Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:35 pm

Casey, Harvard players celebrate tourney berth

By Jeff Goodman

Tommy Amaker had to take the call on the other line -- and who could blame him. 

"It's Coach K," Harvard's head coach said just moments after his team earned its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1946 via Penn's loss at Princeton. 

Of course, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was calling his former player and assistant coach to offer his congratulations. 

"It's exciting," Amaker said on his team's automatic berth. "No question about it." 

And how are his players celebrating?

"Some of them have mid-terms tomorrow," Amaker said. 

Others, like Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, were officiating intramurals. 

"We kept our routine like normal," Casey said. "People kept coming over and giving us the score of the Penn game. We got back to our room and started playing Call of Duty." 

Then they found out the final score -- and the players rounded up and ran through the floors yelling and screaming. 

"I'm so pumped," Casey said. "This is a huge reason why we all came here." 

Amaker has pulled off one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country since getting fired at Michigan and taking a job that many began to question his sanity. Harvard was a graveyard job. The last time the Crimson had even finished over .500 in the Ivy was back in 1997. 

I covered every Harvard home basketball game for a few years in the mid 90s -- and Lavietes Pavilion was basically dead. Now the Crimson have become a hot ticket around these parts, selling out home games. Harvard earned a share of the Ivy League crown last season, but lost to Princeton in a one-game playoff. This time the Crimson won the league title outright and, more importantly, have earned a trip to the Big Dance. 

"It's unbelievable for the seniors," Casey said. "They were the first recruiting class for Coach Amaker. They deserve it." 

I remember the day Casey committed to Harvard. He said he was going for the education and to make history, with the intent of taking the program back to the NCAA tourney. 

He and his teammates have done just that. 

"I'm almost speechless," he said. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:43 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:43 pm

Tiny Dancers: Harvard

A year ago, Harvard lost to Princeton on a last-second shot in a one-game playoff. 

It appeared as though the Crimson might again be forced to play a winner-take-all contest, this time against Penn. However, the Quakers lost Tuesday night at Princeton, which meant that Tommy Amaker's team will make its first NCAA appearance since 1946. 

Harvard got an automatic bid rather than having to sweat it out on Sunday. The Crimson went 12-2 in the Ivy and had a couple of impressive wins this season - including a victory over Florida State back in November down in the Bahamas. But there were a pair of league setbacks to Penn and Princeton that put Amaker & Co. on the bubble. 

Now Harvard is able to celebrate -- by studying for mid-terms on Tuesday night. 

The Crimson are a balanced group. 

Kyle Casey leads the team at 11.3 points per game. Senior big man Keith Wright is at 10.7 points and shooter Laurent Rivard is next at 9.7 points. The starting backcourt of Brandyn Curry and Oliver McNally combines to average a shade over 15 points per contest. 

But that's what makes Harvard dangerous. These guys are unselfish, share the basketball and defend. 

After losing in a playoff last season, Tommy Amaker steered Harvard to its first NCAA tournament since 1946. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Kyle Casey - The junior forward led a balanced team in scoring at 11.3 points per game and he's the most talented guy on the team. Athletically, he can match-up against guys from bigger leagues. Casey played much of last season with a broken foot, but he's healthy and finished the season averaging 15.5 points over the final four games. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-4 overall, 12-2 in Ivy
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1946
  • We’re thinking: 10 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 37
  • Sagarin ranking: 35
  • RPI: 43
  • Best wins: Florida State, St. Joe's
  • Worst losses: Fordham, Princeton
  • Notable stat:  The Crimson earned its first national ranking in program history this season. Harvard was ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll at one time. 

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 5, 2012 12:22 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 12:24 pm

Brown fires head coach Jesse Agel

By Jeff Goodman

Brown has fired coach Jesse Agel. 

Agel was 39-79 in four years at the helm - including a 14-42 mark in the Ivy league. Brown was 8-23 this past season and 2-12 in league play. 

The school announced the decision on Monday afternoon. 

Agel was previously an assistant under Tom Brennan at Vermont and helped the Catamounts get to three NCAA tournaments. Associate head coach T.J. Sorrentine will take over on an interim basis. 

For a look at each of the firings and hirings so far this season, go to our "coaching changes" page.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 27, 2012 9:41 am
Edited on: February 27, 2012 12:52 pm

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Final Edition

By Matt Norlander

This is the final edition of the 2011-12 Non-BCS Power Pyramid. That sentence will come with not one reaction of anguish or woe on your end, I know, but in the interest of our Monday routine at the blog, I figured I'd bring it up. Instead of giving the usual rankings from my subjective viewpoint, I’ve decided to slot the teams today in order of how I think they’ll ultimately be seeded. Every team in the Pyramid I do believe will play its way into the field, so that means two CAA teams should expect bids. (Don’t you go dying on my, VCU and Drexel.)

It's been a fun and time-consuming process to put together this rankings system every Sunday night for the past 16 weeks, but the responses back and email have made it worth it. It will most definitely be returning next season, only you can expect vast improvements. At least in my own mind they will be.

So here's the final tally, the 15 best teams from outside the Big Six -- and how I expect them to get slotted into the greatest sporting event in the world.

Geographically protected

1. Wichita State, 26-4, four seed. A Sentence: I’m curious to see how the public reaction will be to this team once it gets a good seed, because so often when non-Big Six teams get high billing a backlash effect follows. A Statistic: The Shockers went undefeated in February, only lost once in January and once in December. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley tournament! Runs from March 1 to 4.

Wichita won its first MVC regular-season title since '06. The league has had a different champ six straight seasons. (AP)

2. Murray State, 28-1, five seed. A Sentence: The Racers’ seed has become a big curiosity of mine. A Statistic: The impressive afterthought of this team’s accomplishments this season: it was undefeated on the road and in neutral-court play. No other team can say the same. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the Ohio Valley tournament! Runs from Feb. 29 to March 3.

3. Gonzaga, 23-5, five seed. A Sentence: No one’s truly bought into this team, so can this be a second-weekend year for Gonzaga, being that there’s a lack of pressure? A Statistic: Every Gonzaga starter is scoring more than 1.1 points per possession. It’s a very good sign for things to come. The Schedule: vs. Longwood, Monday; No. 2 seed in WCC tournament! Runs from Feb. 29 to March 5.

The rest of the single-digit seeds

4. UNLV, 24-6, six seed. A Sentence: UNLV hasn’t won on the road in a month, and though that will hurt its seeding I don’ think that’s a factor at all in how this team will play in March. A Statistic: An efficient 65.7 percent of UNLV’s baskets come via an assist. That’s the second-highest in the nation. The Schedule: at Colorado State, Wednesday; vs. Wyoming, Saturday.

5. Temple, 22-6, six seed. A Sentence: I’ve got Temple this high because I think it’s going to with the A10 tournament (it already nearly has the A10 regular-season title). A Statistic: Saturday’s loss to St. Joseph’s marked the first time since 2008 Temple didn’t sweep the Hawks. The Schedule: vs. UMass, Wednesday; at Fordham, Saturday.

Matthew Dellavedova and the Gaels could leapfrog Gonzaga in seeding, but they'll have to win the WCC tourney in order to do so. (US PRESSWIRE)

6. Saint Mary’s, 25-5, six seed. A Sentence: . A Statistic: The Gaels shoot 54.6 percent from the field from 2-point range. It’s eight-best in the country, but it’s also as good as SMC’s ever been under Randy Bennett in the tempo-free era. They are big and can score — and can also grab the O boards 36 percent of the time. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the WCC tournament! Runs from Feb. 29 to March 5.

7. San Diego State, 22-6, eight seed. A Sentence: SDSU closes up its season with a TCU road game, which New Mexico and UNLV already fell prey to, so beware. A Statistic: The Aztecs have never cracked the 30s of KenPom.com this year, and only been in the 40s twice. That indicates this team isn’t likely to win when it gets to The Tournament. The Schedule: at Boise State, Wednesday; at TCU, Saturday.

8. Creighton, 25-5, nine seed. A Sentence: I only hope Creighton doesn’t have a similar ending to Drake in 2008. A Statistic: You want to know why Creighton’s fallen off the radar? Yeah, it had that three-game losing streak, but forget that. The past three Bluejays wins have come by a total of four points, one of them needing overtime. The Schedule: No. 2 seed in the Missouri Valley tournament! Runs from March 1 to 4.

9. Virginia Commonwealth, 25-6, nine seed. A Sentence: I feel real good about writing this on the Rams last week. A Statistic: What I’d love for the committee to pay attention to: details beyond the schedule and teams. VCU finishes the season with a 16.1 percent steal rate, the highest in the nation. A team that good indicates it plays very well defensively and certainly is one of the 37 best at-larges. The Schedule: No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament! Runs from March 2 to 5.

Double-digit territory

10. New Mexico, 22-6, 10 seed. A Sentence: The great dichotomy with New Mexico is that it’s a really talented team with an overall underwhelming resume, considering that talent. A Statistic: Lobos allow .87 points per possession, far and away the best of any Pyramid team, and it’s been that way most of the season. The Schedule: vs. Air Force, Wednesday; vs. Boise State, Saturday.

11. Harvard, 24-4, 12 seed. A Sentence: Another Ivy playoff is now a possibility, but I still think the Crimson will make the field and avoid a repeat of 2011’s heartbreak. A Statistic: With 61.4 possessions per game, Harvard is the slowest Pyramid team and one of the slowest in the nation, ranking 328 out of 345. The Schedule: at Columbia, Friday; at Cornell, Saturday.

12. Oral Roberts, 26-5, 12 seed. A Sentence: It’s going to take a heck of a five seed for me not to pick Oral Bobs to win its first game (the same goes for if ORU is sent to the First Four). A Statistic: How many teams have only lost once since Dec. 15? You’ve got Syracuse, ORU and the team listed directly below. The Schedule: No. 1 in the Summit League tournament! Runs from March 3 to 6.

13. Drexel, 25-5, 13 seed. A Sentence:  I only have ’em as a 13 because I think the Dragons get in as an at-large after losing the CAA title game. A Statistic: No Pyramid team has less of a bench than the Dragons, who only get their pine guys into the game 24.4 percent of the time. With mid-majors I often don’t think this is a problem, though. The best guys get adrenaline rushes and need to play as much as possible, and at their best, to stand a chance at winning. The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament! Runs from March 2 to 5.

14. Southern Miss, 22-5, 13 seed. A Sentence: While I’ve always appreciated the Southern Miss story, this is a team I don’t have much belief in. A Statistic: How can you turn your head from the awful 2-point shooting stat? At 43 percent, the Golden Eagles are pulling off one of the greatest capers ever by fighting for bubble position while being one of the worst teams from inside the 3 I can remember. The Schedule: vs. SMU, Wednesday; at Marshall, Saturday.

15. Iona, 24-6, 13 seed. A Sentence: I'll be furious with the Gaels if they squander this talent and miss the NCAA for the second straight year after winning the league. A Statistic: Cannot get over the fact this team went on a 31-0 run against St. Peter's Sunday. The Peacocks are a bad team this year but they're still stubborn defensively. A 31-0 run? How many times has that ever happened in college basketball? The Schedule: No. 1 seed in the MAAC tournament! Runs from March 2 to 5.

Posted on: February 20, 2012 9:51 am
Edited on: February 20, 2012 11:06 am

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 14


By Matt Norlander

Color me confused. I didn’t expect this much rotation and shift in the Power Pyramid during its penultimate posting. (The last edition is next Monday, and then it goes in the freezer throughout the conference tournaments, sure to return around Thanksgiving.) But here we are, with multiple top-level teams in the rankings suffering back-to-back losses and generally regressing since the calendar turned to February.

For most of this season we had a lot of talented teams winning a high rates and creating separation between themselves and most teams in their conferences. Now we’re seeing the mean creep in, and few teams are going to get to March with four losses or less. At the mock selection process last week in Indianapolis, a number of these squads weren't viewed in high favor by the committee. That doesn't necessarily have to be the case, so long as Middle Tennessee State, Drexel and Oral Roberts all reach their conference title games.

Top Tier

1. Wichita State (24-4). A Sentence: Go back and check the first Power Pyramid, you’ll see I’ve championed the Shockers from the get-go. A Statistic: At one point this season, Wichita State had 2.56 years of experience on this team, per KenPom. Now it’s at 2.51. The Shockers have actually figured out how to get younger, and I think we all know the answer lies somewhere in Gregg Marshall’s hair. The Schedule: at Illinois State, Wednesday; vs. Drake, Saturday.

2. Murray State (26-1). A Sentence: I’ll contradict my SDSU sentiment and say, despite the 59 KenPom ranking, I think Murray State has Sweet 16 potential in those bones. A Statistic:  All five Racers starters score more than 1.1 points per possession — that’s just sexy.  The Schedule: at Tennessee  State, Thursday; at Tennessee Tech, Saturday.

3. Temple (21-5). A Sentence: It’s actually reached a point where Temple’s being criminally underappreciated, so I’m doing what I can by putting them this high in the Pyramid. A Statistic: When he was snaring 34.6 of defensive-rebound opportunities in early December, Michael Eric was the best on that end of the floor in the country. Now it’s 28 percent and he’s no longer elite, despite the fact he’s still critical to this team’s big-picture legitimacy. The Schedule: at La Salle, Wednesday; at St. Joseph’s, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. New Mexico (22-4). A Sentence: At this point, if you’re detracting from New Mexico then I’m going to go ahead and assume chocolately desserts aren't your bag either. A Statistic: Rankings-wise, UNM is a much better team from 3 (39.5 percent is 16th-best) than 2 (49.7 percent is No. 100 in D-I). The Schedule: at Colorado State, Tuesday; at TCU, Saturday.

5. UNLV (22-6). A Sentence: I’m actually loving the fact UNLV’s tripping a bit here, because now fewer people think this team is capable of reaching the second weekend (suckers!). A Statistic:  UNLV’s first three losses came in a span of 64 days. The next three losses took two weeks. The Schedule: vs. Boise State, Wednesday; vs. Air Force, Saturday.

6. Gonzaga (21-5). A Sentence: Just when you want to believe in Gonzaga, it goes out and reminds you that it’s still plenty fallible (loss at San Francisco, but still, this team's talented). A Statistic: At least the Bulldogs have remained aggressive. They’re 48-percent free-throw rate is top-five in the nation, where Gonzaga’s been sitting all season. The Schedule: vs. BYU, Thursday; at San Diego, Saturday.

7. Harvard (23-3). A Sentence: Don’t let the three losses trick you into thinking this team is better than five-loss 2010 Cornell. A Statistic: Harvard’s deep, and that’s great, but it’s also been healthy. Seven vital players on the team have played in every game so far. The Schedule: vs. Princeton, Friday; vs. Penn, Saturday.

Bruiser Flint's Dragons are closing in on 20 straght Ws. (AP)

8. Saint Mary’s (23-5). A Sentence: Like UNLV, SMC lost back-to-back games this week and has dropped three of four.  A Statistic: I’m looking at where a lot of teams have gotten better or worse in a stat as opposed to two or three months ago. Saint Mary’s used to be the third-best defensive rebounding team in the country. Now it’s 18th (73 percent). The Schedule: at Portland, Thursday; at San Francisco, Saturday.

9. Oral Roberts (25-5). A Sentence: If ORU’s anything worse than a 12, and if it wins the Summit title, then it’s a screw job by the committee. A Statistic: What remains most impressive about ORU is the fact it doesn’t have a player taller than 6-9, yet it’s most efficient at blocking. The Schedule: at Southern Utah, Saturday.

10. San Diego State (20-6). A Sentence: I should’ve sold on SDSU last week, because now it’s lost three straight and the frontcourt issues become more glaring as the games go by. A Statistic: The average KenPom rating for SDSU on the year. What do you think it is? I’ll give you a second here. … OK, it’s actually 57. Right now, the Aztecs are 61. Always been too low for my taste, but I wonder if this is a sign that SDSU will be hard-pressed to reach the second weekend. The Schedule: vs. Wyoming, Wednesday; vs. Colorado State, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Creighton (23-5). A Sentence: That win over Long Beach State, I think, was about as great of a way to stop the bleeding as the ’Jays could have asked for.  A Statistic: One of my favorite stats to track this season was Creighton’s shooting. They’ve remained, all year, long, the best eFG team in the country. At 58.7, they cling to the lead by .4 over Denver. The Schedule: vs. Evansville, Tuesday; at Indiana State, Saturday.

12. Virginia Commonwealth (23-6). A Sentence: It might be tough to believe, but I don’t see VCU with a chance at an at-large (I know, where have you heard this before?) unless it reaches the CAA title game. A Statistic: This is fodder for a post I’m doing later this week (so none of you bloggers reading this can take it), but VCU of 2011 is the opposite of VCU of 2012. Last year’s offense and defensive adjusted rankings: 32 and 86, respectively. This year: 91 and 28. The Schedule: at UNC Wilmington, Wednesday; vs. George Mason, Saturday.

13. Middle Tennessee State (24-4): A Sentence: All one-loss conference teams that are above .500 in non-con play deserve the courtesy of a look; MTSU will be 17-1 if it wins two more. A Statistic: The Blue Raiders are so good because they’re weak league allows eight player to shoot better than 50 percent in eFG%. The Schedule: at Louisiana Monroe, Thursday; at Western Kentucky, Saturday.

14. Drexel (23-5). A Sentence: New to the Pyramid, can the Dragons get in without a CAA title? A Statistic: The Dragons get in during the second-to-last go-around of the Pyramid because they’re the best Pyramid team at defending shots, allowing 42.9 percent effective field goal percentage from opponents. The Schedule: vs. James Madison, Wednesday; at Old Dominion, Saturday.

15. Southern Miss (22-5). A Sentence: I’m doing my best not to overreact to a two-point loss at Houston. A Statistic: And yet, I know if Southern Miss makes the tournament there’s now no chance I’m taking them to win a game. They’re 43.6 percent from the field from 2-point range. That’s putrid — and USM isn’t a top-100 defense as is. Smoke and mirrors, I’m afraid. The Schedule: at UTEP, Wednesday; vs. Rice, Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out: Long Beach State. In: Drexel.
♦ With one more week to go, chance for tossing teams in and out is slim-to-none. Would take some bad losses on Drexel, MTSU, VCU and Southern Miss’ behalf to get expelled.

Posted on: February 14, 2012 4:30 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 9:55 pm

The Religion and Community of The Palestra

You only get one chance to experience The Palestra for the first time. And you only get one chance to write and react about your first time at college basketball’s holiest of churches. So I wanted — had — to document it.

By Matt Norlander

I knew that had to be it. That oversized war memorial gym-looking, all-brick building set back behind the construction site. I quickened my gait up the only walkway available outside the abandoned-for-the-night patch of renovation in front of the historic building. I narrowed my eyes and made sure. I could barely make out the letters at the top; dusk challenged my scope. But that was it, all right, in such an unassuming, ordinary appearance. That made my hunch feel more rewarding — I guessed right. The rectangle cement sign engraved with the building’s name told me.



The anticipation for the trip was tingly and excruciating, like waiting for the package you know is coming in the mail that day. Under battleship-gray skies, I took the train from Stamford, Conn., and snaked approximately 140 miles down to Philadelphia. The Amtrak car slid through and under the thick slabs of New York City, then cruised by the repetition of architecture in northern New Jersey until the tracks were slipping behind the simple, Monopoly-looking houses along nearing border of Pennsylvania.

I got out at 30th Street Station, took a left and briskly made my way through Drexel’s campus, which serves as the buffer in walking from the Station to The Palestra. I too had a backpack on, and amid the end-of-day student shuffle, felt like an undergrad again as I made my way toward New Deck restaurant on Sansom Street. After inhaling the crab dip there, I quickly made my way toward the general direction of the reason I was in Philadelphia to begin with.


Walking into The Palestra was a blast of déjà vu. I’d never been, but there was familiarity in the moment I approached the 85-year-old monument to our sport. I couldn’t have picked a better time to enter into the arena. One small thing I love about going to game is the walk from the concourse, through the tunnel entrance and into the cavernous space where the action happens. No matter the venue, when transitioning from bowel to bowl, your eyes seek upward, the head coinciding as it tilts back in obligation or awe. This felt like both. It was aided by a soundcheck, the perfect one. As I walked through section 202’s tunnel and entrance, the Star-Spangled Banner was booming from the body of the 13-year-old girl who had the privilege of performing that night.

The room was bigger than I’d expected. Gray tint arches, 10 of them, support the structure across the top, below the baby-blue ceiling. There are no beams that block anyone’s view. Fifty — 51 if you count the Ivy League flag that hangs above at center — banners are draped, all of them related to Penn’s accomplishments. Temporarily, the Ivy and Big 5 banners/representation are not dangling from the wires. Although The Palestra is the Big 5’s home, the place belongs to Penn. The sliced P logo is at center court and all Penn home games are hosted here.

The single-floor concourse that surrounds the shell of the gymnasium is a Philadelphia basketball sports hall of fame. Dedications to Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Villanova are treated with equal esteem and respect as Penn. There is only one level to circumnavigate, and the white brick is covered every few feet by some sort of plaque, mounting, window encasement or dedication to teams, coaches, media and games past.

Structurally, there isn’t much to The Palestra; its simplicity is what makes it so embraceable. I was able to dip behind the bleachers and investigate every corner of the place in less than an hour prior to tip-off. The only rooms I didn’t walk into where the locker rooms, which I saw well after the game had finished. The officials’ locker room is tucked near a utility closet and is unguarded. The laundry room is four steps from the visitors’ locker room. The media room, which can’t be more than 100 square feet, is behind/underneath the bleachers on the “main side” of the gym. All storage rooms — rooms of any kind — are at court level. It’s a basic build. Simplistic and charming and economical.

Old-style radiators, at least 40 of them that have faded white paint cracking off, are aligned along the top of the seating rows. Not that you’d need them. The place bakes up pretty well once more than 6,000 bodies getting to clapping and yelling, which was the case for the Harvard game on this Friday night.

The building feels comforting in its haunt. It’s also fairly poorly lit, which is of course intentional. The lights that dip from vertical steel rods, and are spaced fairly far apart, give most of their energy to the floor, signaling to everyone in attendance: that’s all you need to concern yourself with. Not that you’d ever want to do this during a basketball game, but if you tried to read a book in the upper rafters behind either basket, it’d be impossible without a portable light of your own.

Still, there’s a clash of contemporary vs. fastened, old-style beliefs in The Palestra now. Players still sit on plastic bleachers, the way most of them not so long ago during AAU games. (Those things just kill your back after 30 minutes.) It still feels like you could be watching a game in 1964, except for one bright addition. There’s a new HD video board that’s been installed on the east side of the structure. I get the idea most think it’s completely unnecessary, like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park adding a monster screen. Just pay attention to what’s happening on the floor, lest you miss it, well, that’s your problem.


As the game gets underway, the first thing I notice is the constrained, swirling echoes of chants from the student section on the floor. In the elevated press box, the sound from down there is canned and tinny. In the second half, when Miles Cartwright hits a 3 for Penn to tie the game at 30 and complete a 7-0 Quakers run, the 7,000 (I’ll deduct the 462 other souls accounted for as Harvard fans, team members and media in attendance) people cheering hits me in the face and slams me in the ears. It’s the combustion I’d hope for all night long. I’d love for it to get louder, but Penn’s shooters won’t oblige me or the crowd.

Late in the second half, I couldn’t resist anymore. I’d been eyeing it all night, and I had to make the move. Row 1, Seat 13 on the opposite side of the benches and scorer’s table had been vacant since I arrived. During a timeout I scooted down there, asked the gentleman next to the seat if I could sit for a few, and he had no issue at all. He wanted to talk, I wanted to watch. I sat for about 12 minutes, essentially taking in the game as a spectator. You’re right there, a leg stretch from being a nuisance. It’s one of the best seats in the city. That photo is from Row 1, Seat 13.

Harvard went on to win, 56-50, continuing on its path toward the team’s first NCAA tournament berth in 66 years. The W in this building means as much to this team as any other non-tournament win it will get this year. Perhaps even as much.


After the game, fans filed out into the streets of Philadelphia, onto South 32nd or Walnut Street, driving or walking or training or cabbing their way home, to campus or a local bar. Thirty minutes of interviews went by, and then I moved from the upper press box down to court level to write my game story. I couldn’t concentrate. The buzz was still humming in my brain as much now as it was when I walked in four hours earlier. There were a dozen kids on the floor, just shooting on the hoop. About 100 bodies still occupied the arena and no one was in an obvious rush to leave. It was a scene many who attended high school basketball games would recognize.

I learned that’s the essence to The Palestra experience. You come, you watch, you stay afterward and get a few shots in. Anyone can. Fran Dunphy emphasized this sort of culture and community when he got to Penn in the late ’80s, and his vision has remained a principle of the Penn program and The Palestra ever since.

The Palestra is the world’s gymnasium. Doesn’t matter who you are — anyone can get some shots in on either one of the hoops. I wanted mine. But I wanted to wait. At 10:09, a bald black janitor strolled past me, a white towel tucked into his khakis, gray bucket in hand, filled with cleaning supplies. Three of Penn’s players shot on one hoop, and on the other, four children, a teenager and a grown man continued to toss jumpers.  He’s used to this.

“Nobody wants to go home,” he said to me.

No, we don’t. The bodies linger afterward for as long as they’d like. Eventually the crowd thinned out. A loose ball skipped my way and I didn’t wait any longer. While guys like Dick Jerardi from the Philly Daily News were squeezing in work on deadline, I snapped a few dribbles and took my first shot from about 22 feet out.


I almost called it quits immediately. I could be 100 percent from the floor for my life at The Palestra. Fortunately, I’m not a perfect man. The dopamine rush had begun. Ball players know there’s not much better way of personal introspect and therapy than by shooting alone. I was getting my chance in a unique, cherished setting.

At first, though, it was a few of us shooting hoop. The grown man I mentioned above, his name is Charles Lanier. We immediately shared two things in common: an insatiable love of college basketball and our first trip to The Palestra. Lanier is in his ‘50s but on the court his energy, like mine, resembles an 11-year-old's. He attended the ’78 and ’82 Final Fours. He’s from North Carolina, and this is his vacation. His loving wife understood and made the trip with him after all those years of waiting. Lanier had a mean sweat going. He was squeezing as many shots into a 20-minute window as he could.

We exchanged stories. He’s the one who took that picture of me. Soon enough, he was off, as was almost everyone else. I had another 15 minutes of practice in me. I took off my sweater to see oval stains of sweat sopping parts of the arms of my dress shirt and felt more moisture in the middle of my back. It was more than a half hour of nonstop shooting. The silly fadeaway jumpers, mandatory half-court heaves, tempting 3-point shots and seriously paced free throws — a hoops fan’s dream. Eventually, second-year Penn coach Jerome Allen came onto the floor to take a few pictures with his son and his friends. I asked if he needed the final ball to be put away.

“Young man, you can shoot yourself to sleep,” he said.

I nearly did. I know I could have. I’d love to know what it’s like to sleep in that church. Eventually, I dribbled the ball into Penn’s quaint locker room and placed it back on the rack. I had a train to catch. I began to pack up my computer. I looked up and listened and had my first chance to stop and experience the place without a crowd around. Six janitors slowly milled about, the clinking and rattling of cans and ricocheting bouncing off the walls. Two hours after the game had finished, it was only me and them now. They were scattered. Two sat, slouched over in Section 116. Another hauled one of those big black garbage bags over his shoulder. I wasn’t outlasting them, nor should I.

I slowly showed myself out.

Posted on: February 13, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: February 13, 2012 11:35 am

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 13

By Matt Norlander

I love Marchuary. You see those games over the weekend? Lots of shift and results of note. Felt like March. But it’s February. Hence: Marchuary. Sounds terrible, but let’s roll with it. Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, so I had to dress up the graphic nice and romantic for you. I’ll have Valentine’s Day-themed post coming, too. It’s already done, but I’d rather save it for the 14th and all, you know?

It’s now, officially, less than a month until Selection Sunday, which means we’ve got only three more editions of the Power Pyramid remaining. I’m always taken aback by how fast February moves, as if someone’s TiVo’ing the season and got two arrows boo-booping through out of angst and anticipation for the real show in March. I still maintain the teams here, a good cluster of them, will be heard from and do damage in this year's bracket. Let's see who's in the top 15 this week.

Top Tier

1. UNLV (22-4). A Sentence: A one-week break and UNLV returns to the top, where it’s likely to remain the rest of the regular season. A Statistic: Ask a coach the two things he wants out of his team more than anything — aside from the obvious of making as many baskets as possible. The two things? Don’t let the other team get offensive rebounds and don’t turn the ball over. UNLV is so good because Mike Moser is the third-best d-boarder in the nation (27.9 percent), and starting 1 Justin Hawkins is top-10 in turnover percentage, only coughing it up on 8.2 possessions for every 100. The Schedule: at TCU, Tuesday; at New Mexico, Saturday.

2. Saint Mary’s (23-3). A Sentence: The reason why I’ve enjoyed tracking non-BCS teams so much this year, you can make the argument six or seven teams were the best, and Saint Mary’s is still in the thick of that discussion. A Statistic: Is it Rob Jones, not Matthew Dellavedova, who’s the most valuable Gael? Jones is top-three in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and assists for this team. The Schedule: vs. Loyola Marymount, Wednesday; at Murray State, Saturday.

3. San Diego State (20-4). A Sentence: As far as I’m concerned, barring a real collapse, SDSU locked up an at-large Saturday with how it played against UNLV. A Statistic: Despite this good year, SDSU is not on KenPom.com’s good side. It started out the season as the No. 54 team, it’s never been better than 48, and as of today it’s 56th. The Schedule: vs. New Mexico, Wednesday; at Air Force, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

Temple is looking pretty these days. (US PRESSWIRE)

4. Murray State (24-1). A Sentence: Tennessee State did a great job getting that win Thursday night, but TSU is no world beater, and so Murray has to take a hit this week. A Statistic: Looking ahead, regardless of who reps the Ohio Valley in the NCAAs this year, there’s history on the line. After going 19 years between wins in the Big Dance, the Ohio Valley’s now had a team win a game three years in a row. It’s never happened in four straight seasons. You’d think chances are fairly decent with the year Murray State’s had.  The Schedule: at Southeast Missouri State, Wednesday; vs. Saint Mary’s, Saturday.

5. Temple (19-5). A Sentence: I’m claiming Temple as my own now, considering I never kicked it out of the Pyramid and it’s clear Dunphy’s 8-2 A10 team is just as good as last year’s group. A Statistic: Yes, the Atlantic 10 had been pretty muddied up until this past weekend, but the Owls are now in control, and here’s why they should get a good seed. With an SOS of 21 according to KenPom, I think a five or a six is in store (this is me assuming they lose only one more game before the NCAAs). The Schedule: at St. Bonaventure, Wednesday; vs. Duquesne, Saturday.

6. Wichita State (22-4). A Sentence: Been awesome to watch the Shockers play themselves into the role of trendy mid-major sleeper. A Statistic: Joe Ragland has a true shooting percentage of 69.3, which is the second-best in the country. Yeah, that’s awesome. And he’s only behind Ricardo Ratliffe (73.1). Here’s the kicker: Ratliffe’s a big who bolts himself to the paint. Ragland a 6-foot guard who throws it up from everywhere. Truly remarkable. The Schedule: vs. Missouri State, Wednesday; at Davidson, Saturday.

7. Gonzaga (20-4). A Sentence: The Zags have been building to something very nice all season, but I get the feeling most won’t fall for this team until it reaches the Sweet 16 again. A Statistic: And on that note, only twice in the past 10 years have the Bulldogs made it to the second weekend, never beyond the Sweet 16. They’ve become a March staple but to me it feels like a bit of crying wolf these days whenever anyone really tries to prop up Mark Few's team as a serious March threat. The Schedule: at Santa Clara, Thursday; at San Francisco, Saturday.

We've loved Gonzaga all season long, but can this year be different from others? (US PRESSWIRE)

8. Oral Roberts (23-5). A Sentence: If you can believe it, the first regular-season conference title should be wrapped up this week, when ORU beats IUPU Fort Wayne and wins the Summit. A Statistic: ORU is a top-15 KenPom team in effective field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, two-point percentage and block percentage. No one else is so elite in four offensive categories. This team is no joke whatsoever. The Schedule: at IUPU Fort Wayne, Wednesday; vs. Akron, Saturday.

9. Harvard (21-3). A Sentence: I saw this squad in person Friday night, a night before it lost to Princeton, and I’m selling on them for now. A Statistic: I mentioned the loss at Princeton. Harvard snake-bitten at Jadwin, where it hasn’t won since 1989. The Schedule: vs. Brown, Friday; vs. Yale, Saturday.

10. New Mexico (20-4). A Sentence: I still say there’s an MWC Power Three, even if everyone else is giving all the love to San Diego State and UNLV. A Statistic: If the Lobos can’t get widespread respect, it may be due to the team’s turnover ways. UNM gives it away now 21.3 percent of the time, more than any Pyramid team. The Schedule: at San Diego State, Wednesday; vs. UNLV, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Creighton (21-5). A Sentence: I didn’t have any issue with Greg McDermott getting aggressive with his son during Saturday’s loss to Wichita State. A Statistic: Creighton averages 80 points per game, which is top-10 in the nation. But in its five losses? 64.6. The Schedule: at Southern Illinois, Tuesday; vs. Long Beach State, Saturday.

12. Southern Miss (21-4). A Sentence: I’d say Southern Miss needs two more wins this week, and then it’s about as close to a lock as a C-USA can be. A Statistic: Southern Miss is 8-2 through its first 10 Conference USA games. It’s never had a start this good in-league. The Schedule: vs. Tulsa, Wednesday; at Houston, Saturday.

13. Virginia Commonwealth (22-5). A Sentence: Well, well, well, look who just showed up at the party. A Statistic: Since they’re new to the Pyramid, you probably want to know what they do best. The answer: turn teams over. Shaka Smart’s teams gets a TO on 27.3 percent of opponents’ possessions, third-best in the country. The 15.7-percent steal rate is No. 2 in the nation, behind East Tennessee State. The Schedule: at George Mason, Tuesday; vs. Northern Iowa, Friday.

14. Middle Tennessee State (23-4): A Sentence: I know this: Kermit Davis’ team is going to be a formidable 13 or 14 seed. A Statistic: With 15 points and seven rebounds per game, LeRon Dendy (formerly of Iowa State) has been among the best transfer stories this season nobody’s paid attention to. The Schedule: vs. Florida Atlantic, Saturday.

15. Long Beach State (19-6). A Sentence: The 49ers made the inaugural Pyramid on Nov. 21, then promptly fell out … until making their grand return this week. A Statistic: Why’d LBSU get put back into the rankings this week? They’re undefeated in conference play — something no other Pyramid team can lay claim to. The Schedule: at Creighton, Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Cleveland State, Iona. In: Virginia Commonwealth, Long Beach State.
♦ It was appropriate last week’s two teams who didn’t feel like they belonged, Cleveland State (14) and Iona (15) promptly got the boot this week.
♦ And Ohio, who has been as close to inclusion as any team, essentially ruined its chances with back-to-back losses.

Posted on: February 11, 2012 2:27 am

Harvard a near lock for NCAAs -- but incomplete

Freshman Corbin Miller came off the bench and put in 17 against Penn. (AP)

By Matt Norlander

PHILADELPHIA — Now, it all seems a matter of arithmetic and inevitability.

Harvard got by against what’s considered to be its stiffest test of its Ivy League gantlet this season, playing Penn at the Palestra, with a 56-50 win Friday night. The Crimson are now a 7-0 Ivy team with a chokehold on the conference race and seem destined to represent the eight-team league in the NCAA tournament.

When it officially locks up the crown in a couple of weeks — or sooner; the team’s magic number is 5 — and earn the auto bid, it will be the first time Harvard’s gotten to the NCAA tournament since 1946, when the bracket had an iota of the cache then as it does now. It's a memorable year already in Cambridge, Mass. I'll inject straight opinion right here by stating what everyone in the Ivy knows. Nobody's catching Harvard now.

But there are kinks to this team that prevent it from being the giant-slayer that some thought it was/could be at the start of the season.

Against Penn, Harvard won the way it has so often this season: slow and ugly and through sheer force and unusual reliability of its relentless depth. This team’s doing well, yeah. It’s 21-2 overall and will finish with one of the best records in school history. But it’s not yet reached its potential. It's odd to see the Ivy favorite continue to win but to fail to run inferior foes out of the gym. Senior 6-8 forward Keith Wright, who was the Ivy Player of the Year last season, only managed two points against the Quakers. He’s failed to score in double digits in five of the past six games.

“I think I draw a lot of attention no matter who we play or wherever we go,” Wright said. “I knew that it probably wasn’t going to be my, but the game’s not all about scoring.”

Wright had 13 rebounds and two blocks. He took five shots.

“My head’s not down at all,” he added.

The fact one of the team’s two best players could hit a nadir like this in the stretch of the toughest part of league play and still not hurt the team to the tune of an L is a good sign. Plus, Harvard got a career night out of freshman guard Corbin Miller, who lit it up with 17 points, matching star forward Kyle Casey’s 17, which also happens to be the number Harvard alum Jeremy Lin dons with the Knicks.

It was certainly noteworthy that Harvard got the definitive, toughest win of its conference season on the same night Lin’s reputation exploded at Madison Square Garden. Harvard's win did not bring the attention nor the appeal of Lin's magic up in New York, but the Palestra did have more than 7,500 in attendance to watch the most anticipated game in the Ivy this season, a game that wasn't available to be watched on television anywhere.

Back to what's wrong with Wright. He lacks aggression and nobody can tell me why this is. Fortunately, thanks to the bench, this still isn't an issue that's had to be nakedly addressed. That should change soon. If Harvard wants to be a team that can win in the NCAA tournament, even a game, it needs Wright to be dogmatic. If he’s able to corral control of the team’s post offense again, then it'll  see an uptick in offensive efficiency and respectability. Right now, this group looks good — a 10 seed at worst — but won’t alarm anyone.

“It’s scary to think about because coach Amaker talks about it all the time,” Wright said. “We haven’t put two halves together yet. We’ve gotta finish around the rim, including myself.”

This isn’t Cornell from a few years ago. It doesn’t have the size or consistent deep threats that team embodied. Now that the team's done what was expected and played half its league games without a scratch, addressing cosmetics and needs down low should become top priority. Casey admitted as much outside the locker room after the win.

“I think we have to finish down low and punish teams when we can,” he said. “This is what we came here for. Everyone in this program essentially came here to make history and do what we’re doing right now. We remain hungry and fight each other harder than opponents are going to fight us.”

The Casey-Wright dynamic last year was what made Harvard not only interesting as a budding program but also so damn hard to defend and contain. Some of that's been lost. Casey gets better as his teammate complements him, but he's not concerned.

“We’ve (he and Wright) got a really good relationship on the court and feel for what we can do with each other and play off each other,” Casey said. “We’re going to definitely need him if we’re going to do what we say we want to do.”

What they want goes beyond getting to the first tournament in 68 years. They want at least an NCAA win. They want to be heroes at Harvard and that requires reaching a Saturday or Sunday March game. Ivy schools that snatch a W or two immediately become something of legend in that league and in the eyes of the public who watch the always-endearing smart schools "overachieve" on the big stage. Wright's a senior. Time's running out. Harvard can get by now without his top-level play, but they can't be their best, something the NCAA tournament mandates from almost every underdog.
Category: NCAAB
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