With only two weeks of the regular season left, the Quakers are in trouble. They need to win out, or at least get to 7-7, to even have a shot at the Ivy League Tournament. In December, when they were knocking off power-five opponents and capturing the Big 5 title, I never dreamed they’d ever be in this dubious position. But alas, they are.
So how did we get here? Perhaps it’s best if coach Steve Donahue tells you.
“There was a poise about us last year that was really one through 33 games,” Donahue said, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “This year, there have been moments of brilliance when this group plays really great that the other group probably didn’t have the chance to.”
Ah yes, “moments of brilliance.” Although I agree with Mr. Donahue, championships are built on consistency, not moments of brilliance.
Don’t believe me? This is true in any profession. A first-year attorney can have a “moment of brilliance,” but it will be the firm’s 20-year partner who will most likely be unfailingly successful over the long haul. The same is true for surgeons, accountants, and just about any profession you can think of. In sports, you can look at the New England Patriots. Their success is not built upon sporadic acts of athletic gallantry. Every year, in every game, despite league and personnel changes, they have always played the same way and therefore have improbably maintained a football dynasty for more than a decade. They are the McDonald’s hamburger of sports: the same all the time. This year, in our conference, it’s Yale. Laden with upperclassmen, the Bulldogs are predictably efficient, don’t crack under pressure and know how to win. They have the talent, but so do we. So what’s the difference?
Last year, win or lose, the Quakers too were consistent in every game. Once the ball was tossed you knew what you were going to get — tough, gritty defense, great ball motion and a will to win. It was predictable, it was replicable, and it was a pleasure to watch.
This year has been a different story, however. Quite honestly, I never know now which team is going to show up on the Palestra hardwood. Will it be the ultra-confident, smooth-passing, sharpshooting one that toppled Villanova, Miami, New Mexico and Temple, or will it be the poor-shooting, turnover-prone, diffident squad that lost to Cornell, Columbia and Princeton (twice)? Somewhere, somehow, in the midst of the Ivy season, no less, the Quakers seem to have lost their mojo.
Team stalwart AJ Brodeur, one of the few Quakers who actually is consistent and predictable, appears to think so as well.
“I think we are settling into a rhythm right now, and not necessarily in a good way, Brodeur said, per The Daily Pennsylvanian. “We’re starting to get complacent (my emphasis), starting to settle for where we’re at right now. I’d say everyone on our team isn’t comfortable with that, in theory, but when it comes to the games we’re not taking that extra step to get where we need to be.”
My translation: There appears to be a lack of leadership that Darnell Foreman and Matt MacDonald, among others, provided last year. Perhaps winning the Ivy title last year or the Big 5 title this year was good enough for some. This is not to blame anyone, but with injuries to upperclassmen and thus a younger, less battle-tested squad, the urgency of winning this year is somehow not being properly conveyed.
In addition, as talented as Michael Wang and Bryce Washington are – and I am confident that they will be great to watch for the next three years – they lack a full season of college experience. This seems to be especially apparent as we go deeper into the Ivy back-to-back portion of the schedule. Both players have been significantly less effective offensively. In the last five games in which Penn has gone 2-3, Wang has scored just 25 points in 76 minutes (and was a healthy scratch against Dartmouth), while Washington has tallied a paltry 13 points in 102 minutes. Both players have had “moments of brilliance,” but Brodeur and Antonio Woods are consistent. Perhaps the old adage of “you can’t win with freshmen” (which I originally thought did not apply this year) has now finally come to the fore.
Penn’s lack of experience is finally showing, and at the worst time possible. A tough road trip against Harvard and Dartmouth is just a few days away and the Quakers have split every Ivy weekend so far (not including the ignominious Princeton sweep). That, of course, will not get it done. Championships are never built on “moments of brilliance,” but consistency can begin anytime. For Penn, the time is now.
Stay Red and Blue my Friends,