Welcome back to our countdown of the best Big Ten programs of the past decade. Prior articles in this series can be found here:
As a reminder, we’ll be looking at eight categories for each program. The first four are the only ones that had any bearing on the ranking
- Big Ten regular-season winning percentage
- Number of teams finishing ahead in the Big Ten standings
- Big Ten regular season titles
- Big Ten Tournament titles
- Team of the Decade
- Player of the Decade
- Regular Season Win of the Decade
- Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
The unlucky thirteenth-best program is the Penn State Nittany Lions. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Big Ten Winning Percentage
Penn State clocked in at .313, which isn’t particularly close to 12th place or 14th place. Nittany Lion fans might argue that their program has been better than Nebraska or Northwestern, and there’s a case to be made for that, but those programs didn’t lose over 2⁄3 of their conference games this decade.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Penn State
Over 10 seasons, Penn State ended up looking up at 89 teams. At one point or another, they finished ahead of 10 other Big Ten programs, and in 2011, they tied with the two Michigan schools. The only school that finished ahead of Penn State every single year was Ohio State. Though in 2018, they did beat the Buckeyes three times in one season.
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
Big Ten Tournament Titles
Team of the Decade
KenPom says that the best Penn State team was the 2018 NIT champions, led by Tony Carr, but my pick is the last Nittany Lions team that made the NCAA Tournament. 2011 was both Talor Battle and Ed Dechillis’ last season in State College, and while it wasn’t without its lows (i.e. a double-digit home loss to Maine), that group of players, which also featured a sophomore Tim Frazier, won games against Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in consecutive days to make the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament. The final score of that Wisconsin game? 36-33. Ed Dechellis was a pretty mediocre coach, but he won more games in the 30s than any other coach. (Yep, I didn’t forget this one, Illinois fans.)
Player of the Decade
Penn State’s player of the decade comes down to either the leader of the 2011 NCAA team or the 2018 NIT Champions. Tony Carr and Talor Battle are the only two Nittany Lions to make First-Team All-Big Ten this past decade. While I think Carr could probably take Battle one-on-one, when you look at the stats, there’s really no comparison. In 2018, Carr played the second-most minutes of anybody in the Big Ten. But in 2011, Talor Battle played the second-most minutes of anybody in the country. There were more games where he played 40 minutes than those he didn’t. Penn State leaned as heavily on him as any team as ever leaned on one player, and he was able to get them to the big dance, where Penn State hasn’t been since.
Regular Season Win of the Decade
January 25, 2018.
Of the three wins Penn State got against the Buckeyes in 2018, the first meeting in Columbus was by far the sweetest. Penn State led much of the second half, but Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop hit a three with fives seconds to tie the game. Ohio State fans were losing their minds. Penn State had two timeouts left, but instead of calling one of them, they simply in-bounded the ball to Tony Carr.
By the way, at this point in the game, not only was the overall score tied, but Carr and Bates-Diop were tied individually—with 25 points apiece.
Carr would finish the night with 28.
Penn State 82, Ohio State 79.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
February 25, 2018.
The first meeting between Penn State and Nebraska had taken place a month and a half earlier in State College. That game had gone to overtime, and Penn State had eked out a victory. They followed it up three days later with another home overtime game, but this time the result was a loss—to Minnesota. That Minnesota loss was a black mark on what ended up as one of the most bubblicious resumes of all time. Pat Chambers looked like he might finally have the team to break through to the NCAA Tournament.
The final game of the year was at Nebraska. Tim Miles’ squad was bubblicious in their own right—rolling into this contest with 12 Big Ten wins but a very weak schedule. Both teams needed this game badly.
Nebraska, however, was the only team that played like they wanted to win. Five minutes in, it was 8-7, and then the Huskers rattled off a 17-3 run that not only demoralized the Nittany Lions, but which arguably took away Pat Chambers’ best shot at an NCAA Tournament. The 2018 season saw Penn State lose some heartbreakers against Wisconsin and Purdue, but as a fan you can tell yourself that playing close games against good teams is a sign your program is headed in the right direction.
Getting blown out by a mediocre Nebraska team when a trip to the Big Dance is on the line? That’s a bitterer pill to swallow.
Nebraska 76, Penn State 64.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
Remember, Moses never made it to the promised land. On the other hand, Ed Dechellis did.