In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, Associate Sports Editor John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor Mike Tony debate which weekend game showed us where the Penn men’s basketball team is really at: Columbia or Cornell.
John Phillips: The Quakers are not going to win the Ivy League this year. Let’s not fool ourselves. But this isn’t a team I would want to run into if I were Princeton or Harvard.
And that’s because the Friday night edition of the Red and Blue was a better representation of how they’ve been playing on the whole rather than the squad that appeared (and failed to at key moments) on Saturday.
The Quakers’ youth has started to blossom. Darien Nelson-Henry has proven to be a huge offensive asset for the Quakers, while coach Jerome Allen has finally figured out the amount of playing time that Jamal Lewis and Tony Hicks each should receive.
Meanwhile, Miles Cartwright is finally learning when to score and when to distribute, a clear sign of leadership. And perhaps most important of all, the team is getting stronger despite the absence of Fran Dougherty from the lineup.
Mike Tony: But it’s hard to say the Quakers are happily evolving into a new squad when we saw the same old team collapse Saturday night against Cornell.
The same lack of aggressiveness we’ve seen all season long re-emerged as Penn only got to the charity stripe three times against the Big Red.
The same lack of clutchness we’ve seen all season long also re-emerged as the Red and Blue blew a 51-41 second-half lead and completely botched the final possession and inbounds play.
This team plays hard, but it still doesn’t know how to finish games. The Cornell contest was stark evidence of that.
JP: Winning games is the last step, isn’t it? Clutchness is more about repetition than anything, and this is still a young team.
With the way Allen shuffled around the lineup for most of the season, the players have been stuck playing musical chairs rather than playing basketball.
Recently, however, we’ve seen the rotation solidify and players accept their roles. Nelson-Henry’s increasingly stellar play can be attributed to knowing he’ll get minutes just as much as to his skill development.
I’ve said it all year — this is a talented unit. The flashes of a good team we’re seeing will develop into consistent success.
MT: But when? Sure, Penn shot and distributed the ball well offensively as a team against Cornell, but the Big Red rank dead last in the Ivy League in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense anyway. This is still a team defined by its crunch-time ineffectiveness. Let’s wait until we see the Quakers close out a game with authority until we say they’ve turned the corner.
JP: They closed out a game on Friday night! When Cartwright rose up and sank that shot, the crowd went nuts — not just because Penn took the lead, but because it was a sign of things to come.
Penn won’t win the Ivy League, but the Quakers will win a fair number of games in the Ancient Eight this year, thanks to the bright spots they showed Friday.
MT: And on the night following Cartwright’s clutch play, Penn lost another game it should have won. Just like Drexel. Just like Fordham. Just like Wagner. The Quakers still can’t seem to figure out how to get all of their offensive spark plugs firing at the same time. Late-game mismanagement and youth are still the rule for Penn, not the exception.
Verdict: Mike takes this one. Until the Quakers limit turnovers and shoot well over 40 percent from the field on a consistent basis, they won’t notch the victories that will make them come of age.