As Penn enters the stretch run of the season looking to seal its third straight Ivy League championship, an interesting subplot has developed.

Guard Ibby Jaaber and forward Mark Zoller have established themselves as the leading candidates for the league's player of the year honors.

Both have been named player of the week twice. Zoller is this week's selection.

"Player of the year?" Zoller said. "That would be a great honor, but I'm not worried about that. We have to take care of some business. We have a bull's-eye on our backs. We have to stay focused, stay sharp."

The 6-foot-2 Jaaber was the player of the year last season as a shooting guard, and while his scoring has dropped from 18.2 points per game to 15.6, he leads the Ivy League in assists with 4.6 per game and steals with 3.22 per game while playing point guard.

Zoller, the 6-7 St. Joseph's Prep graduate who was a first-team all-Ivy selection last season, is leading the conference with an average of 18.3 points per game and is third in rebounds with 7.5 per game.

"Ibby does it on the defensive end, but on the offensive end, Zoller is a presence, and it's very difficult" to beat, Cornell coach Steve Donahue said.

Now seniors, the super-quick Jaaber and the rugged Zoller will lead Penn into games at Harvard tonight and at Dartmouth tomorrow. With a pair of wins - the Crimson and the Big Green are both 3-7 in league play - the Quakers will move closer to an Ancient Eight title in their first season under coach Glen Miller.

Penn is atop the league standings at 8-1 and is 17-8 overall. Entering the weekend, Yale (8-2) is lurking and Cornell (7-3) is also not far behind.

After tomorrow's outing, home games against Yale on March 2 and Brown on March 3 and a visit to Princeton on March 6 will be left on Penn's schedule.

As Penn tries to finish off its title run, the player of the year will be decided.

Only twice since the Ivy League began naming a player of the year in 1975 have there been cowinners.

The first was in 1981-82, when Penn's Paul Little and Craig Robinson of Princeton shared the award. In 1992-93, Jerome Allen of Penn and Buck Jenkins of Columbia were the choices.

Jaaber can become only the fifth player to claim the prize in consecutive years, including Allen, who came back to win solo in 1993-94. The Quakers' Ugonna Onyekwe pulled off the feat in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

"Team accolades come before individual achievements," said Jaaber, the Ivy League's all-time steal leader, who came to Penn from Elizabeth, N.J. "The Ivy League title comes first because it means a lot not only to myself, but also to the program. Winning three straight says something about the consistency of the program from top to bottom."

Donahue was the most recent coach to contend with Jaaber and Zoller. The Quakers gained an 83-71 win over the Big Red on Saturday.

Jaaber had 25 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. His partner finished with 24 points, five rebounds, a career high of six steals, and six assists, which tied a personal best.

"It starts with Jaaber," Donahue said. "If he's not there, none of those other guys - and this is no offense to them - can defend the way they defend.

"As good as Ibby is, we have guys who can kind of stay in front of him. But when [Zoller] starts posting up, he just knows how to play, and he's so strong for this level. It's hard for us to deal with Mark, and I've talked to a lot of coaches and we all say that."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum

at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.