Pop the champagne. Start the parade. Raise the banner.
The Quakers are Cathedral Classic champions. In the grand scheme of things, that might mean next to nothing, but can Kentucky claim they’ve ever won a Cathedral Classic? Duke? Gonzaga? I think not.
They may have their national titles, but Penn beat Hartford, Colgate, and Delaware for a Cathedral Classic ring (there are no rings awarded to my knowledge). You tell me which is more valuable.
Jokes aside, the Quakers looked sharp across three straight contests over Thanksgiving weekend, and should warrant some optimism as they head into Big 5 play. Here are five of my takeaways from Penn’s recent slate of games.
1. Junior guards Jordan Dingle and Clark Slajchert continue to be the engines driving Penn’s offense. That might be the most obvious take you can have from watching the Quakers play, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
After starting the season a little slow, Dingle has notched six straight 20-plus-point performances (excluding the game he missed due to injury), while shooting at least 50% from the field in half of them. What was really encouraging to see this weekend, though, was how Dingle shot from deep. Through the first five games he’d played, Dingle made just 22.9% of his attempts from three. But over this quick three-game stretch, he converted 11 of 21 tries from deep for a strong 52.4% clip.
Slajchert, on the other hand, came into the weekend off a cold spell at Lafayette where he scored six points over 36 minutes, but still contributed a career-high five assists to help Penn to an overtime win. During all three Cathedral Classic games, those shooting woes subsided, as the junior guard shot above 50% in each game, and shined in particular against Colgate.
On a staggering 13-18 from the field, Slajchert ripped through the Raiders’ defense en route to a career-high 33 points. Down the stretch, he looked calm, cool, and collected, hitting three three-pointers in the final 10 minutes to seal the game for Penn.
2. The flip side of Dingle and Slajchert's dominance, though, is that Penn’s offense shows a worrying lack of scoring diversity. In that Colgate game, the duo combined for a whopping 59 of Penn’s 81 points, and across both of the last two games, they accounted for 58.6% of the Quakers’ shot attempts.
That’s not a sustainable load for those two players to shoulder. If just one of them has an off night, repeats and worse versions of the Lafayette game are in store, where Penn came in as a heavy favorite and, thanks to poor shooting nights from both of them, was barely able to muster a win in overtime.
3. One player who did shine outside of the Dingle-Slajchert combo: sophomore forward-center Nick Spinoso, who I would argue had a breakout set of performances on Saturday and Sunday. Against Colgate, Spinoso only recorded three shot attempts, but totaled an impressive eight rebounds and eight assists, and was a steady big-man presence on defense.
Then facing Delaware the next day, Spinoso proved his most complete performance as a Quaker, tallying 18 points, six rebounds, and nine assists. That’s not the stat line of a role player. With more games like his past two, the sophomore could earn a consistent place in the rotation similar to the one he had Sunday, where he notched a career-high 31 minutes as a starter.
4. As has been a trend through the years, Penn continues to not know how to schedule games, much to the harm of its student engagement and fandom. Catering to the alumni is important, but when you schedule three games over Thanksgiving break — when most students are away from Penn’s campus — you’re going to see empty student sections like the ones shown on the broadcasts. I was able to make it to Saturday’s game, and it was bleak. Colgate's fans practically outnumbered Penn's.
To be fair, if the Cathedral Classic didn’t exist, Penn likely would have played at some other invitational/tournament that wouldn’t have been on campus, like it does every year. But if you’re going to have it at home, you ought to schedule it at a time when students can attend.
The supposed reason for the Cathedral Classic was to gear up for the 100th anniversary of the Palestra in 2026. If Penn wants the Palestra to last another 100 years, maybe the school should start prioritizing the present-day students who’ll keep on that legacy.
5. Heading into four straight Big 5 bouts, the Quakers are hitting an early-season stride. They’ve rattled off four straight wins and victories in five of their last six. Also important, though: The Big 5 is as weak as it’s ever been. Penn is somehow the only team above .500 at the moment, and even though Villanova is always a daunting opponent, the Wildcats are 2-5 and as beatable as they’ve looked in years.
Last season, Penn went 0-4 in Big 5 play. I'd be shocked if that happened again. But even if the worst-case scenario does repeat itself, the Quakers can still fall back on their recent title.
Cathedral Classic title, that is.
MATTHEW FRANK is a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a College junior from Miami studying English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.