The last time they met, one coach lost track of what half his team was in, attending fans shouted for ticket refunds and skeptics reasoned the conference was setting basketball back a few years.
But when Penn State and No. 23 Illinois take the floor at 9 tonight, spectators seated in the Bryce Jordan Center and watching on ESPN will be anticipating what is, by all accounts, the biggest game in the building's 14-year history.
Senior captain Jamelle Cornley admitted as much this week.
"I've said all year, when I'm on that court I'm not gonna take any prisoners, and as my grandfather would say, 'I'm not taking any wooden nickels,' " the power forward said. "So I'm going out to leave everything out there and to try to lead my team to a victory and I don't expect anything less."
At stake is the last chance in the regular season for Penn State to bolster its resume with the NCAA selection committee, as a win over the Fighting Illini would give the Nittany Lions (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten) their fourth victory over a ranked opponent this season. It could also help separate them from the middle of a packed Big Ten race, where teams three through nine are separated by just a pair of games in the loss column.
Beating the Illini would also give the Lions much needed momentum heading into their regular season finale at Iowa, which tips-off less than 40 hours after the end of tonight's game.
By winning their final two games, the Lions would be guaranteed a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament Thursday and be in position to make their first NCAA tournament since 2001.
They will likely be doing it in front of another large crowd for the nationally televised contest, as the BJC's first-ever "White House" will be in effect, along with dollar hot dogs and a buy-one, get-one-free student ticket deal.
Students with season-tickets will be able to admit one friend each without charge.
But the Lions will try to put aside all distractions and focus on Illinois, a team Penn State has seen its games with become more heated over Cornley's tenure.
Since his freshman season three years ago, the Lions have won at Illinois three straight times, most recently in an ugly 38-33 grinder Feb. 18 that saw neither team shoot better than 30 percent from the field.
The Illini (23-7, 11-6), meanwhile, ended Penn State's season last year, knocking the Lions out of the Big Ten tournament in the first round with a Chester Frazier reverse layup in the game's closing seconds.
"This is like a little rivalry building in the last two years against those guys," Penn State sophomore Talor Battle said.
Illinois, coming off a 74-66 home loss to Big Ten regular season champion Michigan State Sunday, will be playing its final regular-season game.
Illini coach Bruce Weber said earlier in the week that his team's recent loss to the Lions should serve as a motivating factor for tonight's contest.
"Oooh, that's good," Cornley said. "I wouldn't expect them and wouldn't want them to come out anything less than bitter, and I think that if we were in the same boat they were, we would feel the same exact way."
Senior Stanley Pringle will feel similar emotions to Cornley as the two take the BJC court for what may be the last times of their careers.
But the speedy guard said it will be the Lions' biggest game only because it's their next one, although Pringle couldn't ignore the postseason implications that would come with beating a ranked team twice in a season.
"Yeah, it does. It goes through my mind," the Virginia Beach native said of tonight's potential atmosphere. "But I'm really focused on just playing good and staying the course and executing and just pretty much playing to give us a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. That's what I want right there."
Jeff Brooks has a more direct approach to facing Illinois again.
"Really, my thoughts personally is just that we've already beat this team before, so let's just go beat them again," the sophomore forward said. "It's something that we can do and it's something that we're capable of doing once we get on our home floor, so really just go out there and take care of business."