Penn all-time moment No. 3: UNC gets shocked on Black Sunday

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because once upon a time, Penn was a Final Four letter word…

As memorable games go, there are too many to choose from in Quaker history. However, I think this one is the most memorable for me.

In 1979, Penn was just beginning an extraordinary Final Four run through the NCAA Tournament. However, after dispatching with Jim Valvano’s Iona Gaels 83-75 in the first round, a daunting task awaited Bob Weinhauer’s squad. The Quakers would have to defeat Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels, who were seeded first in the East Region, in Raleigh.  Few, including me, gave the Quakers much of a shot. Penn was an overwhelming underdog as many had picked the Tar Heels, who were ranked No. 3 nationally and featured future NBA players Mike O’Koren and Al Wood, to win the entire tournament.

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Penn all-time moment No. 4: Comeback, Quaker style

Penn is next because the Palestra bathrooms are hallowed ground … if you pick the right door.

There are few things more deflating for a Penn hoops fan than losing to Princeton. The now infamous “Black Tuesday” incident of February 1999 was unprecedented in both its pain and scope. The Tigers roared back from an incredible 33-9 halftime deficit at the Palestra to cap one of the most historic comebacks in the fabled rivalry. The painful 50-49 victory was one that Quaker fans would not soon forget. I attended this game and had never seen a meltdown of this proportion against our principal rival.  When I think about, it is still incomprehensible.

However, as they say at the Palestra, “Revenge is a dish served steaming hot.” (I hate clichés.) Six years later, the Tigers had replaced the venerable Pete Carril with the alienating Joe Scott on the Princeton bench.  What’s more, they had Judson Wallace mouthing off about how his team would not only win the Ivy title, but sweep the rest of the league as well:  “I might get in trouble fast, but our team will win our next 10 games in a row. I know that.”

(For the record, no one likes a braggart from Jersey.)

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Penn all-time moment No. 6: The Palestra opens in 1927

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because SQUIRRELS

Do you know why the other seven Ivy schools will always suck even if they win? Because they play their games in high school gyms.

I ask you, would Duke still be “Duke” if they played at Levien, or the Alfred E. Newman Senior Citizen Center or that bullshit place where Harvard plays? (By the way, Cameron Indoor was designed by the same architectural firm as the Palestra. That’s why they look the same.)  If clothes make the man, then the stadium makes the team. In this arena Penn has, and never will have, any competition.  The Palestra is called “The Cathedral of Basketball” with good reason.  Since it was built, Penn’s home court has hosted more games, more visiting teams and more NCAA Tournaments than any other facility in the country.  It is unquestionably the “birthplace of college basketball.”

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Big 5 doubleheader at the Palestra, anyone?

Big 5

A Big 5 doubleheader could be a couple of agreements away.

Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported this afternoon that there is “an effort” to hold a Big 5 doubleheader at the Palestra with Penn facing St. Joseph’s and Temple squaring off with La Salle.

Narducci’s source said there is nothing definitive at the moment, though there has been discussion of scheduling the games during the week, sometime after Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 18, 2016).

As the Inquirer notes, Penn’s 56-52 win over St. Joseph’s on Jan. 24 drew a crowd of 8,538 last season, while Temple’s 58-57 win over La Salle at the Palestra on Dec. 6 drew 7,445.

Big 5 executive director Steve Bilsky, who officially retired as Penn athletic director a year ago Tuesday, said in February that he envisioned a Big 5 week with a banquet the night before, an alumni game, students from the schools playing against each other, sponsorships and television – the whole works, obviously.

The Big 5 round-robin city series ended in 1991 but was brought back in 1999. ESPN broadcasted the first game of Saturday’s Big 5 doubleheader between La Salle and Temple.

What the Inquirer doesn’t mention is that the doubleheader talks were clearly motivated by the Ancient Quaker’s post today on the formation of the Philadelphia Big 5. Clearly. No coincidence or anything.

Penn all-time moment No. 7: Formation of the Philadelphia Big 5

The Big 5 is a Penn creation. It was conceived by Penn athletic director Jerry Ford and announced by University President Gaylord Harnwell at Houston Hall in 1954.  The Quaker sports staff then helped formulate the round robin format between Temple, St. Joes, Villanova, LaSalle and Penn.  Since that time Penn basketball really has had two seasons, the Ivy and the Big 5.  Of course the Ivy title provides the coveted entry to The Dance, but the Big 5 is often just as important. It is Philly bragging rights in a town that loves college basketball.  Most years, it was not at all unusual for four out of the five schools to make the NCAA Tournament; Such was the high level of play. Naturally the best intra-city hoops rivalry in the nation deserves a special place to perform and the Palestra is the perfect venue. No other arena in the country, despite their larger size and glitzy sterility, can possibly provide the intimacy for such historical competition.

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Penn all-time moment No. 8: Jerome Allen brings Ivy dominance

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because alum Elon Musk had a rough weekend.

In my view, Jerome Allen is probably one of the best all-around players to ever play for the Quakers. (At least, he is the best Penn player I’ve ever seen play.) A local Philly product and four-year starter, he lead Penn to three Ivy titles with all of them coming by way of perfect 14-0 records. The 48-game Ivy winning streak he was part of from 1993-96 remains a conference record.  Allen’s personal accolades are prodigious: Ivy Player of the Year twice, first team All-Ivy and All-Big 5 three times, and hoops super stud every year he played.

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Penn all-time moment No. 9 – Daly inducted into Hall of Fame

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because Quakers are your Friends.

Before he was the head coach of the Dream Team, or his two NBA Championships with the Detroit Pistons, or his 1994 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, before he was “Daddy Rich” and Dennis Rodman’s online casino surrogate father, Chuck Daly was the most successful head coach (by percentage) of the Penn Quakers. From 1971-77, he complied a 125-38 record which included a 74-10 Ivy League mark. His 1971-72 team finished 25-3 and advanced to the NCAA East Regional Final, eventually losing to Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels.

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Penn all-time moment No. 10: Princeton hires Pete Carril

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because once upon a time, Donald Trump was just another ego-driven Whartonite. 

Pete Carril is a hoops genius. (At least that’s what the folks up north say.) With a 514-261 overall coaching record and the chief architect of the most boring brand of basketball ever conceived by the human brain, Carril does have his merits. His on-the-court antics, I found, were also a constant source of entertainment for generations of Penn students giving birth to the time-honored chant, “Sit Down Pete!” So what does he have to do with Penn basketball?  Well, as Penn coaches came and went (some on to the Hall of Fame), Carril was a constant for more than 30 years in the Penn-Princeton rivalry. For better or worse, he helped build the enmity between the two institutions into one of the most passionate in all of college basketball.

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Penn all-time moment No. 11: A Final Four ‘first’


We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Warning – the following post is NOT a Princeton article. It’s just a break from the Princeton countdown we’ve been doing.

Winston Churchill once said that if the British Empire were to last a thousand years, the Battle of Britain would be its finest hour. As far as I can see, ol’ Winny had it easy. I mean, what is British history anyway?  Chaucer, afternoon tea, the Magna Carta, David Beckham, Shakespeare, the Hundred Years’ War, and Wham! at Wembley Stadium are mere footnotes in the evolution of the human species.  (I did in fact attend the 1985 Wham! Concert in my freshly coifed Flock of Seagulls hairdo and furtively wept at George Michael’s moving rendition of “Careless Whisper” – totally awesome.)  Naturally, with a feeble heritage like this, one could easily elucidate its finest hour.

I, however, have been tasked with an immanently more daunting mission: chronicling the Top 10 Moments in Pennsylvania Basketball’s glorious history.  Where to begin?  The third-ranked 1971 team? The Final Four?  25 Ivy Titles?

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Penn coach Steve Donahue off to a great start

Steve Donahue knows you don't get a second chance at a second Ivy impression. (AP/David Duprey)
Steve Donahue knows you don’t get a second chance at a second Ivy impression. (AP/David Duprey)

Anyone who wants to know how Steve Donahue is faring so far as Penn basketball’s new head coach can refer to a May 16 Tweet from Donahue:


It’s all there: Donahue’s savvy embrace of analytics for his new program, awareness that upgrades to the program must be highlighted and emphasis on accordingly communicating with both the public at large and the Penn student community (The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student newspaper whose story Donahue linked to in the Tweet).

Donahue’s making moves – simple, logical moves – and making sure we know it.

As for logical – how else to describe tapping Penn professor and program superfan Nakia Rimmer to work on basketball analytics projects with select undergraduates for the coaching staff? It’s not a shocking measure given Donahue’s commitment to analytics-friendly motion offense predicated on three-pointers and ball movement. But it’s still refreshing and supports Donahue’s acknowledgment upon his hiring that the Palestra and the Big 5 weren’t enough to ensure success for Penn anymore.

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