Things have gone off the rails for Pat Chambers and the team after a stellar start to the season, and it’s been the resurgence of extended scoring droughts in the past three games that have led to defeat. It’s been a frustrating skid, but there is no shortage of redemption games in conference play this year with 12 teams in the Top-50 of the NET rankings. In comes Ohio State, ranked #21 in the AP Poll and #17 in the NET.
A few weeks ago this looked like a marquee match-up, and a chance to win a game on the national stage. Losing streaks for both teams decreased the spotlight some, but it’s no less important to the two teams on the court currently tied for 11th place in the conference standings. It’s not a must-win game, but the victor will have the easier climb back to the top half of the conference.
Scouting the Opposition
The Buckeyes are one win removed from a 4-game losing that sent them tumbling down the Big Ten standings. During that stretch they averaged 56.25 points per game. A home date against Nebraska on Tuesday solved their offensive woes for at least one night, as Ohio State was able to win 80-68 with all five starters and six total players scoring in double figures.
The balanced scoring is somewhat more impressive given two players who have started in multiple games for the Buckeyes, Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. were suspended for Tuesday’s game. Their status for Saturday’s tilt has not yet been released, but will be a key factor. The two guards combined for 28 points, shooting 8-11 from 3-pt range in the first match-up against the Nittany Lions.
A certainty in this game is that Kaleb Wesson will play a major role. He’s taken a step forward at both ends of the court in his junior year, boosting his 3-pt shooting to 42.9% and increasing average number of rebounds and blocks per game. He dominated Penn State last time out, and seemed to single-handedly get the entire front court into foul trouble in the first half. Strong outings from Mike Watkins and John Harrar will be needed.
CJ Walker leads the Buckeyes in assists, and his play at point guard has helped Ohio State keep their turnover numbers down all season. In Columbus, Penn State only forced 9 turnovers off 5 steals - Walker had zero. He’s not the most prolific 3-pt shooter on the team, but at 36% he’ll keep the defense spread out.
Freshman guard DJ Carton is third on the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game, he’s a strong shooter from deep (39%) that can also drive the lane and draw contact. Carton is second on the team in FTA behind Kaleb Wesson. He’s more turnover prone than Walker, but also more dynamic on offense.
Andre Wesson has been an efficient role player for the Buckeyes in his senior season, shooting 45% from 3-pt range (noticing a trend?). He provides a little bit of everything, and is likely going to match-up against Penn State’s star, Lamar Stevens.
What To Watch For
Starting Lineup - Will Pat Chambers continue to roll with Seth Lundy and John Harrar in the starting five? Both players contributed to a hot start for the Nittany Lions on Wednesday, and it might be wise to let Harrar wear down Kaleb Wesson a bit before turning to Watkins.
Foul Trouble - Lamar Stevens especially has been plagued by foul trouble of late. He needs to find a way to play a full game uninhibited by the number of fouls called against him, which is easier said than done, but a key to prolonged success for Penn State this season.
At full-strength I think Ohio State wins. But if they’re without two of their guards the Buckeyes will struggle to match the Nittany Lions depth and speed for 40 minutes on the road.