The historic upset was not meant to be for the Quakers, but the real win was in the hype.
In recent years, Penn men's basketball has not been at the forefront of the Ivy League scene. Rivals Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have stolen headlines and all played well in the past few NCAA Tournaments. But this time it was Penn’s turn.
Ever since the official pairings were revealed on Selection Sunday, one matchup caught the eye of bracket makers everywhere. Usually, games between 1 and 16 seeds are obvious, but when Penn was matched up with Kansas, the top seeds’ perfect record against 16s was cast into doubt.
Of course it would be unlikely, but this season’s Penn team has been regarded by many as the best 16 seed ever, if not just in recent memory. Since the night of Selection Sunday, some of the sports world’s bravest analysts boldly predicted Penn to prevail, or at least give the Jayhawks a run for their money.
Sportswriter and CBS broadcaster Seth Davis began the excitement Sunday night with a tweet about the possibility of a Red and Blue victory. Pablo Torre, an ESPN columnist and a frequent on the sports network’s talk show Around the Horn, even predicted the Quakers to make a run all the way to the Sweet 16.
Others soon joined in on this thrilling prospect and Penn became a hot pick nationwide to pull off the upset. Nearly five percent of the 17.3 million brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge had the Quakers winning, a higher chance than three of the 15 seeds and all of the other 16s.
It was still a long shot, but by no means was the game going to be a walkover for Kansas. More importantly, all the support from both professionals and fans alike gave the Quakers confidence they needed to play well against the Jayhawks.
Sophomore AJ Brodeur looked back on fellow Ivy Cornell’s Cinderella run back in 2010 for inspiration.
“Coach Donahue’s team from 2010, they were such a great team,” he said. “Following their run and seeing them go from the first round to the Sweet 16, I hope that might be us.”
Likewise, fellow sophomore Ryan Betley appreciated the extra attention from the media.
“It’s all been fun,” he agreed. “Coach told us when you’re on the court you have to be focused, but he told us to just enjoy the moment and all the extra things that come with it.”
During the game, the Quakers’ blazing start rocketed them to instant popularity online. According to Google Trends, a metric which measures trending search topics, internet searches for “Penn” and “University of Pennsylvania” spiked during game time on Thursday.
While many of the searches were from the Philadelphia area, a large number interestingly came from two cities in Kansas: Wichita, where the game was being played, and Lawrence, the home of the Jayhawks, as nervous Kansas fans expecting a blowout frantically sought information on the team that was giving their own a fight.
Ultimately, Penn’s upset bid fell short as the Jayhawks pulled away late to win 76-60. However, the notoriety the team received in the build up, during, and after the game is what matters.
Upon hearing the name “Penn” before last Sunday, many people might have first thought of a certain school in State College, but the Red and Blue’s respectable showing has earned them America’s admiration.
If people didn’t know who the Quakers were before, they certainly do now.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.