Penn men’s basketball has a rich history of success both in the Ivy League and in the postseason. Like the rest of the Ancient Eight, Penn did not compete in the 2020-2021 season due to COVID-19. However, with March Madness in full swing this week, we explore some of Penn’s best runs in the NCAA Tournament.
Penn has appeared in March Madness 24 times in its history, with a total record of 13-26 in that stretch. The team has made several trips in the 21st century by winning the Ivy League’s guaranteed conference spot in the tournament. However, the Red and Blue have struggled to advance past the initial round of 64 teams, with their last trip to the second round coming in 1994.
Here are the Quakers’ top five postseason runs in recent history:
Penn received one of the dreaded No. 16 seeds after winning the second-ever Ivy League basketball tournament. Before 2018, when 16th-seeded UMBC upset No. 1 Virginia, no 16 seed had ever knocked off a top-seeded foe in the opening round.
With a game against Kansas in Wichita, Kan. on the schedule for Penn, it was unclear exactly how close the Red and Blue would be able to keep the game. Though the final score of 76-60 seems like a relative blowout, the Quakers kept the game tight until the final minutes of action. They were unable to complete the upset, but keeping up with the No. 1 seed was an impressive showing.
This run may not seem like a true success at first glance, as the Quakers were knocked out of the tournament in the second round by No. 3 seed Florida. However, their impressive opening round upset of No. 6 seed Nebraska was enough to make the trip to March Madness successful. As previously mentioned, this year was also the most recent time that the Quakers advanced past the first round.
1971 was a fairly successful year for the Quakers, as they were able to advance to the Elite Eight after dominant victories against Duquesne and South Carolina. The tournament consisted of only a 32-team field at this point, meaning Penn’s two victories were enough to put it two wins from the title game. However, the team came up well short of its goals when it was beaten by Big 5 rival Villanova in a 90-47 blowout.
In 1972, the Quakers reached the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season, still with the tournament field set at 32 teams. Penn made quick work of its opening opponent in Providence. Then, it got revenge on Big 5 rival Villanova with a narrow Sweet Sixteen victory that made up for the Wildcats’ defeat of the Quakers in the previous season’s tournament. However, Penn could not carry that momentum into the Elite Eight, as it came up short for the second straight year, this time falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels, 73-59.
In 1979, the Quakers had their most successful postseason run, eventually reaching the Final Four. Penn made quick work of their initial opponents, defeating Iona, North Carolina, Syracuse, and St. John’s to advance to the Final Four. Penn’s run ended against Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans, however, when the team was on the wrong end of a 101-67 throttling. A loss to the Spartans placed the Quakers in the third-place game against DePaul, where they came up just short, 96-93.