With teams a few short weeks away from actual games, here is a collection of off-season stories to catch up on before the start of the 2018-2019 season.
Following an 0-6 start to Ivy play in 2017, the Penn men’s basketball team went 6-2 through the remainder of the conference schedule to claim the final spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament. Despite having home court advantage and never trailing to undefeated Princeton during regulation, the Quakers could not find a way to close out the game and lost in the semifinals. Heading into 2017-2018, the expectations were that Penn, while not ready to challenge for the top of the conference, would build upon their immediate success and have a much more comfortable time at securing the four seed. The preseason media poll reflected this idea, with the Red & Blue being picked fourth with 88 points, 28 points behind third ranked Princeton and 31 points ahead of fifth place Columbia.
The Quakers entered the Ivy schedule at 9-5 with highlight wins on the road at Monmouth (in 4 OT) and Dayton. However, Penn’s 85-72 home loss to Toledo (KenPom #113) on December 29th was a troubling way to enter the January 9th conference opener against the Tigers. Penn put any concerns to rest, snapping an eight-game losing streak to Princeton on its way to a 7-0 start to the league schedule. Following a loss at Harvard, the Quakers won its next four, including a three point home win against the Crimson. A controversial last second 80-79 loss at Yale left Penn tied with Harvard going into the regular season finale. A 99-93 over Brown gave the Red & Blue (24-9 overall, 12-2 Ivy, 1-3 Big Five) a share of the Ivy title, its 26th overall championship and first since 2007.
The leaves remain unnaturally green, the air temperature dips into the upper 70s and the Quaker football team uncharacteristically turns Franklin Field into a house of horrors. All of this can only mean one thing: the upcoming Ivy hoops season cannot be far behind. (And, of course, the Earth is going to burn like a cinder in space.) And once again it is I, The AQ, bringing you another year of outstanding Penn basketball coverage as I faithfully have for IHO since 1947.
“Hey AQ, where have you been?” The question has arisen this season from many emails and tweets. First, for those of you who have missed my pithy, yet pedantic,and occasionally puerile persiflage (800 Math, 790 Verbal), my apologies, and no, I have not retired. Instead, I have merely taken a step back to observe the rapid reshaping of the Ivy hoops landscape. Overall, this brief offseason has been arguably more tumultuous than the season itself. Yale captures the league outright for the first time in 54 years and then bags a tournament win over Baylor. Princeton does their “I got this. Oops, no I don’t!” routine in the NIT. Kyle Smith, after winning the CIT, triumphantly leaves Columbia (“Thank you and good night!”) as perhaps the torchbearer of a strange, new breed of Lions coach — a winning one. (I am hoping that they lose the secret formula for this perverse brand of eugenics, no doubt developed in some arcane lab on the Morningside Heights campus, before that institution actually gets used to victory.) Paul Cormier, after two straight ROYs, abruptly gets canned in Hanover which only proves that you can never go home again especially if that home is in New Hampshire, on the Dartmouth campus and you’re hired as its basketball coach. And Bill Courtney, well…even the muskrats at the bottom of the gorge could see that one coming.
So what about my beloved Quakers?
I love a man with a plan. The first few games of 2015 for the Penn Quakers have undoubtedly shown that first-year Penn coach Steve Donahue has a system. He is also doing his best to implement that system with young players that are not necessarily the best fit. The early results are therefore quite predictable: a few wins, a few competitive losses, a few bad losses and one game in which they were predictably “Cornelled.”™ (Cornelled: adv. A punishing, demoralizing and humiliating loss where a team surrenders 100 points or more.) So, despite their weak schedule, not a horrendous start for the Quakers.
PHILDADELPHIA – For the first time all season, Penn basketball has lost consecutive games.
The Red and Blue were thrown off from the opening tip by Navy, a squad which won its seventh consecutive game after an 0-2 start. The Quakers (4-3) got off to a slow start before staging a late comeback, only to be undone by a layup from Navy sophomore Shawn Anderson and some missed free throws by sophomore guard Antonio Woods in the final minute.
I’ll get to the comeback in a second, but the more notable part of this game was the beginning. This is the fourth straight game that Penn trailed at the half and the end of the first half exposed some weaknesses, particularly with the Quakers’ depth.
A turning point came when both Woods and senior center Darien Nelson-Henry each picked up two fouls, all within a two-minute span. The duo account for a lot of Penn’s offense, and it showed in their absence (they each subbed in for a few possessions later in the half, but were limited).
Now or never season for Jerome Allen? Now or never season for Jerome Allen.
That being said, this is a very young roster as seven of Penn’s top 10 scorers from last season are gone, which means that Penn’s nonconference play may not be as telling as it was a year ago when it was clear very early on – like, the season opener – that the Quakers were in trouble. This roster needs time to gel, and it will have to gel before the program starts stringing together wins with any consistency. So it’ll be a while before we can properly evaluate what pieces Allen is working with here.