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Streamers that UPENN fans let fly after the first basket that UPENN scored against St. Joes. Which was the first basket of the game by the way. Credit: Toby Hicks

There has been a problem with Big 5 basketball these last few years.

Villanova pretty much dominates everyone, and Penn pretty much gets dominated by everyone.

While Temple managed to win the city series last year, lending credence to the balance of the Big 5, the decline of Penn’s relevance has made it more like the Big 4 plus one.

This trend has been one of the reasons for a decreasing interest in the city series lately, especially on Penn’s campus. Only one thing will change that: an increase in competitiveness by the Quakers.

That process undoubtedly began Wednesday night.

The Red and Blue put forth perhaps their best effort in a Big 5 game since their last win against a Philly foe back in January 2007.

During its current 14-game city series losing streak, the Quakers have lost to ’Nova by an average of 25 points.

And before Wednesday night’s 12-point loss at the Palestra, that average was closer to 30.

Entering the game, there was little hope that this year would be much different. The teams’ rosters are largely the same as last year, and ’Nova is still a national contender.

Even more glaring, Penn has just one player, senior Darren Smith, who has ever won a Big 5 game. But that was all the more reason that the Quakers did not back down to the twelfth ranked team in the nation.

They were hungry.

“We expected to win the game. We prepared to come out and play to win the game,” said coach Jerome Allen, in an ode to Herm Edwards. “I would be selling [the players] short if [I told them], ‘Oh, it’s okay, we played hard and we fought, they’re the 12th-ranked team in the nation [and] they play in the Big East — I don’t care.’”

That attitude translated to a game in which the Quakers held the Wildcats to their lowest point total of the season, and had the margin within seven points as late as the six-minute mark in the second half.

How did they do it? Not with any superior size, talent or matchups. They did it with a solid gameplan, decent execution, lots of energy and — most importantly — great defense.

These are all a product of Allen’s coaching, and that’s what provides the clearest sign that an increase in local competitiveness will begin anew.

Allen’s presence alone makes the Red and Blue more of a factor in the Big 5. One of the biggest knocks against former Penn coach Glen Miller was his lack of understanding of Philadelphia or Penn basketball tradition. Allen, a Big 5 Hall of Famer, could not be more different.

It wasn’t just the excitement of a competitive game that provided a good sign of Penn’s resurgence in the Big 5, but rather the overall atmosphere of the Palestra.

“Great game, great atmosphere,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said first thing in the post-game press conference. “I just love coming to this place and being a part of this.”

Penn’s current seniors have never tasted Big 5 glory. And while Wednesday night’s effort provides no guarantees that they will break through this season, it certainly provides Big signs of hope.

NOAH ROSENSTEIN is a senior political science major from Hollywood, Fla., and is Online Managing Editor and former Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is rosenstein@theDP.com.

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