It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Red and Blue. After a euphoric start to the season with wins over New Mexico, Miami and, of course, the reigning national champions, the Quakers then had a bit of downturn, losing in blowout fashion to Toledo and enduring an embarrassing defeat to the heretofore winless Monmouth Hawks. Naturally, the last two losses can be explained as starters freshman Michael Wang and senior Max Rothschild were both out due to injury. Injuries are indeed part of the sport (just ask Harvard), and losing two productive members of the frontcourt rendered this Penn team substantially smaller and guard-heavy. (Oh, did I also mention that Penn had already lost its leading scorer from last year as well?) Although “super-stud” AJ Brodeur did his best, it hard for any team to win in this fashion.
To make matters worse, the Quakers lost something even more important—momentum. They had been playing at a magnificently high level. Villanova, Miami and New Mexico were all on the defensive while Penn dictated the pace of game. I dare say that I have rarely seen a Quaker team play basketball as beautifully as this group. (And I have seen a lot of Penn basketball.) What’s more, and extremely encouraging, two of the essential pieces of this ensemble are freshmen, namely Bryce Washington and Michael Wang. It has been said that you cannot “win with freshmen,” but apparently Steve Donahue did not get that memo. Both players are extremely talented recruits. In fact, in terms of Wang, I have not been this excited about a Penn freshman since Susan Bernstein moved onto the second floor of High Rise South when I was a junior.
Unfortunately for the Quakers, momentum is exactly what Princeton had after their heady win over Arizona State. All season, the Tigers had looked a little “off” to me. Mitch Henderson hadn’t seemed to be able to get his charges to gel until they made their trip to the Grand Canyon State. Although surprising to everyone, even to the Tigers themselves, I imagine, I attempted to explain away their victory as follows: the Sun Devils had just beaten the number one team in the country and were on an emotional high (we all know what happens after those—the inevitable fall), they underestimated the mediocre, mid-major team from the East with losses to FDU, Lehigh and a humiliating 50 point demolition by Duke, and now Princeton was playing with house money. (Brilliant analysis on my part, or so I thought.) Let’s face it, a 50-point loss on national television renders the thought of further humiliation pretty inconsequential.
So Saturday night at Jadwin, the Tigers came in riding high while Penn was regrouping from two tough losses and the loss of Rothschild and Wang. Now it was Penn that looked a little out-of-sync. Although the Quakers played respectably, as a team they looked different. They just didn’t seem to have “it.” Rushed shots had replaced the careful, deliberate passing that had made them so successful earlier in the season. What’s more, they shot poorly from three-point range shooting only 25 percent (those are Jerome Allen-team-type numbers) with the usually reliable Devon “Lightning” Goodman shooting 1-for-7 from three and just 7-for-17 from two-point range. Jake Silpe, doing his best Green Lantern imitation while wearing a shot-altering face mask, notched only three points.
(I never understand why players use these. If you have a broken nose or some other injured facial bone and get hit in the face by a guy whose 6’10”, do you really think a less than quarter-inch piece of plastic is going to help? Remember that next time you think you might become involved in some future altercation. Leave the mask at home.)
Rothschild held up well upon his return grabbing six rebounds and three assists in 16 minutes, but Wang, who probably isn’t 100 percent yet, was mostly absent (1-for-6 in 16 minutes). And, of course, there remained the now infamous Penn trademark – poor foul shooting (61 percent), which is always a game-killer. (To be fair, the Tigers shot only 50 percent, but even if they shot 90 percent, no one ever wants to emulate them.)
So Princeton looked better than I thought they would. Richmond Aririguzoh was a force down low and Myles Stephens, after a flirtation with mediocrity, seems to be getting his game back on par with what it was two years ago. However, game film has apparently exposed the much hyped Mr. Llewellyn for the true freshman that he is (five points in 41 minutes). Thus Princeton playing well at home while Penn was away in the most hostile of Ivy environs trying to regroup and recapture their mojo after losing two key players. The game eventually came down to an overtime struggle where the Quakers finally coughed it up on poor shooting.
Fortunately, this year the usual internecine Tuesday night battles between these two rivals scheduled one month apart, have now been replaced by two Saturday games scheduled one week apart. Steve Donahue has seven days to rally his team and get them back to where they were just a few weeks ago. I therefore foresee instant improvement. Rothschild’s back and Wang’s foot should recover even more, Silpe will transform back into Superman instead of Green Lantern (both Justice League Members nonetheless)and fly across the hardwood while “Super Stud” AJ Brodeur will be his usual “Super Stud” self. I therefore predict a very different outcome at The Cathedral next week. This year’s title race looks like nothing less than blood sport. All of the teams look formidable. No one will make it through the Ivy gauntlet unscathed. Regardless, it’s already time for Steve to stop the bleeding. I know he will.
Saturday can’t come soon enough. I Believe in Steve.
Stay Red & Blue my Friends,
P.S. Susan, if you’re reading this, please return my lava lamp.