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.

Read moreSizing up Penn's 2015-16 schedule

Big 5 doubleheader at Palestra officially slated for January

Big 5

There have been signs that a Big 5 doubleheader was a distinct possibility for next season. Now it’s a sure thing.

Philly.com reported Wednesday that the Palestra will indeed host a Big 5 doubleheader on Wed., Jan. 20, 2016 featuring Temple vs. La Salle and St. Joseph’s vs. Penn, the first all-city twinbill since the Big 5 Classic’s last outing in 2004.

“This is how Philadelphia first fell in love with college basketball – by seeing two great games and four great teams in one night in what I think is the most intimate setting to watch a game,”
Penn coach Steve Donahue told Philly.com.

Donahue, former Penn and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy, St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli and La Salle coach John Giannini have always publicly revered the Palestra as the hub of Big 5 hoops, and they were undoubtedly driving forces behind the 2016 twinbill.

The Big 5 office reportedly said “other facts about the celebration” will follow. What could those be? Well, Big 5 executive director and former Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky 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.

 

Former Penn coach Tom Schneider, 1946-2015

Tom Schneider died March 17. He was 68. (legacy.com)
Tom Schneider died March 17. He was 68. (legacy.com)

Penn Athletics reported Monday that Tom Schneider, head coach of the Penn Quakers from 1985 to 1989, died March 17. He was 68.

Schneider led the Quakers to the 1987 Ivy League championship and went 51-54 in four seasons before leaving to take the head coaching post at Loyola (Md.).

According to Penn Athletics, Schneider was working as a history professor at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School in Lakeland, Fla., where he had served as a professor since 2005.

Schneider was an assistant for Penn from 1979 to 1983 under head coaches Bob Weinhauer and Craig Littlepage, who Schneider would succeed in that post after serving in the same role at Lehigh for two seasons.

Polk State College ran Schneider’s obituary on March 19.

“Players know when a coach is right and they listen,” said Polk State basketball coach Matt Furjanic, a longtime friend of Schneider’s since the 1970s according to the Polk Newsroom. “It’s the same way in a classroom — students enjoy learning from teachers who know a lot about the subject and know how to teach it. Tom did.”

Former Penn coach Jerome Allen joins Boston Celtics

(Laurence Kesterson/AP)
Jerome Allen is leaving the Palestra for the Boston Garden (okay, the TD Garden). (AP)

As an outstanding people person who the Philadelphia Inquirer correctly noted that no one wanted to see fired as Penn head coach in March, Jerome Allen was likely to find a decent assistant coaching gig outside the confines of the Palestra.

But was anybody expecting this?

Read moreFormer Penn coach Jerome Allen joins Boston Celtics

Penn all-time moment No. 1: The 1979 Final Four run

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We covered Penn now because Steve Donahue knows what’s up:

YQ = Young Quaker, of course. Bob Weinhauer = forever.
YQ = Young Quaker, of course. Bob Weinhauer = forever.

For those who did not experience it, the 1979 Penn Final Four season is almost indescribable. It was a once in a lifetime moment that happened to last two weeks. As students, our time in Philly was indelibly shaped by the completely unexpected rise of the Red and Blue to national prominence. School spirit was at an all-time high, and people who otherwise knew and cared little about college basketball were swept up in the mania that those few weeks in March brought. USA Today ranks it as the greatest Final Four ever and it is still, 36 years later, one of the highest-rated in terms of television viewership. This is because it not only changed our lives, but it changed the panorama of college basketball in America forever.

The ‘78-79 campaign started out like most for the Quakers in Bob Weinhauer’s second year as head coach. The team had finished 20-8 in his rookie season and was well on its way to repeating as Ivy League champions. The Quakers deftly handled their nonconference schedule, losing only to Iowa in two overtimes and getting blown out by San Diego State, 110-86. Then in late January came the Georgetown game at the Palestra. It was a nationally televised contest, a rarity for an Ivy League school, on a freezing Saturday afternoon. (Let’s face it, the networks certainly weren’t going to give it Brown or Cornell). The Cathedral was packed. Georgetown was ranked 10th in the nation and featured All-American guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and forward Craig “Big Sky” Shelton. (They just don’t make nicknames like that anymore.  Tony “Big Float” Hicks? Nah.)

Read morePenn all-time moment No. 1: The 1979 Final Four run

Penn all-time moment No. 2: The almost perfect 1971 season

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 Corky Calhoun somehow lived up to his mindblowingly awesome name. 

There will never be another season like it in the Ivy League. Despite Harvard’s perennial chest pounding, Yale’s unrequited dreams of glory and Princeton’s … well, whatever they do, no team will ever go undefeated for an entire season (on the men’s side, anyway).

In 1970-71, the Quakers went an astounding 28-0 before finally losing to cross-town rival Villanova (a team they beat earlier in the year) in the Eastern Regional Final, 90-47.  Regardless, they dominated their competition throughout the season, beating Ohio State, Utah and Syracuse, winning both the Ivy and Big 5 titles (the Quakers scored 103 and then 102 points on consecutive nights vs. Harvard and Dartmouth), winning 61 of their previous 65 games and achieving a No. 3 national ranking.  They are therefore considered by many as the greatest Quaker team of all time.

Read morePenn all-time moment No. 2: The almost perfect 1971 season

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.

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

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.)

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

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.”

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

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.