. ready to bring you yet another year of irreverent awesomeness on IHO.
My friends, history is replete with examples of improbable victory against overwhelming odds: David and Goliath, Alexander and Darius III, Henry V over the French at Agincourt, the RAF over the Luftwaffe, and, of course, my Mom over the PS 45 PTA. Now it appears that this year on the Ivy hardwood, hoop fans of seven schools are hoping that history can somehow repeat itself. This is because the media, as early as last May, and not without reasonable justification, has already awarded the Crimson the Ivy crown. By now we’ve all heard the talk: “the Harvard B squad alone could win”, “Zena Edosomwan is a game changer”, “the deepest Ivy team of all time”…blah, blah, blah…it all makes me want to barf. So in response to this rhetoric I say, “not so fast.” The Boys in Philly just may have something to say about the Crimson’s de facto coronation. Let’s see why.
A Look Back
Last year, the Red and Blue possessed every conceivable disorder a collegiate basketball team could possibly own: rampant injuries, persistent foul trouble, a dearth of senior leadership, a brutal non-conference schedule, wild inconsistency, a Teflon coach, no true point guard, and inflexible youth. In fact, they weren’t just young, they were one of the youngest D-1 teams in the nation. As such, the Quakers stumbled their way to a dreadful 9-22 record. Along the way, they lost to Wagner (a team from Staten Island!), Dartmouth at home (just the fourth failure to defend The Cathedral floor against The Big Green since 1959), and Columbia, a defeat which has to go down in the annals of Penn Basketball as the most putrid example of athletic ineptitude since Ben Franklin lost a game of H-O-R-S-E to Betsy Ross in 1774. (True story.) On the other hand, they beat Harvard, took Temple to the wire, split every single Ivy weekend, and ended the season (with a team consisting mostly of freshman) as the 9-22 team that no one wanted to play. So then, can the Quakers finally rid themselves of all the misery that had befallen them last year?
Players to Watch
Fran “Doc” Dougherty, Senior: Without question, he is the key to the season for Penn. After a rather uninspiring career as an underclassman, Doc burst into his early junior year campaign with numbers and attitude that could have easily made him the Ivy POY (Ed. Note: And launched the brief but borderline viral #Fran4POY campaign on Twitter). An unstoppable scorer and relentless rebounder, he provided the leadership, both on and off the court, that this young team sorely needed. Unfortunately, his heroics were short-lived as he then seemed to be a magnet for almost every affliction known to modern medical science: from mononucleosis and a gruesomely dislocated elbow to beriberi and intractable jock itch. Needless to say his season was over far too early and with it the quixotic hopes of Quaker Nation. If he can return to his all-star form, the Quakers will be legitimate contenders to upset Harvard.
Darien Nelson-Henry, Sophomore and Tony Hicks, Sophomore: Jerome had a pretty strong freshman class last year. Because of a plethora of injuries, everyone got an unusual amount of playing time and thus, much-needed D-1 floor experience. The two most notable freshmen, of course, were center Darien Nelson-Henry and sharp-shooting guard Tony Hicks. Their inside-outside skills could prove to be a formidable combination to defend against for years to come. Add a rejuvenated Doc and the always dangerous, though horribly inconsistent, Mr. Cartwright into the mix and you have yourself 4/5 of a match-up nightmare. Another year of lifting weights and eating cupcakes (the Tastycake factory is, in fact, only a short walk from campus) will certainly contribute to make DNH the beast of the League. If he can dominate the boards as he often did late in the season last year, Mr. Henry can singlehandedly keep the team in contention for almost every game.
Although it appears to be a rather odd circumstance for a Penn team whose coach was one of the finest point guards in its long and storied history, last year’s Quakers, despite their surplus of guards, had no true floor general. It was distribute-the-ball-by-committee. This then naturally begs the question: Who will lead the team this year?
Jerome has recruited Tony Bagtas, a 5’11” guard, who was apparently told by the coaching staff that he will “run the team” this season. Given his relatively small stature, whether he can or cannot definitely remains to be seen. Other possibly impactful incoming freshmen are 6’4” Matt Howard and 6’11” Dave Winfield Jr. Both have gotten a lot of press as of late. Howard has apparently been “impressive” during summer league play and Winfield, a McDonald’s All-American Nominee, will now hold the dubious title of “Quaker Player with the Famous Father”, supplanting Denzel Washington’s son Malcolm.
Another question mark is the improvement of forward Greg Louis and guard Jamal Lewis. Both have shown that they can carry the team when they‘re “on”, but those instances have unfortunately been rare at best.
And finally, senior Steve Rennard, a solid lock down defender, returns to the line up from injury. He will definitely need to resume old defensive form for Penn to stay close to the top in Ivy play.
The 2013-2014 Quakers have size, depth, talent and, thanks to so much unexpected playing time last year for almost everyone, experience. Do they have as much as the Crimson? Probably not. But can they contend for the Ivy title? Definitely. I believe in Jerome’s coaching ability (despite the fact that he can occasionally be a bit of a raging metrosexual nut on the sidelines), and I see progress in almost every phase of the Quakers’ game. What’s more, unlike the media that continues to slather profligate and insipid praise upon Coach Amaker like he’s the second coming of John Wooden, I believe the Crimson coach is a terrible late game manager. When Ivy play begins, it is therefore unlikely, with the back-to-back games and current talent level in the League, that Harvard will be able to run the table.
This will leave the door open for Penn. I’ll admit it’s a long shot, but it’s a shot nonetheless and history has shown time and again that unforeseen upsets are indeed possible. (Just ask my Mom). Pennsylvania has won 25 Ivy titles. However, if they are fortunate enough to prevail this year and defeat the Crimson, it may indeed be the sweetest title of them all.
Stay Red and Blue my friends.
You can read more of the Ancient Quaker’s oeuvre, 140 characters at a time, on Twitter, by following @AncientQuaker.