Wednesday night Penn State kicked off their Big Ten Tournament run with a 60-51 victory over Minnesota. With a the victory of the season rubber match between the two squads the Nittany Lions improved to 13-16 on the season.
Next up for the Nittany Lions in Indianapolis is a matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes swept the Nittany Lions in the regular season by winning 76-64 in State College and later on in Columbus by a score of 61-56. The latter contest was a game in which the Nittany Lions, despite being without Seth Lundy, played stifling defense and easily could have walked away victorious.
Penn State will need a win on Thursday to keep their season alive. Throughout the season I said that Penn State looked like a team that could get a win in the Big Ten Tournament in a game that they had no business winning on paper. Can they secure that victory on Thursday night? As a wise man once said, time will tell.
Scouting the Opposition
Ohio State enters this game averaging 74 PPG. Going up against a Nittany Lion squad that is allowing just 64.2 PPG. This creates a matchup that is strength vs strength on Thursday night.
E.J. Liddell leads the way for the Buckeyes. As we will delve into more later, Liddell can be a one man wrecking crew for the Buckeyes. Liddell scored 19 points and hauled in 8 rebounds in the first meeting between the two teams this season.
Former Nittany Lion guard Jamari Wheeler leads the Buckeyes in assists (3.0) and steals (1.3) per game. Guard Malaki Barnham can also be a scorer for the Buckeyes, averaging 13.2 PPG in the regular season.
The Buckeyes rely heavily on the three-point ball. Ohio State shot 37.3% from three-point range during the regular season. This put the Buckeyes 34th nationally and 2nd in the Big Ten.
What to Watch For
Penn State Stamina - The Nittany Lions played on Wednesday night while Ohio State has not played since Sunday. If the game is close in the second half this could prove to be a factor. Micah Shrewsberry finding a way to keep his players fresh down the stretch if the game is close will be key.
Containing E.J. Liddell - E.J. Liddell is one of the best players not just in the Big Ten but in the entire country. His 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game all led the Buckeyes in the regular season and he is undoubtedly the straw and stirs the drink for Chris Holtmann’s squad. If the Nittany Lions are going to pull the upset they will have to contain Liddell and prevent him from taking over the game.
Stopping the Three - As we covered above the Buckeyes are one of the best teams in both the country and the Big Ten from behind the arc. It will be vital for the Nittany Lion defense to contain this facet of the Buckeye offense on Thursday night. If they fail to do so, it’s hard to envision a path to victory for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions upsetting Ohio State would not be a shocker. Penn State has played teams hard all season, suffered 7 of their losses by a total of 34 points and have been a difficult out. However, the Buckeyes are the more talented team and move on. Ohio State 70, Penn State 61