First Monday Penn-Princeton matchup in 16 years
January 30, 2012, 1:11 am·
Pete Lodato | DP
It’s a primetime game no matter which date it falls on, but for the first time since 1995, Penn and Princeton will tip off in regular season play on a day other than Tuesday.
Toughening league competition and Princeton’s quirky academic calendar are the two main factors that brought about this year’s Monday night special at the Palestra.
Typically, the two Ivy foes square off for the first time on a Tuesday in mid-February, which has been the case in every season since 1996-97. And since 1994-95, the second regular season matchup has been played on the Tuesday after the final weekend of Ivy League competition.
However, an effort was made this year to reschedule the first game so that it would not fall between two weekends of back-to-back conference play. In an increasingly competitive Ivy League that has recently seen Cornell reach the Sweet 16 and Harvard garner its current No. 23 ranking, five games in eight days was not a favorable setup for either team.
This year, the Ivy League accommodated both sides, though perhaps not in ideal fashion. When the season’s schedule was released, the game was initially set for Jan. 14, a Saturday, at the Palestra — a much more fitting night to host what senior Zack Rosen has called “the greatest rivalry in college basketball.”
That game would have been played as scheduled were it not for Princeton’s unusual academic calendar. Because Princeton begins its final exams for the fall semester after winter break, a Jan. 14 game would have overlapped with Princeton’s reading days. Therefore, the game was rescheduled to Monday, just two days after Princeton concluded its final exam period and a full nine days since Penn last played.
“I’ll tell you after the game,” Rosen quipped when asked how it will feel to play the Tigers on a Monday night. “Bottom line is it’s a big game for us, it’s a big game for them … [regardless of when it is] it’s the game.”
The circumstances may be unusual, but this rivalry game may be even more intense than in recent years.
In two of the past three seasons, the matchup at the Palestra has been played during Penn’s spring break, when most students have left campus. This year, student attendance will be predicated not on who’s still here, but how many people decide to show up.
But if there could have been any game over the last four years to help create buzz and excitement in anticipation for tonight’s tilt, last week’s 84-80 win over St. Joe’s in front of a sold-out crowd may have been the best one.
“I swear on my life [the Palestra last Saturday] was the loudest arena I’ve played in,” Rosen said, who has also played at North Carolina’s Dean Smith Center, Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. “That place is ‘The Cathedral’ for a reason.”
Odd scheduling or not, this Monday night primetime matchup will just add to an already storied rivalry. It begins at 7 p.m.