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The Penn State Game.

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Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall record: 11-17
Big Ten record: 2-13
RPI: 181
Sagarin: 153
Series record: IU leads 25-3 (23-3 since PSU joined the Big Ten in 1992-93)

Last year, Penn State improved to a near-.500 record and went 6-10 in the Big Ten with a young team. While many expected the Nittany Lions to move into the middle of the pack in this year's Big Ten standings, that did not happen. Instead, the Nittany Lions regressed, and lost 13 consecutive Big Ten games before upsetting Iowa earlier this week. While Penn State likely will tie for 10th in the league with Northwestern instead of having the cellar to itself, this season must have been a bitter pill for Penn State. Anyone who watched any part of the Iowa-Penn State game on ESPNU saw the unbelievably meager crowd on hand for Senior Night. Penn State has had short periods of success, but has had no sustained success since joining the Big Ten. After the false hope provided by last season's improvement, this season must feel like a kick in the fruitstand for the hardy few who follow Penn State's basketball program. As a supporter of the IU football program, I can identify.

On the Hoosier side, this game represents an important milestone, at least for me. I enrolled at IU in 1992-93, near the front end of IU's school record 50 game homecourt winning streak. The streak began in 1990-91 and ended in a loss to Michigan in 1994-95, near the end of my junior year. Accordingly, I consider any loss at Assembly Hall to be an abomination, a disgrace, and inexcusable failure. The Indianapolis Star has a graph today (not available on line as best as I can tell) that shows my standards may be a bit high in that regard. If IU beats Penn State today, this will be the eighth undefeated home season in the 36 year history of Assembly Hall. The others? The 1973 team, Bob Knight's first Big Ten champion and a Final Four participant. The 1975 team, which did not lose a single game until the regional final against Kentucky. The 1976 team, college basketball's last undefeated NCAA champion. The 1987 team, Indiana's last NCAA champion. The 1992 team, which advanced to the Final Four. The 1993 team, which finished the season ranked #1 in the nation but lost in the regional final to Kansas. The 1994 team, Knight's last IU team to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. With the exception of the 1994 team, the list of teams that went undefeated in the Hall is remarkably similar to a list of the best teams that have played at Assembly Hall, period. The 1981 NCAA champion is the only obvious omission. So, my belief that IU should win every game we play at home is probably unreasonable. And it's worth noting that this year's team, barring what would be the biggest upset in the Big Ten this season, will become the most limited team to have successfully defended the Hall for an entire season. This wasn't the toughest home schedule we have ever played, but we did manage to knock off second-ranked Wisconsin, so it isn't as if we didn't have at least one really challenging home game. IU now has a 16-game homecourt winning streak. So, congrats to the team and the new coaching staff for renewing our homecourt advantage. Also, today's Star notes that if IU wins today, it will be IU's first 20-win regular season since 1999-2000.

It is Senior Night, of course, and that means Roderick Wilmont, Errek Suhr, and Earl Calloway will be making their final appearances at Assembly Hall. None of the three will go down in the record books as all-time greats, but all have contributed in their own ways.

Rod Wilmont has been the most productive of the bunch. He has always been a hot and cold shooter, but finally, as a senior, was more hot than cold and became a reliable scoring threat. He has still had bad games, but finally emerged as a top player. Wilmont shot an astoundingly awful .296 from the field/.258 from three as a freshman. He shot .391/.410 as a sophomore, .424/.325 as a junior, and this year is shooting .442/.410. Rod has become a more efficient scorer every season.

Errek Suhr has contributed sporadically in each of his four seasons. He grew up in Bloomington as a Hoosier fan and and had the honor of wearing the uniform as an invited walk-on. He is now on scholarship, but certainly knew that he might do nothing but ride the pine for four years. Instead, he managed to become an important part of the team.

Earl Calloway came on strong at the end of last season and played very well in the NCAA Tournament. He had 13 points, 10 assists, and 9 boards in the loss to Gonzaga. Earl continued that into last year and has been IU's undisputed floor leader. His absence in recent games certainly hurt the Hoosiers, and perhaps cost us a signature road win at Michigan State.

Absent a really improbable tournament run, this class is going to leave IU without having won a championship of any kind and without appearing in the Final Four. Hopefully, in a few years these guys can look back and realize that the were a part of the beginning of a special era in IU basketball history. Thanks for your contribution, men.