The last time these teams met was in last year's Big Ten championship game. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
|Who:||#3 Ohio State Buckeyes (17-3, 5-2)|
|When:||Tonight, 6:30 PM|
|Where:||Value City Arena|
|TV:||Big Ten Network|
|Radio:||Affiliates, Sirius - CH 92, XM - CH 191|
Coming into the year, Ohio State was the overwhelming favorite to run away with the conference. It hasn't happened yet in the W-L column. The Buckeyes are currently 5-2 in the Big Ten, which is right behind Michigan's league-leading 6-2 mark. They lost two tough, hard-fought games on the road to Indiana and Illinois (thanks to Brandon Paul's absurd 43 point performance).
However, their statistical profile is incredibly balanced and miles ahead of the rest of the league. Their three conference wins at VCA were by an average score of 79 to 52. They also beat a great Duke team by 22 in the same building. Their conference-only efficiency numbers are astounding (they give up just 0.84 pts/poss on defense!). They look every bit the part of a national championship contender like they were pegged before the season.
Penn State has usually had at least one advantage against conference foes - rebounding - but Ohio State even has an edge there as the Big Ten's best rebounding club. They are talented, experienced, athletic, and they even have some depth if Thad Matta chooses. Matta has always had a short bench, but this year he's giving 30.5% of the available minutes to his bench. That's still below the D-1 average (Penn State gives 33.6%), but that's a significant increase from OSU's 18% and 17.5% marks last season (PSU also only had 17.4% bench minutes last season).
The Buckeyes have four of the Big Ten's best players in Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, William Buford, and DeShaun Thomas. Sullinger is a future top-5 pick inside, Craft is considered one of the best PGs in the country, Buford is a 4-year starter chasing OSU's all-time scoring record, and Thomas has blossomed into one of the most efficient scorers in the country. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., a sophomore wing, rounds out their starting lineup. Being the 5th option of the floor, Smith is able to take advantage by making 48% of his 3PA. He recently went off for 28 points on 10-12 shooting against Indiana. And if they weren't talented enough, their bench consists of a top-5, five man recruiting class.
This game is even more hopeless than the Kentucky affair was. This is a conference game on the road against an experienced club. Kentucky was adjusting to the college game back in mid-November at a neutral site. KenPom, which has OSU at #1, gives Penn State a 1% chance of winning with a 76-50 projected loss.
Tim Frazier is up against his toughest matchup of the season. Aaron Craft's on-ball defense is second to none in this conference, possibly the country. Throw in the fact that the rest of the Buckeyes will be looking to help if Frazier gets in the lane, and he could face the strongest resistance yet. Frazier already had an 0-fer against Lafayette. I don't believe that'll ever happen again, but a 3-15 performance is staring him in the face. It's a shame that he has to carry all of PSU's weight against a team this good.
Injury Notes: Trey Lewis has a stress fracture in his back. I have no idea on his return, but probably not for a few weeks. Also, Billy Oliver's exercise-induced headaches have seemed to return after a bad knock in the Minnesota game. Oliver, who has already sustained two concussions in his PSU career, missed the 2009-2010 season because of this lingering condition. We will hear more about his status in the future, but it's undeniable that this could be a career-ending situation. There's a chance he made the trip tonight and it's not serious, but there's no saying for sure with his past.