Behind Enemy Lines: St. Joe’s assistant Mark Bass

After starting out 0-2 in Big 5 play, Penn (3-13, 0-1 Ivy) will take on St. Joe’s (9-6) at the Palestra on Saturday evening. For this edition of Behind Enemy Lines, I caught up with Hawks’ assistant coach Mark Bass, a St. Joe’s alumnus and former player who competed against Jerome Allen and Penn during his playing days. During our conversation, we talked about coach Phil Martelli’s commitment to Big 5 tradition, the Hawks’ turnaround over the last three seasons and more.

Last year, this game was listed as a home game for Penn at the Palestra, but this year it’s listed as a home game for St. Joe’s, despite also being played at the Palestra. Do you get the sense that your team enjoys coming to the Palestra for these games?

I think coach Martelli — that’s a question for him to answer, because he likes playing at the Palestra. I think any opponent would love to play the game on their home floor … But I think in his point of view, Big 5 game, he thinks it should be played at the Palestra … But personally I would love this game on home field to give us all the advantages we can get.

In last year’s game between Penn and St. Joe’s, Zack Rosen, Tyler Bernardini and Rob Belcore combined for 52 points. How does their absence change your gameplan against Penn?

I think last year’s team with those three guys — they were seniors. They had senior leadership, and we were playing with sophomores and juniors.

And now, there’s this turn that we’re playing with juniors and seniors, and they’re playing with some underclassmen. So hopefully our upperclassmen can do the same things that their seniors did last year. Those three gentlemen dominated the game last year, and we didn’t have an answer for them.

What do you see about Jerome Allen as a player that is reflected in the teams he coaches?

His passion as a player and as a coach just boils over. You can see how much passion he has on the sidelines, and he played with that same passion. And of course it rubs off on his own players, and that’s what Jerome brought as a player and he’s bringing it as a coach — his passion for the game.

Just two seasons ago, St. Joe’s finished the year well below .500 at 11-22. What have been the keys to the program’s improvement since then?

I just think guys getting better — getting better in the offseason, working on their game, working on their body, just getting better.

And that’s basketball because now in a couple years you’re going to be saying the same thing about this young group of guys at Penn. They’re taking their bumps in the road right now …so next year they should be better. And that’s what happened with us. Two years ago, we won 11 games. Last year, we won 20.

So it’s about getting better, not getting down on yourself and getting better as an individual and as a team. I think if you look at our team and you look at the Penn team now, they were along similar lines. That’s what I see with our team, and I think this young core group of guys that Penn has are doing the same thing that we have. They’re going to get better just as we’ve gotten better and hopefully continue to get better.

Do you have any memorable moments from your playing days competing against Jerome Allen and Penn?

I just remember Jerome Allen and Matt Maloney — those two guys were a great backcourt — and just playing against those two and assistant coach Ira Bowman. It was just some good matchups and memorable moments playing in the Palestra against those guys.

I really can’t pick out a specific game or what-have-you. I just know matching up it was going to be a tough night for us guarding those three guys night in and night out.

Behind Enemy Lines: Delaware’s Phil Martelli, Jr.

Delaware assistant coach Phil Martelli, Jr. has been scouting the Quakers since the start of this season and been playing against them since the start of this millenium.

It's time to introduce another new feature to the Buzz: Behind Enemy Lines, in which we talk to opposing coaches and players as well as the writers who cover them. 

On Monday, I was able to talk with Delaware assistant coach Phil Martelli, Jr.  about the Blue Hens' perspective going into their Friday night tilt with Penn at the Bob Carpenter Center. Martelli has been scouting the Quakers all year. And after playing for St. Joseph's from 2000-03 under his father, head coach Phil Martelli, and current Delaware head coach Monté Ross (a Hawks assistant at the time), Martelli, Jr. knows Penn a lot better than most Red and Blue opponents. He talks bragging rights, Penn's poor rebounding and more after the jump:

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Martelli speaks on the state of the Big 5

This year, St. Joe's became the final team (other than Penn) to move its Big 5 home games out of the Palestra. With a declining interest in the city series, combined with speculated tension between two of its schools, how much clout the unofficial conference will carry in the coming years remains unclear. For the present time, though, the Big 5 appears to be safe. Yesterday, I talked to St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli about his thoughts on the importance of the Big 5, its current status and what the future holds for the staple of Philly college hoops:

In general, how important would you say the Big 5 is to Philadelphia and to college basketball as a whole?
I think that the Big 5 is a very special fraternity. It's an honor to be part of it, and I think it's the envy of other college basketball towns and coaches. They’ll always talk to us about, 'How could six Division I schools be in close proximity? How do you split up the public relations? How do you split up the newspapers? How do you split up the fan support?' It’s just really a proud badge that all of us get to wear by being in the Big 5.

How would you characterize the status of the Big 5 today?
I’m a huge proponent of the Palestra — I still believe to this day that every Philadelphia game should played in the best college basketball building in America. I think all the tickets should be 50/50, and if people want to say that’s pie in the sky or that’s not doable, I understand what they’re saying. But I’m just suggesting that the beauty of the Big 5 is half the building for your team, half the building for the other team, and then we create these special memories like what was created Saturday night. Penn and St. Joe’s — both teams kind of scuffling along, and you get that kind of crowd, that kind of enthusiasm. I think it’s very special for the players, I think it’s very special for the students. So I think the Big 5 is healthy. The competition is healthy, there were a number of close games this year. And it’ll never go back to the way it was, but I can be a guy who wishes it would go back.

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Mano-A-Mano: Volume II

ManoAManoWe received some positive feedback on our first installment of Mano-A-Mano, so we're going to give the people what they want: Volume II.

This week, sports editors Brian Kotloff and Kevin Esteves debate whether Penn can defeat St. Joe's Friday night and snap the Red and Blue's 16-game Big 5 losing streak.

Brian Kotloff: All the cards are lined up for Penn to finally end its Big 5 losing streak Saturday night against St. Joe’s, right? Struggling team (by all accounts, the Hawks are a mess right now), home game, Eggleston’s last shot at a city win (he’s 0-15 after Wednesday’s loss to Temple), etc. And the truth is, the Quakers have represented themselves well this year in their first three contests, at least by recent standards. My take? Think again. An 0-5 start to the Atlantic-10 season is terrible, but the A-10 is several notches above the Ivy League. St. Joe’s has still defeated the Big East’s Rutgers and played Penn State, Villanova, Minnesota, GW, Dayton and Rhode Island fairly close. I doubt Penn would be able to do the same.

Kevin Esteves: That's all well and good. However, without really getting into statistics and strength of schedule and all that, I honestly am going to go with my gut on this one and say that Penn will snap the streak. This is a huge game for Eggleston and the seniors, and I predict the Quakers are going to come out with much more intensity than St. Joe's. They just have to. You can see how much this losing streak weighs on Rosen and Eggleston in their post game press conferences, and I think that is going to fuel them. You might ask then, why weren't they able to beat La Salle if the disappointment was present then as well? My response: because now really is the final chance for Eggleston and the seniors (except for Darren Smith and Andreas Schreiber) to win a Big 5 game and perhaps just as importantly, a struggling St. Joe's team is a much more favorable matchup for the Quakers than the Wildcats, Owls, or Explorers were. Continue reading

Big 5 surprise

We all knew that Fran Dunphy and his Temple Owls would be going to the Big Dance after beating St. Joe's in the A-10 championship on Saturday, but the Hawks' fate was uncertain. After yesterday's loss, Phil Martelli said, "I've told everybody, if you believe in a greater power than us, pray your (butt) off. Right now, I have to believe in the power of prayer."

Maybe it has something to do with Easter weekend approaching, but not only were Martelli's prayers answered -- so too were those of Holy War rival Villanova. Both Big 5 squads were very much on the bubble heading into today, and both found their way into the tournament bracket.

While Villanova snagged a 12 seed, St. Joe's wound up with an 11 seed, which is a bit suspect. Why? Because Temple, the A-10 champion, got stuck with a 12 seed. The two teams split the regular season series, but the Owls beat the Hawks in the A-10 championship game, when it counted most. It seems pretty unfair that the Hawks would wind up with the better seed. But hey, it's just one seed, and when has the tournament selection committee ever been perfectly accurate or fair?

And to top it all off, Notre Dame won more games this season than it ever has before, earning a 5 seed. The dozen or so of you non-Jews at Penn clearly need to go to church more often.

In any event, it is the first time since 1999 that three Big 5 teams have made the tournament. Now, in the one year that Penn finally fails to make the tourney, you have your pick of Cornell or three Big 5 teams to root for.

Miller to Ivies: “enjoy it while it lasts”

While Penn coach Glen Miller knows his team isn't the League's best in 2007-08, he certainly isn't backing down.

Well, his mouth isn't, anyway.

After the 74-58 loss at Columbia, Miller had this to say for his opponents reaping the benfits of a weaker Penn squad.

"I would just say to our opponents in the Ivy League: Enjoy it; it won't last long."

For anyone who followed Penn under Fran Dunphy, you're probably as shocked as I am to hear a Penn coach talking in this manner. Dunphy couldn't stop talking about how much respect he had for the other side, calling his adversaries a "very good basketball team" no matter what its record was. Pigs will fly before Dunphy says something like this.

Dunphy is politically-correct, Miller is entertaining, but Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli is the perfect combination of the two.

Martelli praised Penn for its rebounding after the 40-point loss and called Villanova still the premier program in Philadelphia after crushing them in the Holy War. But he could only think of criticism about No. 13 Xavier after the near-upset against the Musketeers.

"Is there anybody here from the Xavier administration?" Martelli said, after dramatically removing his glasses. "Do you know when graduation is? That goddamn [Stanley] Burrell, every goddamn game, makes a shot against us. He was averaging 7.5 points coming into the game, in seven or eight league games. He doesn't look like the same player, playing great defense. Dagger.

"I want to be here to make sure that son of a bitch gets out of here to be honest with you."

Martelli is the man. I've never seen a joke tirade like this before.

Whose House?

You would think that on the heels of the nationally-televised airing of a documentary about a famous building on 33rd street, Penn and its Big 5 rivals would make an effort to reverse a trend that the final minutes of the documentary addressed: the Big 5’s gradually waning commitment to the Palestra. As Penn wraps up Big 5 play tomorrow against Temple, it’s worth taking a look at where the city’s rivalry games are being held.

This season, Penn will have wound up playing only two of its four Big 5 games at the Palestra. Dunphy Bowl II will take place tomorrow at Temple’s licorice factory, or whatever that gym is called. Sure isn’t referred to as “the cathedral.” Dunphy’s alma mater, La Salle, prefers to take on his current squad at Tom Gola Arena. Though St. Joe’s has gladly invited Temple to the Palestra for their second meeting this season, the Owls will host the first one against their A-10 and Big 5 rival at the Liacouras Center (I did a little research… they’ve been calling it that since 2000!).

To their credit, Phil Martelli’s Hawks have shown a real dedication to keeping the Big 5 alive and will call the Palestra home next season. They will also use the Palestra to host this year’s “holy war,” which has drawn an average of 8,689 fans the last three times it’s been played there. However, Villanova insists on hosting the annual rivalry at the Pavilion, which seats only 6,500. And forget about the Wildcats coming to Penn, unless they’re the visitors.

Every year, there are 10 Big 5 games. This year, only half of them will be played in the building that was made for Big 5 basketball. That’s just a shame. Hopefully, by playing its home games at the Palestra next season, St. Joe’s can help to revitalize the building and finally bring the Big 5 back home in the years to come.

St. Joe’s – Drexel notes

In Drexel's third game at the Palestra against a Big 5 team, the Dragons were overwhelmed by St. Joe's, falling 69-51 on New Year's Eve. Basically, Drexel had the best player on the floor, but the Hawks had the next six.

Dragons center Frank Elegar went 6-for-6 for 17 points and eight rebounds, but the Hawks were too much. Six-foot-8 swingman Pat Calathes had 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and Ahmad Nivins, Tasheed Carr and Darrin Govens all scored in double-figures.

Here are a few interesting notes about the game:

Drexel was the home team, and put down their own stickers along the baseline, but for some reason St. Joe's sat on the home bench and got to use the Penn (much nicer, much bigger) locker room.

While both teams brought the band and cheerleaders (and in Drexel's case the dance team as well), I'd say no more than 1,500 of the 5,284 fans in attendance were rooting for the Dragons. Despite being some three blocks away, the Dragons were clearly out-numbered by migrating members of Hawk Hill.

Phil Martelli, still, only plays six players. Idris Hilliard or Rockwell Moody may get 10 minutes on a given night, but Calathes, Nivins, Carr, Govens, Rob Ferguson and Garrett Williamson off the bench got 91.5 percent of the minutes in the win over Drexel. And that's barely above their season average of 87. These teams have got to be two of the more foul-sensitive in the country. Certain players getting in foul trouble can be fatal.

There were five dunks in all (three by St. Joe's, two by Elegar), most of which were thunderous ones. A dunk that won't go down on the scoresheet was one in the first-half for the Hawks when the 6-foot-5 Williamson caught an alley-oop off on the baseline, but it hit the back iron. He jumped from out of the lane, and was about to tomahawk it, but unfortunately for all of the viewers, it didn't fall.

Drexel coach Bruiser Flint didn't disappoint, working the refs all game, drawing a technical foul in the second half and standing on the court for the majority of the game, even when the ball was in his own end.