PSU's miniscule hopes of advancing to the postseason now hinge entirely on winning the league tournament. That means capturing four games in four days.
This is an opportunity to redeem yourself and have a chance to win some more games and play yourself into the NCAA Tournament, said coach Ed DeChellis, whose team opens against No. 6 seed Minnesota at about 7:30 p.m. (BTN). Like I told [the players] in a meeting, all your dreams of playing in the NCAA Tournament, you can do it in four days. At least you've got a chance.
Penn State has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2001, three seasons before DeChellis arrived. And history tells us that it is not going to happen this year, either.
In fact, simply winning a single game would be a significant break from tradition, considering where PSU is seeded and its own history in the tournament.
Yes, we realize conference coaches and analysts have tabbed the Lions as the proverbial opponent nobody wants to face after they won three of their last six and went down swinging in all three losses (to Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue, which finished in a three-way tie for first in the conference).
And we realize there is evidence that a No. 11 seed can at least advance to the tournament title game. Illinois did it in 1999, the second year of the tournament, before falling to the Spartans in the final.
But everything else points to Penn State making an early exit. These are some facts supporting that stance from the first 12 years of the Big Ten Tournament:
While Illinois went 3-1 as a No. 11 seed in the 1999 tournament, no other No. 11 seed has ever won a game. The 11s are a combined 1-11 in first-round games. That's a winning percentage of 8.33, or a losing percentage of 91.6.
Conversely, No. 6 seeds have been outstanding in the tournament, not only dominating the No. 11s (11-1) but also excelling beyond the first day. They have an overall winning percentage of 65.5, which trails only the No. 2s (72.7) and No. 1s (69.2). Iowa won the 2001 tournament as a No. 6 seed and remains the only team seeded lower than No. 4 to do so. The Hawkeyes are also the only team to have won the tournament after NOT receiving an opening-round bye.
Penn State has been the 11th seed five times (2002, '03, '04, '05, '07). The Lions lost all five games, the first two (to Minnesota and Indiana) by an average margin of 26 points, the last three (to Northwestern, Ohio State and Illinois) by an average margin of 4.7 points.
The Lions are 4-8 in first-round games. But Penn State is only 1-6 as the lower seed in opening-round action.
The odds of PSU winning at least one game would have been much better had it finished 10th in the standings. No. 10 seeds have a 7-5 record in opening-round games. Interestingly, that means the No. 7 seeds are 5-7 in first-round action.
Penn State is 6-12 all-time at the tournament. Only Michigan (5-10) and Northwestern (4-12) have won fewer games. But the Wolverines had four wins and one loss eliminated from their record when they were forced to vacate games from the 1998 and '99 tournaments due to NCAA violations.
The Lions are 2-4 in Big Ten Tournament Games at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and are 0-4 as a lower seed in the arena.
PSU is 1-6 in tournament games that tip after 7 p.m. The Lions are 5-6 in tournament games that tip before 7 p.m.
Penn State and Northwestern are the only teams that have never had a first-round bye at Big Tens (earned by finishing fifth or higher in the regular-season standings. The Lions have been the No. 11 seed five times, the most in the conference. The Wildcats are second with three No. 11 seeds.
Of course, a glass-half-full view of the situation would suggest a No. 11 seed is due to make some noise at the Big Ten Tournament.
The glass-half-empty side would counter that tournament history is not all that is working against the Lions in this instance. In its last 11 games against Minnesota, Penn State has won only once. And the Gophers swept the regular-season series this year.