With that being said, I do want to raise one quick issue about the Ivy League Tournament. I will still gripe that it should be just three teams, but if that had been the case going into tonight, we would have been robbed of a pretty fantastic moment.
The sudden resurgence of the Penn Quakers men’s basketball team has been one of the biggest stories of the Ivy League season. After an 0-6 start to conference play, including a four-game stretch where they lost by 12 at the Palestra to (preseason eighth-place) Brown, gave up an early 15-point lead in a defeat at Harvard, were upset by previously winless Dartmouth and got beat by 15 points at home to Princeton, many people (including this writer) were ready to write off the 2016-17 campaign. After the last two weekends, the team has regrouped and is now tied with Columbia for the final spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
Over the last four games, not only has the team played its best basketball of the season, the performances may have been the program’s most dominant in the last decade. The numbers that Penn has put up have been staggering.
Let me begin by offering coach Steve Donahue and the entire Quakers team an unconditional retraction. After their loss to Princeton two short weeks ago, it appeared their inconsistent play would keep them out of the Ivy League Tournament – to which I said, “Well, that ends that.”
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.
Our Ivy weekend roundup features a raucous rematch, some Red and Crimson splitting, a No. 4 stepping to the fore and late-game strategy deja vu.
After two weeks of league competition, Penn has lost its first three contests, including two at the Palestra. The most surprising was a loss to Brown, the eighth-place team in the league’s preseason poll, which was Bears’ first road conference win in almost two years. (Brown very nearly upset Yale Friday night in Providence, but that doesn’t change Penn’s current 0-3 hole in league play.)
Looking at where things stand, were Quakers fans viewing the team through Red and Blue-colored glasses as the Ivy League slate began?
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.
With the first-ever Ivy League Postseason Tournament, the regular season has focused on which teams would make it into the top four. In the preseason and the first two months of the campaign, Princeton, Yale and Harvard appeared certain to get to the Palestra for the second week of March. The first two weekends of conference play has confirmed those ideas. For most of the nonconference season, Penn seemed to take control of that fourth spot. While losing to Princeton at Jadwin Gym on the opening night of the league schedule, the Quakers showed enough on the offensive and defensive sides to justify those predictions. However, the Quakers’ two home losses this weekend showed that their path to the Palestra is uncertain and opened the fourth spot for all five lower division squads. After Saturday’s action in Philadelphia and Ithaca, Brown and Columbia took strong steps towards claiming the last spot in the top tier.
Prior to the start of conference play, Penn coach Steve Donahue sat for an appearance on Penn Basketball Weekly. In the Penn-Princeton preview, the coach emphasized the main difference between the two teams in last year’s close contests was the fact that Princeton competed better. The Tigers made the necessary plays late, when the game was on the line. He felt that the Quakers had improved on that end, but Saturday’s result shows that Penn is just not at the Tigers’ level at this time.