Column: A journey to the Palestra for the inaugural Ivy League tournament

Staff Writer Matt Kren's view of the Palestra in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as Princeton defeated Yale in the inaugural Ivy League tournament championship on Sunday, March 12 2017. (Matt Kren/The Daily Campus

The Princeton Tigers were able to keep the magic from a 14-0 Ivy League regular season rolling this past weekend as they defeated Penn and then Yale on Sunday to win the first-ever Ivy League Conference Tournament. With a 71-59 win over the Bulldogs, the Tigers will return to the NCAA tournament for the 25th time overall and their first time since 2011, as they will bring their NCAA-second best 19 game winning streak with them.

Growing up in New Jersey, I have not always been an UConn Huskies fan, as my dad going to Princeton University for college made me a de-facto Tiger. From going to games at Jadwin Gymnasium or learning about Princeton’s historic tournament run with Sen. Bill Bradley, I have grown fond of the Tigers and was ecstatic by the chance to watch them winning the inaugural Ivy League Tournament.

Until this season, the Ivy League stuck to their guns, as they were the only conference to not hold a postseason tournament, as the eight team league stuck to what it has known since the league was formed in 1956. The Tigers who were perfect in league play during the regular season had to win two games in two days in order to keep on dancing, as they were able to validate the tournament and show that it was the right decision.

The tournament was held at the illustrious Palestra, which is also known as the “Cathedral of College Basketball.”To be honest, at looking at the outside of the building, I could not tell there was a basketball arena inside, as it looked more like a library then a sports facility. Inside, it looked to be the size of a high school gymnasium as it had been around since 1927 and has a max capacity of only 8,725 people.

The Palestra, like the Ivy League, is a blend between the old guard and the new guard, as it the time of inception it was one of the world’s largest arenas and it has hosted more games, more visiting teams and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball, but now is half the size of the XL Center and a few thousand smaller then Gampel Pavilion. From a tradition stand point, this place is the stuff of legends as it was the original home of the Philadelphia big five schools and some of the best collegiate and high school players have played there, and it fits with the Ivy League sticking to its roots.

With the Ivy League trying to modernize and trying to showcase its players and teams to the rest of the country, the tournament is a great move as the championship game was on ESPN2, with both semifinals appearing on ESPNU. Both semifinals games were thrilling as on Saturday; the Tigers were able to down the No. 4 seed Penn in an electrifying overtime victory, while the No. 3 seed Yale Bulldogs beat the No. 2 Harvard Crimson by a score of 73-71.

Having the ability to go to the Palestra with my dad was a once in a lifetime experience, as I was able to see the first ever tournament, go to one of the most famous basketball arenas in the United States and of course see the Tigers down the Bulldogs. I have had the chance to see a basketball game in Madison Square Garden, a baseball game in Yankee Stadium and a soccer game at Camp Nou in Barcelona, but something about the Palestra just felt different.

Sitting close to the Princeton band, the students sections and former alumni, it was amazing to see the look on their faces and their jubilant similes as the clock ticked down to zero, as the only thing that went wrong was a premature confetti blast with 0.9 seconds to go. Watching the student’s rush the floor, seeing the pure look of ecstasy on head coach Mitch Henderson’s face and in the player’s faces was a pure delight to see. The similar emotions and feelings were shared by me when UConn won the double-championship my freshman year, but something is different when it is a smaller school, as UConn expects to win basketball, schools like Princeton in the Ivy do not.

March for basketball fans is the best time of the year, as in a down season for the UConn men’s team, watching Princeton win invigorated me for the madness to come, as nothing is better than hearing thousands of people scream, “Let’s go dancing, let’s go dancing.”

Going forwards for the Tigers, they will be playing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup. In their last time in the NCAA tournament, the Tigers lost to Kentucky 59-57 in the opening round of the tournament, as they will be hoping to rekindle their 1996 magic when they upended defending national champion UCLA.


Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at matthew.kren@uconn.edu.