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.

Martelli speaks on the state of the Big 5

lancasteronline.com

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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Penn men’s basketball vs. St. Joe’s – Liveblog brought to you by the Blarney Stone

Follow along as the Quakers close out their Big 5 schedule against St. Joe's at the Palestra:

Big 5 contest approaches sellout

For those who are planning on attending the Quakers' final Big 5 matchup of the season against St. Joe's, it may be a good idea to purchase tickets today, as Saturday's 7 p.m. game against the Hawks is nearly soldout. Online purchasing is now available only to students, who may reserve tickets for pickup at will call. With only a limited number of seats remaining, all others must call the ticket office. The following was sent via email by Penn Athletics:

In an effort to lure in more students, Penn Athletics has already planned a "white out" for Saturday, as the first 400 students to arrive will receive a free Penn t-shirt. In today's newspaper, columnist Ethan Alter writes that he remembers only one corner-packing game during his time on campus — when LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony visited the arena for the Battle of I-95 in September.

Random Ivy notes for 8/28

1) Cornell officially released it's M. Hoops schedule, and the Big Red certainly do have their work cut out for them. They play at least four "BCS" schools: at Alabama  in the season opener, versus Seton Hall in the home opener, then at two of the most well-known stadiums in the country in Syracuse's Carrier Dome and Kansas' Allen Field House (the potential fifth team is St. John's in the Holiday Festival). They also play three City Six teams beside Penn: at Drexel, versus Saint Joseph's and at La Salle. However, their schedule isn't all tough games, as they play Division III schools Clarkson University and Penn State Erie, Behrend College (yes that's one school) as well as Bryant University and University of South Dakota, both of which joined D-I last year.

Over at Cornell Basketball Blog, some Big Red fans are scared the team will start 0-4 (@ Bama, @ UMass, vs Seton Hall @ 'Cuse) while others believe "we are good enough to win all four of those games."

This now makes Penn one of just three Ivy schools not to have released their schedule yet ( Harvard, Yale, Brown and Princeton previously released theirs). I guess Glen Miller's still trying to find the one more team.

2) Over on SB Nation they've listed the top five metropolitan areas that care more about their college hoops teams than their NBA franchise. And unsurprisingly Philadelphia is ranked, coming in second to Tobacco Road/Research Triangle/North Carolina Piedmont area. Yet I don't know how fair it is to rank them since the "local" NBA team, the Charlotte Bobcats, play over two hours away. Actually of the top five (NC, Philly, Cincinnati, Louisville and Washington-Baltimore) only two areas have local NBA teams.

Regardless, the site calls the Big 5 "the most unique tradition in college basketball" (the editor in me cringes at "most unique"). And sorry St. Joe's fans, but the Holy War "is sort of an inferior vs. superior match-up. St. Joseph's is a smaller school who would love to shake the mid-major label, while 'Nova is in the Big East...and frankly a notch higher on the academic hierarchy." (Via VU Hoops, which I'm sure loves that last part.)

3) Lastly, turns out the Quaker mascot is one of the creepiest in Division I. Though to be fair, he was tortured.

Random Ivy notes for 6/26

1) After renovating Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, St. Joe's will move back into the facility -- to be renamed the Michael J. Hagan '85 Arena -- after playing its home games at the Palestra last season. Right next to the expanded arena will be a new 20,000 square-foot basketball facility, named after legendary coach Jack Ramsay.The dedication ceremony of the facility is today.

Dr. Jack -- he received a Ph.D in education from Penn in 1963 -- coached high school, college and pro basketball, including an 11-year stint with the Hawks. He also led the Trailblazers to their only NBA championship in 1977. In 1992 he became enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and now does color commentary for ESPN Radio.

Take a look at an exclusive interview Ramsay gave me back in March 2008.

2) Following up on Noah's NBA draft post, Philly Hoops Insider has a breakdown of Philadelphia area prospects that were drafted last night. A quick rundown: three players who played high school ball in the area were drafted in the first round (Tyreke Evans, Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington) while two Big 5 players were drafted in the second round (Dante Cunningham and Amhad Nivins).

3) The U.S. women's lacrosse team will play in the finals of the FIL World Cup tomorrow, as it dispatched England, 20-3, yesterday. Although no Penn players past or present are on the team, there is a solid Ivy League contingent.

St. Joe’s aftermath and a look ahead

There is so much to say about last night's game against St. Joe's, and it just doesn't feel right to hold off on everything until Monday's edition of the DP. So here's a brief, informal overview of some of my thoughts from the game, and what I will be writing about in my columns this week.

Sorry to all of you that couldn't make it out to the Palestra last night. You missed what might wind up being Penn's best and most exciting game of the season, not to mention a fantastic, classic Big 5 showdown. Sure, the Quakers couldn't pull off the upset, but they did give the most inspired 40 minutes we've seen from them all season. Now, heading into conference play with three consecutive halves of quality, high-energy basketball against Big 5 teams -- to go along with a few nice wins (albeit against weaker opponents) -- Penn seems to be hitting full stride. That's very encouraging.

In many ways, I strongly believe that last night's game was a watershed for the Quakers. I hate to read into one game too much, especially a Big 5 game at the Palestra. No matter what the circumstances leading up to game time are, in the Big 5 we all know that anything can happen. Against Villanova this year, however, not even the ghosts of the Palestra could give the Quakers a fighting chance. But, last night we witnessed the most compelling evidence to date that this team is maturing rapidly and moving in the right direction.

Since I cannot cover everything in one column, I'll be writing two this week in the paper and posting and responding to your comments on The Buzz, which I am always happy to do.

Tomorrow, I will focus on Penn's intensity from yesterday's game as a sign of its increased confidence and maturity. And from my unique vantage point on press row yesterday -- because it was a St. Joe's home game we sat directly behind Penn's bench and were practically in the huddle -- I will give you some anecodtal evidence of why I now am more confident than ever in Glen Miller's ability to lead this team.

On Wednesday, I will discuss last night's game in terms of its importance not only to the revival of Penn's role in the Big 5, but also to the potential for a revival of Penn's regular fan base, as well.

In the meantime, I look forward to your comments and ideas.

Saint Joseph’s-Oklahoma preview

Tipoff is at 7:10 tonight. Here's your dose of previews:

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.

FINAL: Temple 69, St. Joe’s 64

ATLANTIC CITY -- It's over, the Owls are dancing! The Temple fans streak onto the court and the players go berserk. Christmas rips his shirt off and runs to the sideline, and the bench streaks toward center court. I couldn't see who, but someone has grabbed Clark and is carrying him off the court. Olmos is flipping out as well. Christmas now is hugging a relative while holding back tears and shouting the whole time.

It was a great game, even though the very end wasn't down to the wire. Carr turned it on in the second half, and Nivins had a great game, but the collective effort of the Owls was too much, all the way in the second half.

FINAL: Temple 69, St. Joe's 64

Box score 

Owls fans are getting ready to rush the court... They start the chant "The Hawk is dead" and Hawks fans claim again it "will never die."

0:06.1 2nd Half: Temple 68, St. Joe's 61

The Temple fans are sensing it happening. Carr cuts it to four with a drive, but Brooks hits two on the line.

Tyndale finally hits from the line and it is just about done.

0:20.3 2nd Half: Temple 64, St. Joe's 59

Calathes spins toward the hoop, and can't seem to go anywhere. He gets the ball back and misses a three.

Tyndale misses free throws, and Carr misses another three for the Hawks.

0:48.8 2nd Half: Temple 63, St. Joe's 59

Calathes drains a jumper over Tyndale, just after Tyndale missed two free throws.

Wow, Christmas strips Calathes going to the hoop, and Clark goes to the line for two.

2:27 2nd Half: Temple 63, St. Joe's 57

Nivins makes both free throws off of the offensive board, but Tyndale drives the lane and finds Brooks on the outside for a triple.

Finally. Calathes hits a three as Tyndale floated to far in help defense, and Carr capitalizes off of a Tyndale miss hard in the lane.

Clark drives, though, and finds Brooks for an easy two. Carr manhandles Brooks once again, though.

But Tyndale takes it into his own hands, again, stepping through for the and-1 to takes a six-point lead. Tyndale then goes back to beating Calathes, this time dishing to Christmas inside.

8:12 2nd Half: Temple 53, St. Joe's 46

The Hawks fans chant "airball" as Brooks misses from three, and the Owls fans come back with "scoreboard!" I really don't think "scoreboard" is a valid chant when you're up six.
Brooks follows that up with an an-1 from 13 feet out, pumping his fist after. There have been a lot of fouls called, maybe a few too many.

9:41 2nd Half: Temple 49, St. Joe's 44

Calathes is sitcking to Clark, even on screens. Martelli really wants to keep the little man off his game, but it's not working - Allen hits again.

Christmas is money on a three on the pass from Clark, and the Hawks are in big trouble. Calathes hits a three of his own, though, and it's back to a 6-pt game.

Then, Allen's pass to Clark in the corner gets blocked, and the Hawks get the ball back to Nivins inside, and he makes two from the line.

The crowd for both teams is getting louder as the lead is four....

11:52 2nd Half: Temple 43, St. Joe's 37

Olmos and Nivins can't convert, and Christmas misses over two guys.

Allen scores inside, but Carr gets three of those points back with an and-1 layup. Calathes is guarding Clark, though it might just be for a possession. Nope, he's really guarding him.

As a result, Temple works the high-low, and Olmos scores and and-1. Tyndale clenches his fists. This has truly been a fantastic run for Temple, and an equally-amazing collapse for the Hawks. They have scored five points in eight minutes, and were on a five-minutes scoring drought.

It's a great atmosphere here, both fan groups have been loud, though it's been Temple producing the noise as of late.

14:53 2nd Half: Temple 39, St. Joe's 34

Allen dunks around Ferguson in a play that was a lot easier than it should have been. And after a nice skip pass from Tyndale, Christmas hits a well-contested three over Carr.

Nivins scores a nasty tip-in, but Christmas penetrates the lane effortlessly for a layup.

Clark has missed two threes from the corner, but both have been rebounded offensively. Olmos now gets fouled on that possession, and the Owls all of a sudden have a chance to take the lead.

And Clark does just that. And more.

He has the gravitas to attempt yet another corner three, and Clark drains it to take Temple's first lead of the game. Then Clark plucks Calathes' pocket and hangs in the air to avoid Carr's defense to take a five-point lead.

Stats: With Calathes playing only 13 minutes and taking four shots, Govens and Nivins are taking control of the game, scoring nine and 12 points, respectively. Like Govens, Christmas is 4-for-8, but the guard has netted 12 points. Allen has played well inside again for Temple, getting those two blocks as well as four rebounds.

St. Joe's has made almost twice as many shots as the Owls (13-of-30 to Temple's 7-of-25). The teams are equal in rebounding, but Temple has committed eight turnovers compared to only four assists.

Halftime: Temple 25, St. Joe's 32

Man, Clark just hit a huge three. He's so fast he was essentially guarded by no one after a jab step, and hits the trey.

Martelli deftly calls a timeout with 5.4 seconds remaining in the half. Unlike the second half, the clock keeps running, and it takes three ticks to inbound the ball, so the Hawks save a possession, but Ferguson misses a three.

0:30.4 1st Half: Temple 22, St. Joe's 32

Olmos finally slows Nivins down, forcing im to shoot a bad hook, but the next possession Nivins once again scores at will.

Brooks gets the ball over Nivins on the perimeter, but doesn't realize the shot clock is running down until it's too late.

Calathes is called for travel, or carry or something. I didn't see anything. Brooks airballs another shot, and Olmos barely gets a layup off before getting fouled.

Clark was just guarding Calathes, funniest thing ever, 14-inch difference. Well, not funny for the Owls. Calathes gets doubled because of it, and Ferguson is wide open for a three which he of course hits. He just might get one of my five votes for all-tourney team.

3:36 1st Half: Temple 21, St. Joe's 27

Nivins hits an elbow jumper, and Govens scores yet again on a drive. The Hawks always seem to have someone in double

Christmas makes it look easy, hitting another three over Williamson.

Thanks to a screen, Calathes gets by Tyndale and slaps the backboard for a layup, but Christmas is doing his best Darnell Harris impression, nailing a 25 footer. Williamson's long arms can do nothing about that.

7:46 1st Half: Temple 15, St. Joe's 21

My, how the tides have changed.

Christmas simply takes the ball from Arvydas Lidzius at midcourt, and scores. The Owls' 3/4 press doesn't work, but Lidzius misses from point-blank range.

Then Dionte pulls up from NBA range and sinks it in Williamson's eye, and as the lanky guard falls on him, it's a four-point play.

Calathes is back in the game, surprisingly, and misses a three. Govens helps out with another jumper.

Coming off playing the entire game yesterday, Allen throws Idris Hilliard's shot away, and then has another spectacular block on Nivins, but he's whistled for a foul on the rebound, and the Owls fans go ballistic.

11:49 1st Half: Temple 5, St. Joe's 15

Calathes picks up his second foul already, and is out of the game in favor of Garrett Williamson. That's about the only thing that's gone wrong for the Hawks.

Christmas misses two threes on one possession, Tyndale misses, gets his own rebound and then misses again. Even Chris Clark bricks a three. On the other end, Govens and company are draining everything.

15:46 1st Half: Temple 5, St. Joe's 8

The crowd is now almost full, the most packed I've ever seen this building, and definitely the loudest. The chants were tame before the game, but the Temple fans booed Phil Martelli when he walked out. That's just unnecessary.

Govens connects from the elbow, and as Martelli yells something to ref Joe DeMayo, and immediately Guzman is whistled for a carry. Olmos can't convert and neither can Allen on a jumper, but Calathes misses a three and Ferguson picks up a bad foul on a rebound.

Allen somehow forgets about Nivins, and he scores on a layup inside. Tyndale gets the ball, maybe for the first time of the game, and gets fouled by Calathes on a three. He hits all of the freebies.

Nivins just beasts Olmos inside, nastily dunking on him from the reverse angle. The teams trade layup, and then Carr drives into the lane and somehow finds Nivins on the other side of the paint, and he's fouled.

______

We've eliminated 10 teams, but the Big 5 rules the Atlantic 10 championship game. After demolishing Fordham and Richmond, the Hawks knocked off top-seeded Xavier to enter the title game, facing Temple for the third time this year. With an RPI of 42, the Hawks may get into the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens tonight. Temple has won six straight games and is undefeated in March. The Owls knocked off La Salle in the first round, and fairly easily took out Charlotte last night to reach the final.

The last time these two teams met it was a fantastic game, and even that didn't quite live up to what happened in the first meeting. With 3.9 seconds left, Calathes sank a three to put the Hawks up by one, but Mark Tyndale came storming down the court and got off a layup at the buzzer, but at the top of its arc, Nivins swatted it away, and the Hawks won. The second time around, the Hawks led by double-figures most of the game until Tyndale scored the game's final basket with 20 seconds left and the Owls won the rematch.

___

There is a half-hour until tipoff, and this game already has the feel of a Big 5 game. There aren't a huge number of fans present, but the student sections have already begun chanting at each other.

Starters:

St. Joe's:
G Darrin Govens
G Tasheed Carr
F Pat Calathes
F Rob Ferguson
C Ahmad Nivins

Temple:
G Luis Guzman
G Dionte Christmas
G Mark Tyndale
F Lavoy Allen
C Sergio Olmos