Penn State vs. Ohio State Preview: Lions Host Resurgent Buckeyes on Senior-less Night

By Chad Markulics on February 28, 2017 at 8:30 am
JaQuan Lyle and Trevor Thompson
Greg Bartram/USA Today
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It feels like the Big Ten basketball season started yesterday.

Ohio State Buckeyes
16-13 (6-10)
8:30 p.m. ET – TUESDAY, FEB. 28
How to Watch: Big Ten Network
BTN2Go | GameTracker
KenPom Ranks: 65th Overall
53rd Offense | 84th Defense
KenPom Line: Penn State -2
(74-72, 56%)

Well, here we are, Penn State's final home game of the season upon us. It's been a trying season for both the Nittany Lions and their guests, the Ohio State Buckeyes, one that both teams will nonetheless be looking to extend. A win for either side will keep their respective NIT hopes alive. The Buckeyes have more of a cushion than the Lions at this point, though it's a cushion that will provide little comfort to an Ohio State fanbase getting antsier by the game in their first season without 10 conference wins under Thad Matta.

Matta's most beleaguered team to date has battled injury, tragedy, and calls for the head coach's job - outrageous ones, to be sure - but nonetheless the Buckeyes have not seen a season this chaotic since the days of Jim O'Brien. Suffice it to say this will be a great chance for Patrick Chambers to earn his first win over Ohio State since 2014.

Projected Starters
Penn State   Ohio State
Tony Carr - 6'3" - Fr. 1 C.J. Jackson - 6'1" - So.
Shep Garner - 6'2" - Jr. 2 Kam Williams - 6'2" - Jr.
Payton Banks - 6'6" - RS Jr. 3 Marc Loving - 6'8" - Sr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'7" - Fr. 4 Jae'Sean Tate - 6'4" - Jr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9" - RS Fr. 5 Trevor Thompson - 7'0" - Jr.

Matta dropped JaQuan Lyle from the starting lineup in favor of C.J. Jackson on February 4 at Michigan, and since that big win Lyle hasn't reappeared in the starting five. He's still the team's third-leading scorer and the top facilitator (4.8 assists per game), but with the JuCo transfer Jackson earning more minutes Lyle has found success off the ball. The backcourt duo combined for 35 points in a 83-73 torching of Wisconsin's defense on Thursday night. 

Scouting Report

Ohio State scorched the nets in that upset over the Badgers, posting 1.34 points per possession and converting on 10 of 16 three-point attempts. The Buckeyes are not bereft of three-point shooters - Lyle, Marc Loving, Kam Williams and Micah Potter all shoot better than 35 percent from deep, and even Jackson has shown extended range of late, posting a 4-4 night against Wisconsin.

Trevor Thompson has provided the heavy lifting down low this season, quieting many of his critics who panned the Virginia Tech transfer for testing the NBA waters last summer. He's responded with 10 double-doubles and counting in his junior year. Were it not for foul issues (eight DQs, 6.0 fouls committed per 40 minutes), Thompson would be viewed as a surefire all-conference player.

With all those offensive weapons, it's clear that defense has been holding Ohio State back from its full potential. They're 13th in overall defensive efficiency in Big Ten play, and it seems to be an issue of a lack of defensive disruption. The Buckeyes are only forcing turnovers on 16 percent of opponent possessions, and only 44 percent of those possessions are live-ball turnovers. For reference, Penn State is forcing a turnover on 20.1 percent of defensive trips, and 47 percent of the time that turnover is of the live-ball variety. 

Keys to the Game

It's hard to make heads or tails of this Ohio State team - some games they've been unlucky, some games they've been lucky, some games they've been bad, some games they've been good. Consistency does not apply to these Buckeyes, so for a key to the game we'll take a page from Chambers' book of clichés and focus on Penn State instead of the opponent. The Nittany Lions have performed well at home for four of their six true home games thus far, with the exceptions being Northwestern and, obviously, Rutgers. The formula for success has generally required strong rebounding and good games from the big three freshmen, Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins. Three-point shooting, turnovers, and good games from upperclassmen have been secondary factors.

Rebounding has not been Ohio State's strong suit, and aside from Thompson there's no Buckeye that has been a plus rebounder over the course of the season, not counting the injured Keita Bates-Diop. If Penn State get Thompson into foul trouble here, they should be able to control the boards with ease. Control the boards, control the game.


Tonight's game should be something of a weird atmosphere in the BJC. With no senior players to be honored before the game, this already feels less like an end to a season and more like a midway point in a longer journey to get this program to the promised land. The freshmen are in charge now, and we're at the point where they don't play like freshmen anymore.

Ohio State has little more than pride to play for, but pride can be a powerful motivator. Just ask Wisconsin, who was still fighting for a seed and respect from the selection committee but still got their butts handed to them by the Buckeyes. KenPom is predicting a tight one, and I'm inclined to agree. Though I am a little less optimistic, and see the Tony Carr vs. JaQuan Lyle battle going in favor of the visitor after a long stretch of great games from Penn State's 6'4" lead guard. Three-point bombs will be abound for the Buckeyes, who I like in this one by a count of Ohio State 75, Penn State 71.

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