For the fourth straight year, Penn won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament.
But if it’s any solace to Quaker fans – and I’m sure it’s not – the army of former Penn coaches and players over at Temple are making a habit of going to the Big Dance year after year.
Coached by Fran Dunphy, Dave Duke, Matt Langel W’00 and Shawn Trice C’95, the Owls open play in their fourth straight NCAA tournament Thursday in Tuscon, Ariz. against in-state rival Penn State.
The same foursome coached Penn into the tourney in 2006, before leaving West Philly for North Philly. (Dunphy, of course, was the Quakers’ head coach for 17 successful seasons, with Duke by his side for eight of them. Langel and Trice both played under Dunphy at Penn, before later joining his staff.)
Interestingly enough, through four years as a player and six as an assistant coach, Trice has now been invited to the NCAA tournament eight out of a possible 10 times. When I talked to him a couple of months ago for an article on his friendship with Jerome Allen, I asked what it was like for him and Langel to be part of one Big 5 program as a player and another as a coach.
“We understand we’ve been blessed to have ties with Penn and ties with Temple,” Trice said. “You’ve got two great basketball programs with great basketball tradition. Not too many people get to be a part of two top programs in their careers.
“At heart, we are Penn guys. But we do everything we can to help Temple be the best they can be.”
Trice noted there was some hesitation from the Temple community when the Ivy Leaguers first stepped on campus. People weren’t sure how their success at a lower level would translate, or how they would learn how to recruit a different breed of basketball player.
“That’s natural,” Trice said. “It’s tough for people to adjust to change. It took a little while but Coach Dunph is such a likeable person – any words you hear about him are positive and show how great a person he is. So there was no difficulty when we came here because he was able to connect with people so well. That helped the process. Then, you win basketball games and that gets people on your side supporting you.”
Winning has certainly been in the recipe. In only his second year on North Broad Street, Dunphy guided Temple to a surprising championship in the 2008 Atlantic 10 tournament. The Owls won the next two conference titles, and despite bowing out in semifinals this season, they did enough over the course of the season to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tourney once again.
Now the only thing left to do for Dunphy is to win his first NCAA tournament game since 1994. Trice was a junior on that ’94 Penn team that upset Nebraska in the first round and was a senior – along with Allen – the following season when the Quakers battled Antonio McDyess and Alabama to the bitter end in an opening-round defeat.
While it’s been 17 years since Dunphy and Trice have tasted NCAA success, Langel and Duke have never won an NCAA game. Penn fans and Temple fans alike hope the time is now.
“Well, we’re just trying to do the best job we can,” Trice said. “We understood before we got here that Temple is one of top programs in the country. Hopefully we can do right by Temple. And then we’ll move on and the next staff will come in and try to maintain the legacy of excellence here.”