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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When the Headline Doesn't Tell the Entire Story

#3 Villanova beat cross-town rival Pennsylvania last night at Penn's Palestra to go 7-0. That's pretty much the headline, and on places such as ESPN Radio the score got read precisely because Villanova is a Top 25 team and is playing well (even if one of its key players, Curtis Sumpter, is out for the year and another, Kyle Lowery, played on 12 minutes because of back spasms).

So what, you say? After all, 'Nova only beat an Ivy League school by 7 points. What's the big deal in that?

Well, if you're a fan of the national scene and only follow the "chalk" conferences, you're probably right. It's not a big deal, and, if anything, it shows that the #3 team in the land isn't made out of Teflon. The Wildcats have their weaknesses, but, as with all good teams, they beat a tough opponent, a traditional rival, in its own building. Sounds easy, right? Actually, it's a very hard thing to do.

Even if you play in the Big East and your opponent is an Ivy school. Take a look at Penn's and Princeton's schedules over the past 10 years, and what you'll find is the paucity of big-name teams willing to play those schools in their own buildings. Why? Because in most years, on the right night, those teams can beat you.

And, if they do, you won't want to go back.

Penn came awfully close last night, less than a week after playing a respectable game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. When I say "respectable", I mean that Penn was within striking distance the whole game and most certainly didn't get blown out. After all, they're not the Texas Longhorns.

Why is this game significant? Well, paraphrasing from Ben Franklin, I still don't think that there's such a thing as a bad win or a good loss. That said, most coaches will tell you that what they look for is for their team to do its best, and to give the type of effort that they can be proud of. I didn't see the game, but from the reports that I heard, Penn did just that -- and without their biggest regular, starting center Steve Danley, who missed the game because of a concussion. That had to give Penn coach Fran Dunphy a great deal of satisfaction.

Some teams would have used Danley's absence as an excuse against the feared Wildcats. I even blogged early this season that Penn was only a Steve Danley season-ending injury (which, by the way, this concussion is not) from real trouble, because they really don't have a back-up center. Further, I opined that I thought that Penn's bench was its weakest in years and had to establish itself.

Well, I think that the Penn bench did just that. When Friedrich Ebede came out of high school about five years ago, my Penn friends were touting him as the next Ugonna Onyekwe, the next player from Penn who could dominate the Ivies. That just didn't happen, and Ebede only would get into one-sided affairs. This season, though, was different, and Ebede found himself as part of the Quakers' rotation. He showed some gumption against Duke, and last night had a career game against Villanova -- 13 points 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

A coming out party, perhaps, albeit a bit late in his career.

For Penn, though, it's better late than never. Especially this season, when the Quakers could use the help off the bench.

Last night could have been a crisis for Penn against the #3 team in the country. Instead, Friedrich Ebede turned it into an opportunity. No one told him he was supposed to fold up and turn the ball over. He just went out there and played the best he could.

Great news for Penn. Bad news for the rest of the Ivy League.

Once Danley comes back from injury, Ebede will join sophomore Brian Grandieri (10 points and 2 assists against Villanova) and freshman Tommy McMahon (who has great confidence in his shot) as the players who get the most time off Penn's bench. More and more, this is looking like a formidable group.

Going into the season, you had a seldom-used senior, a sophomore coming off an injury that caused him to miss his freshman year, and a freshman. Now, it's looking like the most solid bench in the Ivies.

Bad loss to Villanova, right?

It says here that games like this will give the Penn Quakers the confidence to win their 9th Ivy title in the last 14 years.


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