NEW YORK — I covered Penn-Columbia after being graciously invited by friend of IHO Rob Browne to speak about Penn and Ivy basketball at a Penn Club event in New York prior to Saturday’s game. Here the gist of what I said:
“So we all know that the Palestra is a lot emptier these days than it used to be. And I think most people realize that that is because the team is not winning. While it’s true that Penn basketball does not have the same presence it once did on campus, especially among students who aren’t sports-oriented in the first place, crowd atmosphere was rarely a problem in Zack Rosen’s senior season, the only legitimate run Penn has made at an Ivy title in the past eight seasons.
When Penn wins with consistency, it draws with consistency. When it doesn’t, what you see is what you’ve been getting this season, which is an almost complete lack of rollouts, a disappointing student section and large swathes of the crowd that only get up for the halfcourt shot competitions. From talking with hundreds of alums and reading the sometimes vitriolic message boards over the past three years, what’s been most disconcerting about the program’s recent downturn for alums is that they fear the Palestra isn’t relevant anymore. The Cathedral of College Basketball hasn’t been home to a perennial March Madness competitor for quite some time, it’s no longer the hub of the Big 5 like it once was, and a lot of folks just don’t show up anymore. The Palestra is still easily one of the most special places in collegiate sports, but is it as relevant as it could be? That’s a question that irks a lot of people close to the program.
The answer to that question could start to take on a different complexion tonight when Penn takes on Columbia. the Lions present a solid opportunity for Penn to complete the weekend sweep. Maodo Lo, Columbia’s star guard, can be great but he’s also streaky. Columbia’s frontcourt does not provide strong interior defense and it can be exploited. That frontcourt is very hit or miss. Luke Petrasek, Jeff Coby and Cory Osetkowski all have the ability to break out for a double-double or at least get in double figures and present a legitimate offensive threat. But as we’ve also seen, casino online they can totally disappear.
Tonight offers Penn to get off the schneid a little bit. It can secure an Ivy weekend sweep on the road for the first time since Zack Rosen graduated. It can rise above .500 in Ivy play for the first time since Zack Rosen graduated. It can already tie its season win total from last year. When Penn achieves some consistency in all of these areas, it will win. Tonight, Penn can take a step toward filling seats at the Palestra and being a premier program again, however small, by getting above .500 through five Ivy games in a very winnable contest at Columbia.”
I did tell the crowd Columbia would prevail in a low-scoring struggle. I was so wrong.
Columbia shot the lights out, going a stunning 15-for-26 from beyond the arc en route to an 83-56 romp over Penn, its second straight rout of the Quakers at Levien Gym. The Lions came in as the second-best three-point shooting team in the league, with treys clearly being part of their modus operandi.
Instead of doubling Lo high to cut off his passing lanes, Penn didn’t seem to do much of anything in defense.
“We just wanted to keep him at the point of attack,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said of Maodo Lo, who scored 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field, including two three-pointers. “He made a couple of tough shots, but the majority of the time, the shots he made, the scouting report wasn’t executed. We went underneath the screen and he shot high.”
When asked after the game if he found anything surprising about Penn’s perimeter defense, Columbia coach Kyle Smith vaguely referred to Penn’s pressure and past defensive efforts, but Penn had no real answer for Columbia’s three-point shooting. Defenders actually started backing away from Lions trey shooters, even as the shot clock wound down. Columbia was on fire, but Penn just looked confused.
Now I’m confused too. I told dozens of faithful Penn followers at the Amsterdam Restaurant that Penn was well-positioned to make real progress. But…
“Tonight, we had four freshmen on the floor at one time. The core of the group is babies, or infants,” Allen said. ”Tonight, I’m not quite sure what we will take out or it.”
My take is that heralding any progress for Penn, however small, isn’t wise. Another sour Ivy split. Another blowout at Levien. Another see-saw weekend for Tony Hicks, who went just for 1-for-11 after notching 25 points in a heroic effort at Cornell.
Sure, you have guys like Sam Jones, who toughed it out throughout a 23-point performance with torn ligaments in his elbow. The future with freshmen like Jones, Antonio Woods and Mike Auger is actually pretty bright.
But for now and until further notice, the norm is inconsistency. I learned that tonight. Again. Same as it ever was.