One of the consequences of playing games during a pandemic, outside of the obvious, is that sometimes teams have to pause activities in order to tend to their sick players and staff. That was the case for Penn State back in early January, which led to four conference games being postponed. The Nittany Lions have already made one of those up, a win against Rutgers that came in the middle of four games in seven days.
This game against Ohio State is the second in that series of postponements. Originally scheduled for January 6, the Nittany Lions will break their string of home games and head over to Columbus to face an Ohio State team coming off its biggest win of the season, a win against Wisconsin, itself on the road.
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions had played several entertaining contests in the past couple of years, and outside of last season, where each team blew the other out at home, all the games have come down to the wire. I wouldn’t be surprised if this iteration of the series followed in that same script.
Scouting the Opposition
Duane Washington and E.J. Liddell are the two biggest factors for Ohio State, outside and inside respectively. In C.J. Walker’s absence, Washington has been carrying the load at point, and did a pretty good job of it until Walker came back from injury. Walker is an assist machine, dishing out 4.1 assists per game (a 23.5 assist rate according to Kenpom), while Washington himself isn’t too far behind with a 19.3 assist rate of his own.
Ohio State is not as proficient from beyond the arc as Penn State’s last opponent was, but they nonetheless have several players who can heat up quickly. Washington himself is shooting a 38.5% clip, but the honor of “best three point shooter on the Buckeyes” goes to Justin Ahrens, who is shooting 50 percent from three on the year, on 67 attempts.
Penn State might get a reprieve in the height department when they face the Buckeyes, but what they lack in exponential height they make up for in commulative height, as everyone in the roster with the exception of Washington and Walker is at least 6-foot-7. That said, no one is taller than 6-foot-8.
What to Watch For
Unlike previous opponents, Ohio State doesn’t have the massive height advantage in the paint teams like Illinois, Michigan, and Purdue enjoyed. While great in their own right, no one is confusing Kyle Young and Seth Towns with Kofi Cockburn and Travion Williams, respectively. Can Penn State make use of this to their advantage?
Walker back was instrumental in the Buckeyes’ upset of Wisconsin on Saturday. Can Penn State still be disruptive now that Ohio State has a proper point guard? If Walker is allowed to dish out assists the way he enjoys doing so, and the Buckeyes get hot from outside, it might spell trouble for the Nittany Lions.
The last time Penn State traveled to Columbus, the Buckeyes had a historic night shooting. I don’t expect a hundred from Ohio State, but I do think they carry the momentum of the Wisconsin win and take this one too. Ohio State 75, Penn State 71.