Penn’s Beloved Palestra Turns 90 Years Old

Palestra

A packed Palestra on Saturday afternoon. | Photo: Dan McQuade

The first thing Tom Izzo did was apologize.

It was Saturday afternoon. His Michigan State Spartans had just lost to the Penn State Nittany Lions, 72-63. The game was played at Penn’s Palestra, with Penn State giving up a home game in order to get a better foothold in the rich Philadelphia high school basketball recruiting environment. Lions fans packed the building for the season’s first sellout — despite Villanova playing there twice last fall — and Izzo’s team came out flat. Penn State shot 60 percent in the first half; the 12-point halftime lead was enough that Michigan State never got closer than 5 in the second.

“I’m embarrassed that in a city where basketball is like this that my team would play like they did that first half,” said Izzo, who has led Michigan State to seven Final Fours and one title. “We guarded nobody. I was totally frustrated with the way we played, and I guess I’m going to have to live with some of it … this was humiliating for me to be in such a great city and a great basketball venue and I did not have my players ready to play.”

Later, he actually apologized to the building itself. “My apologizes to this magnificent facility,” he said. Read more »

Villanova Could Win Another National Title This Season

Josh Hart

Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports Images

It looked like Temple might make a game of it.

Four minutes into the second half on Tuesday night, the Owls trailed by 10. But they were hanging with Villanova — the second straight city team to do so, after La Salle did the same a week previously. Perhaps they’d make a run.

Spoiler: They didn’t. A 10-point Villanova lead four minutes into the second half quickly became a 22-point Villanova lead eight minutes in. By the end of the night, the number-one team in the country had won its 17th-straight game overall and finished 4-0 in the Big 5 for the fourth straight season. The final score was 78-57. Villanova’s seniors are the first-ever in Philadelphia history to go 16-0 in the Big 5.

Villanova is good again. The Wildcats are now 11-0, ranked number one in the country, and sit at first or second in most ranking systems. They might actually win the national championship again this season. Read more »

The Guy Who Won Coach of the Year Gave His Award to Jay Wright

The Big 5 held its annual awards dinner last night, honoring a pretty good year in Philadelphia college basketball. Sure, La Salle and Penn missed the NCAA tournament, but both those programs should be on the upswing. Temple qualified for the NCAA tournament, Saint Joseph’s won its first round game and Villanova — if you haven’t heard — won the national championship on a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Surprisingly, though, Villanova was not the big winner at the Palestra dinner. It was Saint Joseph’s that took home most of the awards, with DeAndre Bembry winning Big 5 Player of the Year and Phil Martelli getting coach of the year. It’s easy to see how this happened: Bembry is viewed as a legit NBA prospect who had a solid year, even if (in this reporter’s humble opinion) Josh Hart was the best player in the city this season.

And Villanova was expected to be a top team this season; the Wildcats were ranked 9th and 11th in the two major preseason polls. Saint Joseph’s was not expected to win 28 games this season. Coaches of teams that perform better than expected usually win Coach of the Year awards.

Plus, these awards were voted on before the NCAA tournament. Read more »

How Villanova Can Win the National Title Tonight

Villanova - Simpsons - Chalkboard gag

The chalkboard gag from last night’s Simpsons.

The Simpsons are rooting for the Villanova Wildcats.

Who knows why — maybe because Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman has a Philly connection (he went to Penn), maybe because Villanova’s history graduate program writes about the show, or maybe because Barney Gumble was once a guest lecturer at Villanova — but the chalkboard gag in last night’s Simpsons episode was, “If Villanova doesn’t win we lose everything.” So the Villanova Wildcats have the writing staff of The Simpsons on their side. Game over, right?

Of course not. (Nor do I believe the situation is as dire as Bart’s teacher thinks it is — some people will be happy if Villanova loses!) Tonight’s National Championship Game against the North Carolina Tar Heels will be, appropriately, the toughest game the Wildcats have played in all year. It will be for North Carolina, too — they’re just 2.5-point favorites.

“This is going to be a hell of a game,” Jay Wright said at a press conference yesterday. “This is going to be a good game.” It’s true: John Gasaway says that these are the two best offenses to reach the national final over the past 15 tournaments.

“With only a minor exception here and there,” he writes, “basically every single player in this national championship game is having a phenomenal tournament on offense.” He notes that Ryan Arcidiacono, the Langhorne native who has been Villanova’s third option this tournament, has taken 54 shots (including free throws) this tournament. He’s made 40 of them. He’s shot almost 75 percent over five games so far. That’s incredible!

But it goes deeper than just the tournament. Ken Pomeroy‘s rankings have North Carolina the No. 1 rated offense in the game. His No. 1-rated player in the country is UNC’s Brice Johnson. His 5th-rated player is Villanova’s Josh Hart. (The Massey Ratings have UNC’s offense No. 1 and Villanova’s offense a little lower — No. 12. But Massey’s system rates the Wildcats the No. 2 defense in the country; Pomeroy has them 6th. Both systems have UNC’s defense in the 20s.)

To summarize, Jay Wright is correct: This is going to be a hell of a game. Read more »

Here’s What Happened When the NCAA Tournament Came to the Wells Fargo Center

Michael Jordan: Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.

The NCAA tournament came to town this weekend, and the NCAA attempted to teach the fans a few things.

Between Sweet 16 games on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the NCAA displayed what were purportedly “famous quotes” about sports. They came from a variety of sources: Jesse Owens, Billie Jean King, Vince Lombardi. The Lombardi quote was odd; the man who famously used the “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” line was quoted as saying, “If you can’t accept losing, you can’t win.” (This line is not in David Maraniss’ Lombardi biography When Pride Still Mattered, but it’s attributed to Lombardi all over. Who knows?)

But it was the quote from Michael Jordan that was the oddest of the evening. “Just play,” Jordan said. “Have fun. Enjoy the game.” It was odd that Jordan, the consensus greatest basketball player of all time, was identified as “former UNC basketball player.” But it was even odder that he was given a quote antithetical to the Michael Jordan mythos. Jordan famously abused No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown during his time with the Washington Wizards. He is known as perhaps the most competitive man in the history of sports. And here he is telling people to just enjoy the game and have fun?

Fortunately, the NCAA did not destroy the Michael Jordan mythos last weekend. He most likely didn’t say that three-sentence quote. The “Just play” quote shows up on a bunch of Michael Jordan quote collections online, but there’s no actual evidence he actually said he. The closest quote to it I could find was in Pat Williams’ 2001 book How to Be Like Mike: Life Lessons About Basketball’s Best. The senior VP for the Orlando Magic quotes Jordan: “My advice to kids is to let them just enjoy the game. Develop a love for the game.”

So, the NCAA turned Michael Jordan into a guy who just wants everyone to have fun. But that makes sense! Attending an NCAA tournament game live is a weird experience. For such a great event, the NCAA tournament is oddly sterile. Read more »

How the Villanova Wildcats Can Win It All

Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins (2) shoots against the Seton Hall Pirates in the second half of the championship game of the Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins shoots against the Seton Hall Pirates in the second half of the championship game of the Big East conference tournament.

If there was one fault with the Villanova Wildcats this year, it was their three-point shooting.

The Wildcats went 29-5 during the regular season and Big East tournament. They were 16-2 in conference, winning it for the third straight year. Yet ’Nova struggled on three-pointers. Going into the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats made 291 threes this season. But they took 847 — making just 34.4 percent of their shots from long distance.

This had been a problem during the season. The Wildcats got blown out by Oklahoma in December because they made just 4 of 32 three-point attempts. They were 9 of 31 (29 percent) in their first Big East loss to Providence in January. Even some of their wins had middling three-point totals: In a 77-57 victory over Penn, the Wildcats hit just 1 of 11 three-point attempts. Read more »

Saint Joseph’s Nearly Upset Top-Seeded Oregon in NCAA Tournament

St. Joseph's Hawks forward DeAndre Bembry moves to the basket against Oregon Ducks forward Chris Boucher during the second half of their second-round matchup in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

St. Joseph’s Hawks forward DeAndre Bembry moves to the basket against Oregon Ducks forward Chris Boucher during the second half of their second-round matchup in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

Saint Joseph‘s didn’t get a shot off on two late game possessions and lost to top-seeded Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, 69-64.

The Hawks were down just two with just under a minute left, but they couldn’t beat the shot clock. Then, down three with 10 seconds left, DeAndre’ Bembry turned it over at the top of the key. The two possessions were the difference in the loss.

Bembry scored 16 and had 12 rebounds to lead the Hawks in both categories. Isaiah Miles, the Hawks’ leading scorer, had just 8 points. Off the bench, Lamarr Kimble had 11 for Joe’s.

Oregon advances to face Duke in the Sweet 16. Read more »

Villanova Routs Iowa to Reach Sweet 16

Iowa's Mike Gesell watches as Villanova's Jalen Brunson runs a fast break during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 20, 2016, in New York.

Iowa’s Mike Gesell watches as Villanova’s Jalen Brunson runs a fast break during the first half of a second-round men’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 20, 2016, in New York. Photo | Frank Franklin II

Consider Villanova‘s second-round demons exorcised.

The Wildcats scored 54 points in the first half en route to an absolute destruction of Iowa in the second round of the NCAA tournament, 87-68. Villanova led by as many as 34 in the second half.

It is the first trip to the Sweet 16 for Villanova since 2009, the year the Wildcats went to the Final Four as a 3 seed. The Wildcats had been eliminated in the Round of 32 the last two years despite being a 2 seed (2015) and a 1 seed (2014).

They will play 3rd-seeded Miami on Thursday night in Louisville. Read more »

WATCH: Temple Loses on Last-Second Shot

Temple gave up offensive rebounds all game. One in the final second cost the Owls the game.

Iowa’s Adam Woodbury grabbed an offensive rebound on an airball and tapped it in with no time left to push the Hawkeyes past the Owls, 72-70, in a first-round NCAA tournament game.

Replays showed Woodbury should have been called for a foul — he clearly pushed off before grabbing the rebound. But the referees didn’t call it and now the Owls are going home. Read more »

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