Could this be the year it finally happens?
There have been close calls before, but ultimately form prevailed. So why should it be any different this time? Why could Ivy League champion Penn be the first No. 16 in NCAA Tournament history to knock off a No. 1?
“I don’t know if you want to play someone like us,” said Quakers’ coach Steve Donahue before finding out his 24-8 team had drawn No. 1 seeded Kansas in the Midwest Region Thursday in Wichita. “We’re older. We shoot the ball. We share the ball. We’re an elite defensive team. We can guard anybody. It’ll be fun.”
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If any team can have fun taking on Bill Self’s 27-7 Big 12 Champ Wildcats, one of four schools — along with Duke, Michigan State and Gonzaga to make the field each of the last 20 years — it’s a Penn squad that won’t be fazed by the resume. Considering that Penn hadn’t had a winning season since 2012 and hasn’t been the Big Dance since 2007, Donahue says his veteran team will be loose while at the same time, hungry.
They remind him in ways of his three-time Ivy champs at Cornell from 2008-10, who made it to the Sweet 16 that third time around.
“We got smacked around pretty good the first two years,” recalled Donahue, who’s built the Quakers up to their former glory in just three seasons. “The last time I felt the looseness of our team, which is very similar to this one. They’re goofy kids, not really caught up in stuff goes on, who like to bust on each other. That’s how you have to be. Loose, willing to make mistakes. This group has done that. To me, objectively thinking, I don’t think like this is a 16 vs. 1 game. Now that doesn’t mean Kansas isn’t terrific and that we don’t have our work cut out for us, but I feel strongly we will perform well. We have a fighter’s chance. We have to play really and them not so well.”
His players, none of whom were alive when No. 16 Princeton came oh, so close to stunning No. 1 Georgetown, 50-49 in 1989, are buying in.
“Kansas is a great team which has a ton of history,” said senior guard Darnell Foreman. “but we’re not worried about that. If we go out and play as hard as can anything can happen.”
Maybe even making history. After all, doesn’t it have to happen sometime?