Many things in college are overhyped. Storming the court after a big win is not one of them.
On Monday night, I, along with a packed student section, got to rush onto the Palestra hardwood after Penn pulled off its most impressive win in years over No. 21 Villanova.
It’s a little bit of recency bias, but I think it might be my favorite memory at Penn, not to mention being in the student section when a corner three by freshman guard Tyler Perkins put the Quakers up by 11 with less than four minutes left, sending the crowd into delirium.
When you come to Penn, you generally resign yourself to not being at a “sports school.” A lot of people bemoan the fact that their friends at schools like Michigan and Duke get to have a real sports culture, but we don’t.
For a couple hours at the Palestra on Monday night, that wasn’t the case … and it was awesome.
Wins against powerhouses like Villanova aren’t going to become a weekly occurrence, but becoming a school that has a real basketball culture is not out of reach. Monday’s game proves just as much. Versions of this column have been written a million times now, but in the wake of Penn’s incredible upset over Villanova on Monday, it’s worth banging the drum one more time.
My hope is that the win over Villanova, a nationally ranked team, shows people that Penn basketball is not some JV team that the school throws out onto the court for its own amusement. It’s a genuinely competitive basketball team that can, on occasion, even shock the biggest heavyweights in the college basketball world.
Penn nearly (and if you ask me, should’ve) beat Princeton in last year’s Ivy Tournament if not for some questionable calls down the stretch. For those who don’t remember, Princeton then went on to become one of the Cinderella teams in last season's March Madness and danced its way to the Sweet 16. That’s not out of the question for Penn. Runs like Princeton’s do happen.
The excuse of “we’re not as good as Michigan or Duke” is a weak one. Penn isn't winning a national title anytime soon in anything but maybe squash, but Penn can still be a part of the national conversation and win some big games.
There are plenty of smaller, non-Power Five teams out there that possess engaged student bodies. One of the main differences to account for is, of course, a stronger academic focus at Penn and the title of No. 1 party school in the nation (an ancient stat at this point, but why forget it?). Nevertheless, there are still plenty of basketball fans at Penn who could and should go to games. But if you ask them who Jordan Dingle (the second leading scorer in all of Division I last season) is, many will look at you confused and ask if he’s a EuroLeague player.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We tell ourselves we’re not a sports school, and when no one shows up to games because of it, that thesis is proven correct. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and hopefully, Penn’s win over Villanova will help right the tide.
Schedule-makers have done Penn students no favors in recent years, but this season’s slate is looking awfully nice. The Quakers will play in the debut of the Big 5 Classic at Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 2, and, a week later, the main event: Penn will face No. 17 Kentucky in the same arena. Then, in the new year comes Ivy play, where ideally the momentum from those two matchups will carry over.
Penn should be doing everything in its power to get as many students at the Kentucky game as possible. But it’s up to everybody who went to the Villanova game — and those who were shocked to see Penn played, let alone beat, a top 25 team and still posted about it on their Instagram stories — to show up.
Who knows, Penn might just win again.
MATTHEW FRANK is a senior and former sports editor studying English from Miami. All comments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.