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Princeton's men's basketball team celebrates their win over Penn, putting them second in Ivy rankings, on March 4. Credit: Nathaniel Sirlin

Princeton has just shocked number two-seeded Arizona in the first round of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. The game was slow with each team showing out on the defensive end, but the Tigers emerged victorious. 

Tosan Evbuomwan led the Tigers in scoring and assists, an all-too-common sight for those who witnessed his performances against Penn this year. The senior forward has routinely showed out at the Palestra, and now his talents have taken Princeton into the second round of March Madness for the first time since 1998. 

While the tournament is known for its titular madness, Tosan and the rest of Princeton’s men's basketball program were able to reach levels of insanity that are rarely achieved. The Tigers became just the eleventh 15th seed to win its first round game in men’s NCAA Tournament history. On top of this, they held Arizona to the lowest amount of points ever scored by a two seed against a 15th seed: 55, according to ESPN's Kevin Negandhi.

Watching these events unfold, I have conflicting thoughts. Among them, two major perspectives emerge. 

As someone who enjoys watching the Ivy league, this performance by Princeton feels amazing. Year in and year out, the talent in the Ivy League is ignored. Our teams rarely receive national games, our players are rarely recruited to go pro, and our conference is often insulted in the national media conversation. Princeton’s performance is an unforgettable showing of what Ivy league talent and coaching can result in. I doubt that Princeton will be underestimated in the next round, and the more they succeed, the more respect the Ivy League will gain.

But as someone who supports Penn Men’s Basketball? This performance hurts like nothing else. 

Princeton has had our number for years, routinely raking in wins every season besides 2018. This year we played and lost to Princeton three times, including for a regular season championship and in the Ivy League Tournament. And as if that wasn’t enough, Princeton is now still competing while Penn's players are at home, studying for their second-semester classes. In every game this season Penn was close to winning, but Princeton was always able to pull together and pull ahead. They always got that last bucket, they always got that last stop, and now they are doing the same against the best of the best. 

To know that Penn was good enough to compete against Princeton all year, and that Princeton was able to beat a number two seeded opponent, makes it appear that Penn is just a hair away from really competing on the national level. Maybe this is all a sign that the Quakers are actually better off than we know. But to me, the opposite is true. 

Princeton showed up in the clutch versus Penn during the regular season, the Ivy Tournament, and against Arizona multiple times on Thursday. Penn has routinely failed to find those magical moments. Whether it be due to talent, execution, or coaching, Penn has repeatedly failed to rise to the occasion. Just because we can pull close to Princeton in our losses, doesn’t make us a team that is nearly as good as them. The Tigers routinely beating the Quakers is actually more indicative of what has now become readily apparent: They are out of our league.

While Princeton showing out is good for the Ivy League as a whole, it’s also just another reminder of how far Penn is from actual success on the court. As Princeton fans sit at home on the couch watching their team fly higher than ever before, fans of the Quakers enter the offseason preparing to rewatch their team’s rendition of Sisyphus: confidently rolling along all year, just to fall short when they get to the top.

In the end, Princeton succeeding in the NCAA tournament just proves the harsh truth to Quaker fans: The all important Penn vs. Princeton “rivalry” is not actually a rivalry, but rather, just Tigers playing with their food.