Penn’s task in the NCAA basketball tournament will be to make history. The Quakers (24-8) earned a No. 16 seed and will face No. 1 seeded Kansas (27-7) in the Midwest Regional on Thursday at 2 p.m. in Wichita, Kan.
Since 1985, when the NCAA first included a No. 16 seed, the bottom team has never defeated a No. 1 seed.
“We are playing with house money and we are just excited to play,” said Penn point guard Darnell Foreman, who scored all 19 points in the first half Sunday in a 68-65 Ivy League championship win over Harvard at the Palestra. “As always with a basketball game, we will try to find a way to win and let the chips fall where they fall.”
The Penn players felt they would get a little higher seed. While watching the selection show from Houston Hall on campus, every time a No. 14 or No. 15 seed was mentioned, the players and their fans would anticipate Penn having its name called.
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) March 12, 2018
Penn feels it has a chance against the Jayhawks, who have won 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles.
“This is what 21-year-olds think, that they can be the first,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “I am not going to step on their dream.”
This is the 29th straight year that Kansas will be in the tournament. Under coach Bill Self, Kansas won the 2008 NCAA title.
Entering the tournament, the Jayhawks have won eight of nine after beating West Virginia, 81-70, on Saturday in the Big 12 title game.
Devonte’ Graham, a 6-foot-2 senior point guard, was named the Big 12 player of the year for the second straight season. Graham is averaging 17.3 points and 7.4 assists.
“Devonte’ Graham is a really terrific player,” Donahue said. “I saw him play in high school many times.”
Malik Newman, a 6-3 sophomore guard, was named the Big 12 newcomer of the year. Newman began his career at Mississippi State and sat out last year while transferring to Kansas. He was named the most outstanding player of the Big 12 tournament after averaging 24 points in three games. For the season, Newman is averaging 13.9 points while shooting 40.2 percent from three-point range.
Udoka Azubike, a 7-foot sophomore, was sidelined from the Big 12 tournament with a sprained left knee. He is averaging 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots.
Kansas’ other big scorer is Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a 6-8 senior from Ukraine who averages 15.1 points.
The Quakers seem to relish the challenge of facing one of college’s true heavyweights.
“We have nothing to lose,” said 6-1 junior Antonio Woods, the Quakers’ defensive stopper. “That is why March Madness is so much fun: You never know what will happen and can’t count any team out.”
Penn’s rallying cry all week will be something like this: “Why not us?”
That is certainly how 6-8 sophomore AJ Brodeur, the most outstanding player in the Ivy League tournament, feels.
“It’s never been done before,” said Brodeur about the 16th seed playing the role of David against Goliath. “What better time than now to give it a go?”