It is simply a rite of passage. A youngster at holiday meals joins his or her cousins, friends and siblings at a tiny, uncomfortable makeshift table with mismatched chairs. There they eat their meal on paper plates using plastic cutlery while in engaging prepubescent inanities. A tsunami-like fluid spill is also almost a certainty at some point in the repast. The adults, on the other hand, sit regally above them at the family dinner table. They sup the best dishes prepared for the day on fine silverware while reminiscing about holidays gone by in peaceful, civilized tones. Most importantly, the grown-ups are free to ignore the chaos transpiring next to them whilst they serenely enjoy their meal. It is therefore a juxtaposition of two worlds: one, dignified and graceful, and the other, utter chaos and irrelevance.
Well, the Quakers started the Ivy season with a seat at the big boy table. Their preconference record was impressive. With wins against Fairfield, Lafayette and UCF and hard-fought road losses at Temple and Miami, it seemed they were finally ready to make the adolescent leap to a more civilized and relevant world. But after a taut loss to Princeton at Jadwin, a beating by Yale and an embarrassing stinker to Brown at home, the Quakers find themselves back at the kiddie table. These last three games were the hoops equivalent of projectile vomiting topped off by a sudden, noxious bowel movement.
Let us remember that the Steve Donahue is only midway through his second full year as head coach. Freshmen and sophomores make up the core of this year’s team. Naturally, A.J. Brodeur’s stellar play for most of the season has made us forget that he is a just a freshman playing against bigger, more experienced players on virtually a nightly basis. The defense has been a pleasant surprise, but the offense, like last year, remains uneven at best. Still, I do not believe, at least until the Ivy slate had begun, that anyone thought Penn would be as good as it was. So, recent losses notwithstanding, credit the coaching staff for continuing a turnaround that seems slightly ahead of schedule.
The rest of the season will indeed be difficult. By spitting up to Brown, the Quakers’ room for error has shrunk to the smallest of margins. The upcoming road trip to Harvard and Dartmouth looks daunting. Most importantly to help regain its seat with the grown ups, Penn must sweep its closest competitor for the fourth Ivy Tournament slot: Columbia. Having seen the Lions play, they are not nearly as impressive as last year’s team, but many of their players are older and have big-game experience. Regardless, I think sweeping Columbia is still a doable possibility.
It would be very embarrassing for Penn to have the inaugural Ivy Tournament at the Cathedral of College Basketball without being one its participants. That is this year’s version of the grown-up table for Penn. We’ll see very shortly if the Red and Blue can handle that responsibility or instead be sent back to the kiddie table and irrelevance.
Stay Red and Blue my friends,