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The Quakers clinch an Ivy title and NCAA berth The Quakers clinch an Ivy title and NCAA berthThe Quakers emerge as true champs They did it. They made all preseason predictions come true. They won the Ivy League. In many ways, the Red and Blue are doing nothing more than what was expected of them. But in doing so, they proved that they are indeed a championship team. It may have seemed like the Ivy season was a cakewalk for the Quakers, like they were playing on a level far above the one on which their opponents operate. At times, they were. But to think winning a second consecutive Ivy title was an easy task would be wrongheaded. It was a difficult journey for the Quakers, but the only important thing is that they came out on top. And with a win tomorrow night against Princeton in the regular season finale, they can emerge from the league season unblemished -- a feat Penn has not accomplished since the 1994-95 season. However, if Harvard's Dan Clemente had hit his final three-point attempt on February 26 or if Cornell had made a few more shots in its close loss to Penn on January 29, the thousands of Quakers fans at Saturday's game might not have had any reason to rush the court. But rush the court they did. Championship teams are too tough to lose games like the ones against the Crimson or the Big Red. The Penn Quakers are a championship team. Over the course of the past month, they proved it several times. Back on January 27, I wrote a column on these pages that said that the Quakers needed to be prepared for the dangers that lay ahead in the quest for their second straight league title. It was the day before Penn was to open its Ivy season at Columbia, and there was plenty to be worried about at the time. The freshmen starters were making stupid mistakes; the entire team suffered from poor shot selection; no one in a Quakers uniform could hit a free throw; and most of the time, the five players on the court were never on the same page. In that column, I wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that the Quakers have more skill than any team in the league, and I believe that eventually everything will come together for them. Before the end of the season, we will see a cohesive unit that can go out and be competitive with anyone. "But league play begins tomorrow night, and that cohesive unit has yet to make an appearance." Well, here we are at the end of the season -- 13 Ivy games and 13 Ivy wins since I wrote those words, and the Quakers are champions. Penn is riding the second-longest winning streak in all of Division I college basketball. Its 15 consecutive wins are second only to Utah State's 16. The Ivy title is wrapped up; the net on the Palestra's west basket is down; and the Quakers' invitation to the Big Dance is sealed and in the mail. Does that mean everything is perfect with Fran Dunphy's squad? No. The freshmen still make freshman mistakes. There are still lapses in the offense. And there are definitely times when the shots just do not fall for this Penn team. But the point is that they made it through the conference season. They are undefeated in the league. They are the best in the Ivies. They are champions. When the Ivy season began back on that cold Friday night in Columbia's Levien Gymnasium, I firmly believed that Penn was the most talented team in the league. But a talented squad does not always equate with a successful squad. To their credit, the Quakers knew what they needed to do to repeat as champions, and they did it. Weekend escapades to the north, visiting the tiny gyms of the other Ancient Eight schools, can be dangerous tasks, but Penn survived. It survived for many reasons. Michael Jordan and Matt Langel led this team, often hoisting it on their backs and refusing to let it lose. Two weeks ago at Dartmouth, the Big Green would not relent, and it was Jordan and Langel's combined 44 points that kept Penn on top. But Jordan and Langel are not alone. Frank Brown is ending his up-and-down five-year career on a high note, busting back into the starting lineup and burying open jumpers when needed. Geoff Owens has returned to full force after suffering from shin splints, establishing himself as a tough inside presence and the best shot blocker in Penn history. And Ugonna Onyekwe is putting the finishing touches on a season that should earn him the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award. Most importantly, though, the 14 men in Red and Blue have finally come together as a team. A team that can now call itself champions of the Ivy League.

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