Sizing up Penn's 2015-16 schedule

The Steve Donahue era is here, and it’s almost palpable with Thursday’s release of the 2015-16 Penn basketball schedule.

And it’s interesting, though not much different from past schedules. We have the obligatory homecoming trip, this time a trip home at Washington on Sat., Nov. 21 for senior center Darien Nelson-Henry and junior guard Matt Poplawski both of whom are from the Seattle area. Good for them, and good on the program for providing that Evergreen State opportunity.

What’s not so obligatory? Playing at Drexel.

That’s right, the Daskalakis Athletic Center, where Steve Bilsky forbade the Quakers from playing during his run as athletic director, excepting one 2008 matchup.

“How would you compare Marilyn Monroe and a dog?” Bilsky asked in 2013, comparing the Palestra and the DAC respectively. “There’s nothing like the Palestra. I’m really truly not saying that to demean their facility or their program. I’m just saying you have two schools that are within walking distance from the facility. Is there anyone else who can make that statement in the country?”

Former coach Jerome Allen generally handled scheduling at that time, but it was Bilsky’s edict to avoid visiting the DAC, and so hiatuses in 2011, 2013 and 2014 popped up as Drexel coach Bruiser Flint refused to acquiesce to a permanent Palestra residency for the Battle of 33rd Street.

New coach Steve Donahue and athletic director Grace Calhoun clearly don’t mind a home-and-home with Drexel going forward, to their credit.

Since I don”t feel much differently than I did about the Battle of 33rd Street situation two years ago, I will reiterate what I wrote back then for the Daily Pennsylvanian:

“It’s true — the DAC seats a capacity crowd of 2,532, while the Palestra seats 8,722 at full capacity. A Palestra crowd of 5,608 watched Drexel down Penn for the fifth straight time last November, more than twice the number of fans who could squeeze into the DAC. Indeed, 6,879 watched the Dragons steamroll Penn, 77-56, at the height of the rivalry in November 2010. Flint’s digs casino online can’t compete with that.

But why should they? The atmosphere was great for Penn’s lone stroll to the DAC in November 2008 — a game that drew a national television audience and a 10 a.m. tip-off as part of ESPN’s Hoop Marathon.

And oh, by the way — Drexel won that game too. Notice a trend? When a team loses to another team five straight times, maybe the loser shouldn’t be hosting the winner every single year anymore. Maybe the pride in bolstering a natural City Six rivalry supersedes the pride of the Palestra every other year.”

If Penn is to host this rivalry at the Palestra permanently, it needs to start beating Drexel again. Even then, the neighborly thing to do here is share. If you’re Penn, visit the DAC every other year, take care of your business in bruising Bruiser there, and just be glad you’re going home to Marilyn Monroe instead of a dog.

Otherwise, there are some nice touches throughout the schedule – a cupcake matchup against Division III Ursinus, Donahue’s alma mater and a season opening romp with Robert Morris at the Palestra that pits Donahue against another popular candidate to succeed Allen, RMU coach and 2003 Penn alumnus Andy Toole. Toole told me in 2013 he never wanted to coach against Penn at the Palestra again after doing so for RMU in a Colonials’ loss to the Quakers in 2011. Guess he changed his mind.

Preceding the RMU matchup Nov. 13 will be a women”s hoops matchup between Penn and Duke.

All in all, a decent, even clever schedule with the usual Big 5 and mid-major suspects for a first-year program.

Check out the rest of Penn”s 2015-16 schedule here.

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