Penn’s got a title to defend … and plenty of assets

A happy crowd. (Penn Office of the President)

As Ivy Hoops coverage dwindles across the digital world like Princeton’s winning percentage, I have returned to the dismay of many and the delight of few for yet another year of Penn Basketball coverage for IHO. Therefore, I will now channel another Philly hero, Sylvester Stallone, and pick up exactly where the team left off last season.

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Reports: Jerome Allen pleads guilty to taking bribe while coaching Penn

Multiple publications reported Friday that former Penn head coach Jerome Allen pleaded guilty to a bribery-related money laundering charge in Miami federal court this week.

Allen admitted to accepting $18,000 in bribes in 2014 from Morris Esformes, a wealthy Miami Beach businessman who was the father of a then-prospective student, according to multiple outlets. As part of the agreement, Allen will reportedly repay the $18,000 in addition to a $200,000 fine.

Penn fired Allen in March 2015, and he has been assistant coach for the NBA’s Boston Celtics since July 2015. Allen will be suspended from his role as assistant coach by the Celtics for about two weeks, according to the Boston Herald.

Penn Athletics announced in July that it was retaining outside counsel to investigate bribery allegations against Allen, who was the head coach at Penn for six seasons, following reports that Allen took bribes at Penn.

An expanded indictment against Esformes accused him of giving Allen more than $74,000 in the form of cash, a recruiting trip to Miami and a separate ride on a private jet in 2013 and 2014, according to Bloomberg.

Penn Athletics declined comment Saturday on Allen’s guilty plea, adding that it not have any updates on outside counsel’s investigation of Allen.

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Reports: Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes while coaching Penn

Multiple news outlets reported Friday that former Penn coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes while at Penn.

The Miami Herald reported Friday that a Miami Beach businessman has been charged with paying bribes to Allen so his son could be accepted as a “recruited” player to Penn.

The bribery allegations were included in an expanded indictment against Philip Esformes accusing him of giving Allen more than $74,000 in the form of cash, a recruiting trip to Miami and a separate ride on a private jet in 2013 and 2014, according to Bloomberg.

The indictment, which per the Miami Herald expands upon a $1 billion Medicare fraud case that led to Esformes’s arrest two years ago, does not identify the university, coach or student-athlete, Bloomberg noted. But a Justice Department prosecutor, prompted by a question from a Miami federal judge, disclosed Friday that the college listed in the indictment is Penn, the basketball coach is Allen, and the student is Esformes’ son, Morris, according to the Miami Herald.

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Women’s Ivy Tournament teams continue onward in postseason

For the second consecutive year, all four participants in the women’s Ivy Tournament have earned postseason bids.  Following top seeded Princeton’s championship victory over second place Penn early Sunday evening, the Tigers clinched the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and Penn claimed the conference’s automatic qualifying spot in the Women’s NIT.  On Monday night, Harvard received an at-large bid to the WNIT and Yale was selected for the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI).

The Tigers were chosen as the No. 12 seed in the Kansas City regional, where they will face No. 5 Maryland in Raleigh on Friday at noon on ESPN2 and online at ESPN3.  For Princeton, this is their ninth straight postseason appearance and seventh trip to the Big Dance.  The Quakers will be going up against Albany at the Palestra on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on the Ivy League Network.  Penn is competing in its sixth straight postseason tournament and its second trip to the WNIT.  The Crimson will travel to the Bronx on Friday night at 7:00 pm to take on Fordham on the A-10 Network, as they make their 14th overall postseason tournament, eighth all-time WNIT showing and sixth WNIT appearance in the last seven seasons.  The Bulldogs will visit Northeastern on Thursday night at 7:00 pm on Northeastern’s NUxtreme.  This is the team’s first postseason play under third-year head coach Allison Guth, and the first of any kind since a 2011 WNIT bid.

Here is a short primer on the Ivy representatives’ opponents for this week’s action:

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No. 16 Penn vs. No. 1 Kansas: Keys to making history

My range of emotions on Sunday swung from unadulterated joy as I rushed the Palestra floor to celebrate Penn’s 68-65 win over Harvard to mouth-agape shock as I stood in the back of Houston Hall at Penn’s selection show watch party and saw the Quakers on the 16 line against Kansas.

As fellow IHO contributor Steven Tydings and I rode the bus home to New York, I started to think of a plan for the Quakers to do the impossible and topple a No. 1 seed for the first time in men’s NCAA Tournament history.

The basic points of that plan, some of which you’ve probably already heard, are below:

Penn will win if …

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No. 16 Penn to face No. 1 Kansas in NCAA Tournament

After winning the Ivy League Tournament Sunday and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, Penn got assigned a No. 16 seed by the NCAA Selection Committee and a matchup with No. 1 Kansas at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS.

It’s the first No. 16 seed for an Ivy League men’s team since 1989, when No. 16 Princeton pushed No. 1 Georgetown to the brink but not past it in a 50-49 loss to the Hoyas hailed as “The Game That Saved March Madness” in a memorable Sports Illustrated feature by Princeton alumni Sean Gregory and Alexander Wolff titled as such. 1989 is also the last year that a fourth different Ivy squad in as many years got to the NCAA Tournament, when Princeton made it after Cornell (1988), Penn (1987) and Brown (1986).

Penn is the highest-ranked No. 16 seed by KenPom in the past six seasons, per Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star.

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Princeton blasts Penn, 63-34, to clinch NCAA Tournament berth

On Sunday evening, the Princeton women dominated the Penn Quakers, 63-34, to complete a three-game season sweep of the two-time defending champions, taking the League Ivy Tournament title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Coupled with their strong performance against Yale on Saturday night, Courtney Banghart’s squad left no doubt in showing which team is the Ancient Eight’s best.

Like they did against the Bulldogs, the Orange & Black were aggressive from the start.  Sydney Jordan hit a layup 49 seconds into the game and that was the beginning of the end for Penn.  The Tigers went out to an 8-0 lead before Michelle Nwokedi hit a three-pointer at the 5:55 mark. Princeton’s Abby Meyers came off the bench to score the next 11 points to open a commanding 19-3 lead at the end of the opening frame.  The Tigers defensive intensity led them to a 16-6 rebounding advantage as they held Penn to a 1-for-14 performance from the field.

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The “Penn”dulum swings, and the Palestra does too: Penn defeats Harvard to clinch first NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years

Penn basketball is back to the Big Dance.

The Red & Blue ended an 11-year absence from the NCAA Tournament by coming out on top in a see-saw Ivy League Tournament final at the Palestra Sunday, besting No. 1 Harvard, 68-65.

No. 2 Penn ended the game on a 13-7 run in the final 4:49, the decisive run in a game full of ups and downs for both teams. taking a 66-60 lead into the final minute before hanging on with two final Ryan Betley free throws with 11 seconds left that upped Penn’s lead to the final score. Two would-be game-tying three-point attempts from Justin Bassey and Christian Juzang missed the mark, and a partisan Penn crowd stormed the Palestra floor:

 

Penn had held a 48-35 lead with 14:06 to play and maintained a double-digit lead with under eight minutes left, but Bassey and Juzang willed Harvard back from the foul line and the three-point line, with Chris Lewis converting inside after a 3-for-10 shooting start.

Poor shooting helped put the Quakers in a 32-21 hole with just under three minutes to go in the first half.

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Penn holds off Harvard, 55-52, to advance to Ivy League Tournament final

To paraphrase Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, “This is the close game Ivy basketball fans deserve, but not the one it needs right now.”

After three games, a thirty minute delay for a broken shot clock, and eight hours of blowout playoff action, the Penn and Harvard women gave the Ivy hoops faithful a game that went down to the wire with the Quakers pulling out the 57-52 victory.  While both offenses struggled throughout the night, the defensive effort was elite. The first quarter ended in a 8-8 tie with the Crimson shooting 16 percent and the Quakers hitting 13 percent of its attempts. The teams improved slightly in the second quarter with Harvard moving up to 33 percent and Penn shooting 29 percent.  With both teams hitting the same number of two and threes in the first half, the Quakers went into the locker room up 23-18 on the strength of its 5 point advantage at the free throw line.

In the third quarter, Penn shot 50 percent, but came up empty from three.  Harvard, meanwhile, only shot 25 percent, but Katie Benzan hit 3 three pointers from NBA range and the team had a four point advantage from the charity stripe to cut the Penn lead to 37-35 with 10 minutes to go.  The Red & Blue put more defensive pressure on Benzan and the offense finally hit shots, including threes from Ashley Russell and Phoebe Sterba, to open up a 7 point lead with 4:37 left in regulation. After the Crimson got the game to 51-48, Penn senior guard Anna Ross hit a huge three with 91 seconds remaining.  Benzan then missed three attempts from long range to end any hope Harvard had of forcing the game into overtime.

For the night, Ross was the only double digit scorer for Penn with 15 points, 9 in the decisive fourth quarter.  Senior forward Michelle Nwokedi also had a big night with 8 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks and junior forward Princess Aghayere came off the bench to give the team 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 19 minutes of action.  Benzan led all scorers with 6 three pointers and 20 points. Senior forward Taylor Rooks added 10 points and 12 rebounds (6 offensive), while sophomore forward Jeannie Boehm had 8 points, 14 boards and 3 blocks.

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin’s fourth quarter move to take Ross off of Benzan and replace her with Russell proved to be a decisive defensive decision.  Russell got in Benzan’s face and forced one of nation’s leading three point shooters (46.2 percent overall and 50.0 percent in league play) into 1-7 shooting in the fourth quarter.  Offensively, his team’s leadership came through with Ross hitting two key three pointers after going 0-4 from beyond the arc and fellow senior Beth Brzozowski going 2-2 from the line to make it a two possession game with eight seconds remaining.

For Harvard, they suffer their tenth road loss of the year and their second straight first round exit as the number three seed in the conference tournament.  In the short term, their 18 overall wins, 10 Ivy victories and #51 RPI ranking should insure a postseason bid later this week. For next year, the team does graduate starters Kirby Porter and Taylor Rooks, but they have Sydney Skinner and Jadyn Bush to move into those spots, as well as a solid nucleus and a promising group of underclass athletes.  While things did not work out for the coach and her players on Saturday night, things look good for the program to extend its top three streak to 16 seasons in 2019. With the rumored move of the Ivy Tournament away from the Palestra, a venue where the team has gone 0-8 since the winter of 2012, the third time may ultimately prove to be the charm for the Crimson.

With the win, the Quakers set up a return match against top seed Princeton,  This will be the second consecutive year the historic rivals meet for the league’s automatic bid and the second time it will be played on Penn’s home court.  As the number one seed last year, there were no issues with that location. As the number two seed, many, including Princeton’s coach, feel the game should be played at Jadwin Gymnasium.  

While Penn understands its fortune at playing this game on its home court and its boisterous fans, the team knows that the Tigers have soundly beaten them twice this year, including a conference opening 70-55 defeat at the Palestra.  Adding that to the dominant performance Princeton had over Yale early Saturday night and the offensive difficulties his team had against Harvard, Coach McLaughlin knows his team has got to improve on offense to have any chance at the upset.  “We’re gonna have to find a way to find a way to play them in the 60s tomorrow. We have to get out of the 40s and 50s with them. So, I think we have to win side out-of-bounds, deflections in the scorers, all the little things that maybe can give us the chance of getting into the 60s with them.”  If they can manage to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year, the Red & Blue will look to avenge last year’s epic first-round collapse against Texas A&M.  However, they first need to get through a talented, deep, and confident Princeton team that is looking to send a message to league officials as they seek to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2016.