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Interviews With Roundball Rivals: Ohio State Rematch Edition

Our Ohio State counterpart answers questions about Thursday’s matchup between Penn State and Ohio State.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State and Ohio State will have their much-anticipated rematch tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center, merely a few weeks Tony Carr banked in a 35-footer as the buzzer sounded to hand the Buckeyes their lone loss of the Big Ten slate, thus far. For this special occasion, we’ve brought in Matt Tamanini of SB Nation’s Ohio State blog, Land Grant Holy Land to answer some nagging questions of ours.

1. “Ohio State will contend for a Big Ten Championship in the 2017-18 season.” - said absolutely no one. How did Chris Holtmann and this roster he inherited defy all logic and have the Buckeyes atop the conference at this juncture?

This is going to sound cheesy, but I honestly don’t know. There just isn’t enough talent on this Ohio State team to justify them being back in the AP Top-10. However, through some fantastic game-planning and mid-game adjustments by first-year head coach Chris Holtmann, and some stellar leadership by Bates-Diop, Tate, and Andrew Dakich (I can’t believe I’m saying that about Andrew Dakich), when clicking on all cylinders, the team somehow becomes much more than the sum of its parts. And, together, the team plays incredibly unselfishly, and are at their best when the ball is moving, and Keita Bates-Diop and Jea’Sean Tate aren’t falling in love iso plays, and C.J. Jackson and Kam Williams aren’t throwing up threes early in the shot clock.

The bench is still fairly thin and inexperienced, but Holtmann is cautiously addressing that every game. Due to some foul-trouble and a brilliant adjustment against Purdue last week, players like Andre Wesson (Kaleb’s less-heralded older brother) and Musa Jallow— who just turned 18 a week and a half ago— got some very valuable playing time that could benefit the Buckeyes come tournament time. Andre has been starting in place of suspended guard Kam Williams, and has made the most of the opportunity. He’s still not what you would consider a contributor on a top-10 team to be, but somehow, he has been productive.

This is indicative of how Ohio State has come to be 22-5 and at the top of the Big Ten; none of it makes any sense to anyone outside of that locker room, but it seems to work on the court.

2. We all know Keita Bates-Diop is a scoring machine and Jae’Sean Tate is a monster on the glass, but who are some other names on the OSU roster Penn State fans should become familiar with?

One thing that’s been weird about this team is that while KBD has been consistent throughout— even though he’s had rough first halves as of late— who the next guy is has varied by game. One guy to keep an eye on is Kaleb Wesson. He’s a true freshman, and if he can stay on the floor has more offensive weapons down low than one would expect. He’s still not in ideal shape to play in the Big Ten (despite losing 50 pounds since getting to campus), but he’s got some moves that a guy his size shouldn’t.

[Wesson’s] problem is that he is still very foul prone. He hasn’t yet earned the benefit of the doubt from Big Ten refs that a player of his size often gets. While Buckeye fans can argue that he is often called for ticky-tack fouls that you don’t normally see called on the block in a conference that prides itself on physical play down low, he needs to work on his discipline and game-awareness to maximize his time on the court. If he’s under 20 minutes in game time, that’s generally a problem for OSU. Although, the Purdue game did prove that they could win without him in the second half.

3. What differences (if any), will be apparent from the last time these two teams took the floor? Should we expect another high-scoring battle?

I think the biggest difference is the emergence of the bench. In the first meeting, Ohio State got a whopping five points from their bench. In the four games since, they’ve averaged close to 15. Now, that’s certainly not a major amount, but for a team that has been without a starter during that period, and that came into the season assuming that there would be no production from the bench at all. That’s a huge support to the veterans like KBD, Tate, and Jackson that usually carry the load.

4. Fill in the blank: Penn State will do the improbable and sweep the Buckeyes if ______

They can disrupt their flow on offense. The Buckeyes have struggled at times with pressure defense in the back court and with different zone looks. If Penn State can force OSU to settle for jumpers, rather than moving the ball around to create driving lanes and down-low opportunities, it could be another disappointing night for the Buckeyes.

5. Last but not least, give us your #hottake on how this rematch plays out.

I think Chris Holtmann and his team will be ready for the game. They’re back in the AP Top-10 for the first time in over four years, and effectively have a two-game lead in the Big Ten standings. I was worried about a trap-game against Iowa over the weekend, but they made quick work of the Hawkeyes, so I have every confidence that OSU will be focused on avenging their only loss of the conference slate. I do think it will be a hard fought game, and probably won’t be decided until late in the second half, but I’ll say OSU- 85, PSU- 77.

Big thanks to Matt once again for being such a good sport, we hope your team has the dubious distinction of going 16-2 in regular season conference play with both losses to Penn State.