I must admit that there were times over the last 10 years that I began to despair.
Penn basketball has always been an essential part of my sports spectating life, and yet, inexplicably,
there was the “crown jewel” of Penn Athletics in shambles. For those of us who had always witnessed greatness on the hardwood from the Red and Blue, the past decade has been nothing less than a gut-wrenching, surreal descent into irrelevance and thus humiliation.
This has been a crazy season for Ivy League basketball, all 16 weeks of it. From Harvard’s starting the season 14 hours away in Shanghai to Penn’s regular season-ending triumph over the Crimson Saturday night, this season has been full of surprises and unusual trends.
IHO breaks down the two games comprising Saturday evening’s Ivy conference play-opening slate:
Penn at Princeton, 7 p.m.
Last season: Princeton beat Penn twice by a combined three points, and the Ps’ last meeting at Jadwin Gym on March 12 put a scare into the Tigers, who were outscored 40-23 over the final 14:52 in a 72-71 victory over the Red and Blue. Princeton committed 16 turnovers, its highest amount in Ivy play last season, and then-freshman Penn guard Tyler Hamilton came out of nowhere to provide 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 37 minutes, easily the best performance of his Penn career.
So far I believe most Penn hoops fans should be encouraged. There are many positives to take away from this young season both from within the team and from the status (bad) of the Ivy League. So let’s take a peek at them both, shall we?
What happened last year (11-17, 5-9): Last year, Penn fans got pretty much all they could expect from the Quakers in Steve Donahue’s first year as head coach of the Quakers. Penn got off to a 4-1 nonconference start and even climbed to 5-5 in league play before dropping the last four games of the season.
Two white-knuckle losses to Princeton (including blowing a 97.6 percent win probability after leading 64-55 with 3:02 left in the first matchup at the Palestra), perhaps even more than Penn’s conference wins, provided a glimpse of what the Quakers could be more consistently under Donahue going forward:
It comes in many forms. Caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful butterfly: Whether it’s an insect, person, business, or athletic team, it is a necessary transformation for survival. No entity on the planet is exempt: evolve or perish.
This will be a curiously critical year for Quaker Basketball because it will show whether Steve Donahue, with his first true recruiting class, can be competitive in the increasingly upwardly mobile Ivy League. Evidence of institutional growth, something that consistently eluded Jerome Allen’s teams and consequently vexed and frustrated the Penn fan base, will soon be on full display as the season progresses. True, the Quakers will be a young squad (11 of the 19 players will be either freshmen or sophomores), but that should not significantly mask whether they will be able to take that next crucial step back toward Ivy hoops relevance. Of course, there will be growing pains but I, unlike the perpetually lugubrious Penn Basketball message boards, am unusually sanguine about this team.
“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.
IHO’s writers voted on the best this Ivy season had to offer, voted on and tabulated prior to the announcement of Ivy League’s official awards Wednesday:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Justin Sears, Yale (Sr., F – Plainfield, N.J.)
For the second straight season, Sears wins IHO’s Player of the Year honors, a game theory-free decision. It’s no coincidence that Yale’s conference-winning wheelhouse – defense and rebounding – is centered on Sears’ own strengths. The POY was a much better ball distributor this season, scoring with slightly more consistency as well as he reached the 20-point plateau seven times and recorded five double-doubles. This is a clear case of the best getting better.
In a cruel twist of fate for Columbia fans, the Tigers outdid the Lions at Jadwin by the same score as they did earlier this month, when Princeton made not one but two unlikely comebacks in its overtime win at Levien. In Princeton’s previous win against the Lions, Henry Caruso, Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook shot 4-for-24 from the floor. Friday night, that trio shot 22-for-31 en route to 60 combined points, with freshman guard Myles Stephens adding 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench.