Well, that ends that.
Penn’s season is officially over less than halfway through the Ivy schedule. Ironically, if not for the Ivy Tournament, the team probably would have been out after the first weekend. It has been quite a rugged six games through the Ancient Eight for the Quakers. The Ivy League is known for smart people, and it seems the Ivy coaches have effortlessly figured out how to neutralize the one-dimensional nature of the young Penn players. Thus what had begun in Philadelphia as a campaign of hope and promise has now ended in abject disappointment.
Still, all season the warning signs were there. Despite obvious areas of improvement in ball control, defense and teamwork, Penn does not shoot the ball with consistency, whether it is from the field or from the free throw line. (With the latter, Penn is actually quite poor.) Shooting the ball with accuracy, unfortunately for us, is still the key to basketball. You can have all the nifty passing and defensive stops you want, but the ball must, at some point, go through the hoop. (Villanova used this novel idea to win a national championship over arguably more talented and athletic North Carolina.)
And throughout the nonconference tilt, Penn had become too dependent on freshman wunderkind AJ Brodeur. As talented as he is, he is still a freshman and he needs the rest of his team to perfect the inside-outside game that Steve Donahue envisions. Matt Howard has been good but also wildly inconsistent and no one else has developed enough to relieve the scoring pressure from Penn’s overburdened young center.
The good news is that during Princeton’s surgical destruction of the Quakers tonight, Steve Donahue finally found the team he has been trying so assiduously to create — except it resided on the visiting bench. The Tigers were unusually good Tuesday night — senior leadership, staunch defense and deadly, sharpshooter range from downtown. (I, for one, vastly prefer the version that played the Pearl Harbor Tournament and couldn’t hit the broadside of a battleship.) This is the team that the Quakers are aspiring to be. (However, it should be noted that the Tigers have only won one title since we won our last in 2007. Of course, that may change this year.) The humiliating loss to our archrival notwithstanding, the Penn coaching staff should be commended on continuing to move the program forward. The nonconference slate has shown many incremental signs of growth, but alas, there is obviously still much to be done.
It is a shame, and somewhat embarrassing for a school with such a rich hoops history, that Penn will not be represented in the Ivy Tournament at the Palestra. Still, during my many trips around the sun, I have always found that sometimes what one thinks is the worst thing to happen to them miraculously turns out to be the best. Therefore, I hope Steve makes his charges watch every tournament game in March from the front row, and for yet another year, watch from afar as another team celebrates an Ivy championship on the hallowed Cathedral floor. I hope he does this – not as punishment, but as fuel. We’ll know soon enough if he will then be able to harness that fuel and turn it to fire.
Stay Red & Blue my Friends,