A little over a week ago, Penn State’s NCAA Tournament hopes were all but gone. Now, the Nittany Lions, with their hopes back on life support, are looking for another win to keep the hopes alive. Two games below .500 in conference play, and four away from the elusive 20-win mark, Penn State, on the backs of Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy, have put themselves in position to be on the right side of the bubble by this time next week if they can just keep winning.
Standing in their way is another road game against what should be a struggling opponent. Unlike Minnesota, however, Ohio State has the talent to be able to compete with the Lions, who themselves struggle mightily on the road. The Buckeyes have lost 12 of the past 13 games, but have been competitive in most of them. Their lone win in that span came against Iowa, who, like Penn State, can sometimes get lost on defense. If the Lions want to keep the dream alive, they need to get more out of the defensive end of the court.
Scouting the Opposition
Bad news for Ohio State is good news for Penn State, as Zed Key re-aggravated his shoulder injury against Purdue, and will sit out the rest of the season as he prepares to have surgery. For a team that struggles with opposing big men, having one fewer big man to worry about should be a big boost. Best wishes to Key in his recovery!
It’s not all roses and butterflies, however, as Brice Sensabaugh, Justice Sueing, Bruce Thornton, and Sean McNeil will still be on the floor for the Buckeyes. The Lions can ill afford having Sensabaugh going off from three, as others have done before, and a guy who’s shooting 43.5 percent from beyond the arc while drawing 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes can spell disaster for a team that struggles with both of those at times.
On the other hand, Felix Okpara, a freshman with freshman struggles just like Kebba Njie, is taking most of the minutes at the 5, when the Buckeyes aren’t pulling a page from Penn State’s book and running small ball instead. In other words, if the Lions can shore up the defensive end of the floor while making a decent number of shots themselves, they should be in business.
What to Watch For
Talent vs Experience - Ohio State will likely start four true freshmen, all of which were four-stars of higher out of high school. Penn State will likely start four seniors, all of which have scored at least 1,000 points in their careers. Can Penn State’s extensive experience overcome Ohio State’s talent?
Small ball all around - With Zed Key out, the Buckeyes might run more small ball, as Okpara has only averaged about 13 minutes per game up to this point. It would be unreasonable to expect him to suddenly give Ohio State 20+ minutes for the remaining four games. Can Penn State, for maybe the first time in Big Ten play, use this to their advantage inside?
A world of guarantees - With a win, Penn State would guarantee themselves a winning season in Micah Shrewsberry’s second year as head coach. Only Jerry Dunn* and Dick Harter have avoided losing seasons in their first two years dating back to 1978.
The Penn State Pessimist™ in me sees all the warning signs of a let down, but you also can’t deny this team is playing in desperation mode at the moment. It won’t be the prettiest game they’ve played, but Penn State guts out a win. Penn State 68, Ohio State 66.