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Know! Your! Foe! - Penn update.

If you liked reading last Thursday's Yale and Brown updates in our ongoing Know! Your! Foe! series, you're in luck! We're back one final time during the Ivy schedule with a Q&A about the Penn Quakers.

After the jump you'll find a great, thoughtful writeup by Jonathan Tannenwald from

If you also want to read his original take in advance of late January's game at The Palestra, please check it out here.

Thanks to all of this season's interview subjects, especially those who made it possible to "run the table" with 14 consecutive previews, one for each conference contest.

Additionally, if you cover a team the Tigers will face down the line, let us know. It would be great to talk with you.

Penn update:

*takes a deep breath* Here goes...

If the news of what's been going on at Penn over the last few weeks has gotten as far north as Allston, then it has probably passed through Princeton at some point as well.

Simply put, this has been one of the most remarkable three-week spans of basketball that I've seen not only from Penn, but from any Ivy League school in the decade that I've been covering the conference.

Yes, I have a Penn-centric perspective on that. But I watched the 2003 Quakers squad storm through the conference undefeated, I watched Cornell rack up a 38-4 conference record over its three-year dynasty, and I watched Penn win three straight Ivy titles in the seasons before that.

I would say that the most comparable season to this one would be last season, but it isn't really. Princeton had the advantage over Harvard in 2011 until losing at Lavietes on the final Saturday of the season. More importantly, the two teams were at much more similar levels qualitatively than this year's Crimson and Quakers squads.

Harvard should be better than Penn. They are more athletic, and I think generally more skilled. But thanks to an extraordinary effort from Penn's senior class - and some less-than-stellar efforts from the Crimson, it has to be said - we approach the final Tuesday one result away from a second straight NCAA bid playoff.

It would be simple to ascribe all of Penn's success to Zack Rosen, and it wouldn't be entirely wrong to do so. For as much as we all like to study the statistical side of college basketball, Rosen has displayed those unquantifiable traits of real leadership. He simply does not want to leave Penn without an Ivy League championship, and if Penn wins at Jadwin he'll get it.

But it's not just Rosen. Rob Belcore's defense has been outstanding, never more so than when he held Greg Mangano to just one second-half field goal attempt this past Saturday at the Palestra. Tyler Bernardini spends all week walking around with a boot on one leg, then works like a madman on weekends.

Your readers know the results. Penn upended Harvard at Lavietes, then won three straight nail-biters over Dartmouth, Cornell and Columbia. Although the Quakers beat Brown by double-digits, it was a close game for most of the night.

(Friday, by the way, was one of the great nights of basketball across the Ivy League that I've ever seen. It's not often that we have three games with title race implications on the same night.)

Finally, against Yale, everything came together. Penn led by eight points at halftime and outscored the Bulldogs by a 20-2 margin in the first nine minutes of play after intermission.

Jerome Allen called it "probably the best 20 minutes of team defense that we've played all season," and Belcore was a big reason why. Belcore said after the game that he asked to be assigned Mangano, and barely gave him any good looks at the basket.

It might have also helped that Mangano was booed mercilessly by the Palestra crowd every time he touched the ball. As the second half unfolded, I started having flashbacks to the Judson Wallace era on 33rd Street.

If you had told me after Harvard won at the Palestra in January that we'd be at this point, I probably wouldn't have believed you. I still can't quite believe this is all really happening.

But as was the case last season, we find ourselves - whether at Penn, Princeton, Harvard or anywhere else across the league - in a very special place for the Ancient Eight.

Should Penn win tonight, I and many others hope that the conference will put the playoff game at a venue that can properly accommodate the demand among fans to be there.

It's been a while since Penn has been this good, and I suspect there are many newfound fans of Ivy League basketball who aren't yet aware of just how big Penn's fan base is. I still remember nights when the attendance at the Palestra was larger than all the other crowds across the league combined.

Should Penn lose, Harvard will have earned the right to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament, and that will also be worth celebrating. The Crimson has a legitimate basketball program, and just as importantly, a legitimate basketball fan base. When my cousin was a student at Harvard (he graduated in 2008), he was at times the only Harvard student in the stands when I would go up there for the Penn game.

Now, Lavietes is packed every night and basketball games have become a fun thing to do on campus. That's how it should be, and it takes nothing away from academics.

It would be something truly special if the league gets an NCAA Tournament bid playoff game for the second year in a row.

But in any year, the final Penn-Princeton game of the season is special. To borrow the phrase from Jerome Allen, it's good to take one game at a time.

George Clark said,

March 6, 2012 @ 6:46 am

If by thoughtful you mean, "I've thought about it and Penn is great!", Tannenwald's essay is on target.

Matt Walter said,

March 6, 2012 @ 12:00 pm


I suspect you choose the above photo for Jimmy's facial expression, but if memory serves, it was taken in the midst of a VERY ugly turnover during an ill-advised fast break attempt when the outcome of the game was still in the balance. In short, it brings back bad memories of our last game with Penn. Yuck!

Since Tannenwald is being such a homer, allow me to be as well. I credit Penn's victory over Yale Saturday to Princeton. :-) We left them with nothing to play for. I prefer to focus on Penn's struggles with Dartmouth (Dartmouth!!!), Columbia and Cornell.

Tigers by 6 tonight.

Jon Solomon said,

March 6, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

Matt, while you're right about the play I chose the image more because each team was pictured and Zack Rosen was in the frame. I've tried to get both uniforms in each of the shots for these Ivy updates.


Matt Walter said,

March 6, 2012 @ 2:10 pm


Your attention to detail and overall aethetic for this site are remarkable. No wonder I enjoy it so much.

But Jimmy's mouth is agape. :-)

Steven Postrel said,

March 6, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

The Tigers need to drill Penn. Jump 'em at the beginning and don't let up. The team needs to continue on its recent roll of good play and get in position for some kind of post-season invitation. That a win will send The Dynasty to the NCAAs for the first time is irrelevant--Penn would never beat Harvard in a playoff, anyway.

Spread the floor and attack the rim by backdoor, drive, and post-up. The Quakers can't match up with the Princeton frontline, especially the non-Belcore guys. Make Rosen take tough shots and seal off his passing lanes--he can be allowed to score 20+ if the rest of his team is shut down. The Tigers will still win.

Jon Solomon said,

March 7, 2012 @ 12:50 am

Steven, did you have a screener copy of tonight's game or something?

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