Even as it was about to happen Monday morning, some very prominent Penn alums had no idea coach Glen Miller was about to be let go. It was not that they thought he would last much beyond the season, but they just did not imagine a coach at Penn being asked to leave during a season.
Athletic director Steve Bilsky made the decision because he was trying to salvage this season and get a jump-start on the future. He was less than pleased he had to do it right before Christmas, but this was the time with a 2-week break and a chance at a clean start. Whether interim coach Jerome Allen is the answer or will be the coach into next season and beyond is a question for later.
So, why didn't it work for Miller?
Bilsky puts some of the blame on himself. He knows now he did not do a good enough job of explaining the culture surrounding Penn basketball.
"If I look back on one thing that I could have done better, that's the one," Bilsky said. "Could I have really force-fed this?''
When Miller was hired, Bilsky met resistance from two distinct groups.
"There were the people that didn't like him that didn't even know him and were not going to like him,'' Bilsky said. "There was the other group that just cared [about Penn basketball]."
Miller was never able to connect with either group.
The veteran players Miller had on his first team did not support him at first. When Fran Dunphy left for Temple, they wanted somebody with Penn ties - former assistant Fran O'Hanlon (Lafayette) or Steve Donahue (Cornell).
Instead, they got an outsider from Brown. But, by the end of that first season, the veteran players, after winning another Ivy League title, respected that Miller had helped their games. Miller also respected how they played.
It was when Miller had less talented players that he ran into trouble in the gym. The respect factor was no longer there. The coach wondered if the players cared enough. And the players wondered about the coach.
The captains, Darren Smith and Zack Rosen, were asked to meet with Bilsky last Thursday. They mostly listened, as the decision already had been made.
For the first time in his head coaching career, Miller was at a school that really cared about basketball, and the coach was also in new territory. He did not do well with the scrutiny.
"At other places, he didn't have any of that,'' Bilsky said. "Nobody cared about what he did. He didn't get people questioning him. He just wasn't ready.''
Miller did not respond to a message left by the Daily News.
The Owls story
Apparently, Fran Dunphy's success at Penn was not an accident. In its Sunday upset of Villanova, Temple's second-half offense was a tribute to the beautiful game Dunphy has been teaching for years.
Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks supplied the offense against the Wildcats. And Lavoy Allen controlled the rest of the game with his defense and rebounding.
Once the shooting caught up to the Owls' defense, a game like that was possible. Villanova just happened to be in the wrong gym at the wrong time.
The Owls are No. 6 in the RPI on merit. They lead the country in scoring defense (54.1 points per game) and are second in fewest turnovers (9.7 per game). They are not deep, but they are smart and do many of the little things that win games.
What the Owls had not been doing was making long shots. Before last week, they were 38-for-145 (26.2 percent) from the arc. In their last two games, they went 22-for-45 (48.9 percent). It really is amazing how smart coaches get when their players make shots.
Favorite play so far
Loved it when Villanova's Taylor King, after shooting 3-for-15, lined up a very deep three as his team was leading Maryland, 85-79, at the Verizon Center with 2 1/2 minutes left and 30 seconds on the shot clock. And fired away. Even if he hadn't swished it, I would have smiled.
It was a shot that would not have been allowed at most schools. But it is one of Jay Wright's great strengths that he gives his players some ownership of the program. And it's very likely that was the best shot Villanova was going to get in that possession, something many coaches fail to grasp in their zeal to control everything.
How good is Syracuse?
This good. They are shooting a nation's-best 55.2 percent while holding teams to 35.7 percent (sixth best). Any difference beyond 10 percent is good, 15 percent really good, 20 percent almost unimaginable.
Syracuse is fourth in scoring (88.3 points) and first in steals (14 per game).
Obviously, the numbers will go down when it gets into Big East play, but this team definitely passes the eye test. It has a chance to be playing in April.
We are down to 11. Seven are from the Big East and Big 12 - Georgetown, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas and Texas Tech. The others are Kentucky, Purdue, Missouri State and New Mexico.
Watch out for NJIT
New Jersey Institute of Technology was 1-30 last season after an 0-29. This season, it is 3-6 with wins over Wagner (was alum Rich Kotite coaching?), St. Joseph's Brooklyn and SUNY Cobleskill. Hey, when you go 1-59, you find teams that might not show up on Kentucky's schedule.
And just wait until it gets into conference play against Great West foes like South Dakota, North Dakota, Chicago State, Utah Valley, Houston Baptist and Texas Pan-American. Think those schools will be able to win in New Jersey?
This and that
** North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Kentucky's John Wall was the best high school point guard he had seen since Jason Kidd. That takes us back a generation.
** Yes, Klay Thompson, averaging 25.1 points for Washington State, is Mychal Thompson's son.
** Texas big man Dexter Pittman was shooting 78.6 percent from the field entering play last night.
** North Carolina plays Texas Saturday at Cowboys Stadium, the site of the 2014 Final Four.
** La Salle is 12th nationally in three-point shooting (42.5 percent).
** Kansas has won 47 straight at Allen Field House. Not sure who is beating the Jayhawks there or anywhere this season.
** The Big East is 9-5 vs. the Top 25.
** Huge Sunday for the Atlantic 10 when Temple beat Villanova, Xavier beat Cincinnati in double overtime and Rhode Island won at Boston College. The league is 86-42 in nonconference games.
** Duke point guard Jon Scheyer has 42 assists and just five turnovers.
** Peformance of the year so far? Rotnei Clarke, of Arkansas, made 13 threes and scored 51 points against Alcorn State.
** What do Corey Allmond, of Sam Houston State, and Nick Winbush, of Miami (Ohio), have in common? They combined to make 19 treys when their teams played and lost at Kentucky.