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Penn State vs Ohio State Preview: Nittany Lions Try to Match Last Season’s Conference Wins

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With a win against the Buckeyes, Penn State would match last season’s conference record, establishing a floor for the program.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Iowa Hawkeyes Sunday, March 5, 1:00 PM EST Carver-Hawkeye Arena BTN 70 17-13, 9-8 Big Ten TBD

Buckeye fans must be really disappointed at how this season has turned out for Ohio State. The Buckeyes, who won 11 Big Ten games last season and made the NIT, returned just about everyone this season and, for all intents and purposes, should have been where Minnesota is right now in the conference race. Instead, they’re 6-10 in the Big Ten right now, needing to win their last two games just to avoid playing on Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament, let alone making the NIT. The departures of key recruits last season and the injury to Keita Bates-Diop were going to hurt, but they weren’t supposed to derail their season to this point.

Speaking of Wednesday, Penn State is another team with a 6-10 record and a two-win requirement in order to avoid Wednesday in the Big Ten tournament and to keep NIT hopes alive. This game will go a long way in deciding which team accomplishes that goal. This game will actually go a long way in deciding the fates of four other teams as well, given that there’s a four-way tie at 6-10 in the Big Ten, and, depending on who wins tonight, the two teams sitting at 7-9 and 8-8 in the Big Ten might need to win out as well.

Not since the 2013-14 season has the end of conference play had so much impact on so many teams. That season, the last-place Purdue Boilermakers had five conference wins, the most of any last-place team in recent memory. This year is shaping up to be almost the same, except Rutgers exists. Due to tie breaking scenarios, a win tonight takes Penn State from the short-end of a four-way tie to 10th in the Big Ten, and a loss by Illinois against Michigan State gives the Lions the ninth spot in the conference.

Every team outside of the top four in the Big Ten is facing absolute must-win situations right now, and nowhere is it more impactful than the handful of teams log jammed at the bottom of the conference.

Scouting the Opposition

You could read last season’s scouting report on Ohio State’s team and it would remain largely unchanged this season. Kam Williams, Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate, and Trevor Thompson are carrying the load for the Buckeyes, with C.J. Jackson and JaQuan Lyle splitting time at the point. Their shooting as a team is still largely the same, but individual performances have taken a hit. Williams is only going 37.3% from three this season, which is not bad on its own, but when you compare it to the ungodly 49% he was shooting at the time Penn State played them last season, this seems much more manageable.

The injury to Bates-Diop has left the Buckeyes in dire straits in terms of height, as they face the same problems the Nittany Lions do. They only have one player taller than 6’8” in Thompson, with Loving and Micah Potter being the other bigs.

What to Watch For

Ohio State still likes to push the tempo, so expect this game to reach the 80s easily. The question is whether we’ll see the fast-paced Buckeyes who buried Wisconsin in 10 minutes of playing time, or the Buckeyes that got buried by Iowa in the same amount of time? If the former, Penn State could find themselves in a massive hole early if they don’t play smart defense.

The Lions’ plan should be to establish Watkins and Moore inside early, and force Thompson and/or Loving to sit with fouls early in the game. Ohio State hasn’t played too well without them this season. The secondary effect, of course, is that this takes all the height away from the Buckeyes, which would make the lives of Lamar Stevens, Watkins, and Moore, a lot easier inside.

Prediction

Ohio State looked really well against Wisconsin, but prior to that they’d lost their past three, two in convincing fashion. It’s hard to say whether the Wisconsin game was an anomaly or the Buckeye crew finally realizing their potential, so I’m going with the more established pattern of mediocrity.
Penn State 82, Ohio State 79.