Ron Cook: Penn State basketball is abysmal, but does anyone care?
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The Penn State men's basketball team has lost 11 in a row, is 1-11 in the Big Ten Conference in coach Ed DeChellis' fourth season and has a game at No. 2 Ohio State tomorrow night.
Other than that, the program is doing just fine.
Really, did you know Penn State was so awful?
Do you care?
Fan apathy should be high on the long list of concerns the Penn State administrators have about their basketball program. Penn State football fans are as passionate as just about any in America and routinely turn out 110,000 strong for games at Beaver Stadium. Not so with the school's basketball fans, few that there are. Penn State basketball long has been irrelevant in Happy Valley, just as Duquesne basketball has been here.
It's safe to say ESPN 1250 isn't thrilled about having the local radio broadcast rights to the Penn State games. If a station wants Penn State football, it has to take on the burden of carrying the basketball. The ESPN people think so little of Penn State basketball that, earlier this season, they cut away from the games late to go to their staff-produced Penguins postgame show. Word is at least five Penn State fans complained, although there was no official confirmation that all five were relatives of DeChellis, a native of Monaca, Beaver County. Penn State's brass rightfully screamed breach of contract, but it was hard to tell if they were more angry or humiliated.
It wasn't supposed to be like this when Penn State moved to the Big Ten in 1992 and opened the beautiful Bryce Jordan Center in January 1996. I remember talking to Joe Paterno the day Penn State played its first game in the new building. "I love what's happening with our basketball program," he said. "We'll be good forever now unless we get sloppy."
I'd like to say Paterno was old and out of touch back then, but that would be hypocritical. I agreed with him at the time. I remember writing: "Pitt fans aren't going to like this. They don't need another reason to be jealous. ... It's fascinating to think about the heights Penn State basketball can climb. ... It almost seems unfair that Penn State has the Jordan Center and JoePa. One school shouldn't be so lucky."
Hey, I'm not proud of it.
That was before Pitt opened the spectacular Petersen Events Center.
That was before Pitt went 79-8 in the new building.
That was before Pitt became a Big East Conference power and a Top 10 team.
Neither the Big Ten nor the Jordan Center has given Penn State a similar boost. It hasn't been able to overcome what long has held it back. A weak basketball tradition. A rural campus that makes it difficult to attract top inner-city recruits. A reputation -- fair or unfair -- of not being the friendliest campus for African-Americans. A lack of a natural recruiting base ...
It's a crying shame Penn State isn't in the Big East. It would make the Big East twice as good of a football league and its basketball program would benefit immeasurably, by accident if for no other reason. Most of the players Penn State recruits in the Northeast didn't grow up dreaming of playing at a Big Ten school or against Big Ten opponents. They want to play at Connecticut or Syracuse or against Georgetown and Pitt. They want to play in Madison Square Garden.
Penn State's record in Big Ten play since joining the league is an abysmal 73-173. A full 100 games under .500. That's almost Pirates-like.
Penn State has had just one winning season in the conference in 15 years. It has finished or will finish in seventh place or lower in 13 of those 15 years, counting this one. It has been bounced in the first round of the conference tournament six times in nine years.
Certainly, DeChellis hasn't been the answer to this point. This season has been a huge step back for Penn State after it went 6-10 in the Big Ten last year, went to the National Invitation Tournament and finished 15-15. The Nittany Lions haven't won since beating Northwestern Jan. 3. Bill Cowher still was coaching the Steelers then. The Jordan Center has been no help. Penn State lost a home game to Stony Brook. It even lost an exhibition game at home to Shippensburg.
That's right, Shippensburg.
That really is awful.
So is this:
In the DeChellis era, Penn State is 6-4 against Big Ten co-joke Northwestern, 6-48 against the other conference opponents.
Other than that, though, DeChellis is doing a nice job.
First Published February 20, 2007 12:00 am