While it is true just one of the last seven Ivy League entries in the NCAA tournament has won since 1989, the average margin of defeat is just four points, and that now includes an overtime game. Even better than that showing by a bunch of bookworms, however, is the lads from the hallowed halls always provide interesting contests to cogitate.
Like last night's pulsating 91-85 overtime victory over Pennsylvania by Alabama, No. 5 seed in the East portion of this coast-to-coast party.
It's called style, the way the game is played by these non-scholarship types who have to rely on the whole far exceeding the sum of its individual parts in effectiveness. It's the old three musketeers' credo of one-for-all-and-all-for-one, often a forgotten concept these days.
This is not to say that Penn features players who have no business competing outside the Ivy eight. Au contraire. As 'Bama's lead backcourt guy Marvin Orange put it, "They're probably the best pair of guards we've played this season."
Orange, who was no slouch himself with a trio of three-point hits that got his team going early, was referring to Jerome Allen and Matt Maloney, who combined for 53 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and 10 (of 24) trifectas.
So impressed with the 30 points Allen scored against his team, particularly the pair of threes he threw down in just eight seconds to tense up the overtime after 'Bama had scored the first 11 points of the extra session, Tide coach David Hobbs sought him out and counseled, "Forget what happened tonight. Think back to what the team has accomplished over the last three seasons."
Hobbs was not just paying lip service to the Penn team because winning coaches always cast bouquets in the direction of the vanquished. He hadn't seen them play until viewing tapes after the pairings were announced, "but any team that can go undefeated in a conference over three years, half of those games on the road, and can do as well against some of the outside teams it played certainly isn't a No. 12 seed."
In fact, it's a good thing Antonio McDyess decided to have a game for the Tide they're probably putting words and music to this very moment back in Tuscaloosa. Get this, 39 points, 19 rebounds, two blocked shots and an awesome steal and solo three quarters of the length of the floor to a monster dunk. The sophomore is 6-9, but moved like dribbling and ball-handling is where his game starts.
"We knew it came down to our size against their guard play," said the coach, "so our plan was to go inside to Antonio."
And as handsomely as McDyess responded, maybe 'Bama was the recipient of good fortune to be in position to win at the end of regulation. That's how effectively Penn had battled the victors after leading early, falling behind by 11 points just after the mid-point of the second half and recovering to take the lead with 3:30 remaining.
About 40 seconds remained and the teams were equal at 67 when Alabama called time and plotted. Each team figured to have one final possession. 'Bama got a lousy shot, but was saved from having to stop Penn's try at victory when McDyess grabbed the most important of his team's spectacular total of 26 offensive rebounds.
Out-rebounded 57-42, the Quakers made the most of their possessions when it counted most in the stretch with quick, crisp passing, clever faking, instantaneous screens and their 14 three-point bombs.
"We have built our program by surrounding two very good players [Allen and Maloney] with good role players, kids who will sacrifice for the good of the team," said Penn coach Fran Dunphy.
Four years ago and coming off a 9-17 season, Dunphy tied his hopes to freshmen Allen, Maloney, Scott Kegler, Shawn Trice and Eric Moore. A year later, Ira Bowman and Tim Krug joined the mix. Penn has gone 85-23 since and no one can remember the last time it lost a league game.
"Spirit and determination," explained Dunphy, knowing that anyone who has watched is aware old-fashioned teamwork can make up for the absence of blue-chippers. For proof of same, recall Penn, as a No. 11 seed, beat No. 6 Nebraska by 10 points last year.