For the uninitiated, I can tell you the Big 5 is a Big Deal. The Philly City Series is as important and frequently more difficult to capture than the Ivy Crown. The teams are generally better, the crowds are bigger and the games are significantly fewer. Villanova has owned the Big 5 for more than a decade, and rightfully so. To play the national champions every year is no easy feat for anyone. Since Penn’s last title in 2002, St. Joseph’s has been ranked number one in the nation, and the John Chaney-Fran Dunphy Temple Owls as well as La Salle are almost always solid squads from deep conferences.
So when Penn, coming off a four-game losing streak, faced Temple (14-3 and coming off a four-game winning streak) Saturday, a lot was on the line. In my opinion, it was a masterful performance by the Quakers. I would argue that it was even better than the Villanova win. Of course, Penn was still without last year’s leading scorer, Ryan Betley. Max Rothschild played only a few token minutes, Michael Wang does not appear to have fully regained his soft shooting stroke and the Quakers were playing away from home, before a full house, on national television. Still, Steve Donahue’s squad maintained complete control of the game. Their four-game hiatus from victory looked like a thing of the past. (I consider the losses to Princeton just a low point in a season where low points inevitability happen.)
Patient and precise passing, firing the three ball with confidence, few turnovers and an aggressive post game all had returned in force. (Reading the Temple post boards this morning, their fan base seem more content to trash a 14-4 team, than to simply realize the Quakers are really good.) What’s more, the depth of Penn’s bench was once again on full display. The seldom used Kuba Mijakowski lit up the owls from deep with his amazingly precise three ball. He also dazzled the crowd with a over-the-head, no look pass to Jarrod Simmons for a power dunk. While Devon “Lightning” Goodman, Antonio Woods and “Super Stud” AJ Brodeur remained the bedrock of the inside-outside game, I think the real story is Steve Donahue’s ability to keep his team confident in the face of adversity and know which players to insert at the right moment in their collegiate careers.
Last year it was Devon Goodman at Columbia in the now infamous “no disrespect” game. This year it was starting Michael Wang and Bryce Washington as the season began. Then it was Jake Silpe against Villanova and yesterday it was Mijakowski at Temple. Injuries have hampered this team all season, but the Quakers have successfully played through them by a combination of tenacity, a “next man up” attitude and an unbreakable confidence clearly instilled in them through the coaching staff. Now as the Ivy season begins, and with St. Joseph’s looming this Saturday, how can you beat the national champions and capture the Philadelphia Big 5 and not have confidence in yourself?
This is a special team led by a special coach who knows and finds a way to win. I don’t think I have ever seen a Penn team (and I have seen plenty including the Final Four squad) that plays a more enjoyable brand of basketball to watch.
Stay Red & Blue my Friends,
And now, The AQ’s pithy and profligate Ivy League team analysis.
Brown: They have the best nonconference record in the Ivy. I think they lost the game to Yale more than the Elis won it. The Yale-Brown road trip is going to a nightmare. The lesson: Getting the Bears on Saturday night is going to be a miserable experience for everyone.
Columbia: If there was yet another reason to feel sorry for Columbia, and there always is, it is the injury to Mike Smith. Still, the Lions showed amazing fortitude at Cornell on Saturday by erasing an 18-point deficit to nearly win the game. Remember, the Lions are coached by Jim Engles, the man who turned around the most pathetic team in Division I hoops, NJIT. The lesson: never underestimate a Staten Island Man on a mission.
Cornell: The Red remind me of the 1985 Chicago Bulls—Michael Jordan and four guys named “Moe.” Matt Morgan is a beautiful player to watch and a scoring machine. However, if a team has a guy who sets scoring records, it usually means the team depends on him too much. The lesson: Beware the bad Morgan shooting night.
Dartmouth: The Green may be sneaky tough. Their three-point shooting devastated Harvard. (Which I for one really enjoyed.) The lesson: this will not be your granddad’s Green. They will be a factor in the Ivy race.
Harvard: Overrated as usual, but formidable nonetheless. Despite their talent, and yes I know they have a ton of injuries, they do not seem to be playing up to their overhyped potential. The lesson: Do I think they will make it to Ivy Madness? Yes, I do. Do I think they will win? Nope.
Yale: The Elis are solid. They are my favorite, with the Quakers of course, to play in the title game in New Haven. Miye “I Love You” Oni, is about as gifted and graceful an athlete as there has ever been in the conference and he has a great supporting cast. The Lesson: James Jones picked the right year to have the Madness moved to his home court.
Princeton: Last, but always least, the Tigers. They lost their leading scorer to getting arrested this week. The lesson: Penn, Columbia and Harvard have lost their leading scorers this year as well. We will therefore see how well Mitch Henderson can rally his team to cope with the physical and psychological effects of this significant loss. It won’t be easy.