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Penn State at Ohio State Preview: Can Buckeyes Break Nittany Lions' Spell?

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wink wink nudge nudge

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Ohio State Buckeyes (18-6, 7-4)
When: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 14
Vegas Line: OSU -11.5
Enemy Blog: Land-Grant Holy Land

After more than a decade of abject failure at the hands of the Buckeyes, Penn State finally had success against Ohio State in 2014, and how. D.J. Newbill had his national coming-out party in a win at Columbus, hitting a series of big shots which culminated in a game-winner over Aaron Craft. The reverse fixture in State College clinched a season sweep for the Nittany Lions, made just a little sweeter due to the fact that it was Tim Frazier's senior night.

Unfortunately for Penn State, the core of that team is largely gone. No more Craft for Newbill to abuse, no more Lenzelle Smith Jr to be embarrassed after a loss, and no more Amadeo Delle Valle and his hair to make fun of. A talented group of underclassmen has stepped into those roles (minus the hair), and with Ohio State is playing some great basketball as of late, it'll be a difficult ask of Penn State to win their third straight in this series.

Scouting The Opposition

As you may have heard, D'Angelo Russell is ridiculous. The projected top-2 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft is fresh off a triple-double at Rutgers, and it's just the latest in a long stretch of games in which he's looked like the Conference, if not the National, Player of the Year. Russell is a 6'5" combo guard with an eye for the killer pass, incredible court vision (32.8% assist rate, tops in the conference), and a sweet lefty stroke (58.2% eFG) to boot. If Geno Thorpe can somehow stop him, he'll be the first B1G defender to do so.

If the Buckeyes are at all vulnerable at home, it's because Russell's current supporting cast is a little green behind the ears. With Marc Loving suspended, freshman Jae'Sean Tate has assumed second option duties on offense. While not nearly the three-point shooter Loving has been, Tate has excelled as an inside finisher in his expanded role, despite his 6'4" frame. Penn State's defense has been steadily improving as the season's gone on, and if Jordan Dickerson can offer a repeat of his performance from last season's visit to Columbus (five blocked shots in 22 minutes), Tate could find his opportunities limited.

What To Watch For

Ohio State's adjusted offensive efficiency is 20th in the nation, which is a little surprising considering how little they get to the free throw line as a team. Their free throw rate is an astonishingly low 31.6% (the D-I average is 37.4%), meaning they shoot and make a lot of jump shots and generally take uncontested shots. I mentioned before that Penn State's defense has been pretty good in conference play. Just how good? Well, the Nittany Lions are one of four teams in the B1G giving up less than 1.00 points per possession during the conference season. They'll have a lot on their hands against Russell & co., but any chance at an upset will start on the defensive end for PSU.

Prediction

The Nittany Lions have yet to win on the road in conference play, but they've been very close a few times and the core of this team has already won in Value City Arena. That said, I'm not sure how Penn State contains Russell. If he's on his game, OSU is incredibly tough to defend, and they're no slouches on defense themselves. Ohio State 67, Penn State 61.