Big Ten Tournament Preview: No. 7 Penn St vs No. 2 Ohio St

By Eric Gibson on March 2, 2018 at 11:09 am
Tony Carr

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

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OSU
No. 13 Ohio St Buckeyes
24-7 (15-3 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
6:30 p.m. EST - Friday, March 2, 2018
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY
TV Info: BTN | Live Stream
KenPom Rank: 15
Vegas Line: Ohio St -4.5

Survive and advance is the adopted motto for all of college basketball in March. That mantra couldn't be more apt about Penn State's performance yesterday against Northwestern. The Nittany Lions played less-than-stellar basketball against the Wildcats' pesky zone before a barrage of late three-pointers allowed them to pull away late. If those shots don't fall, it's worrisome to consider what the narrative would be this morning.

However, Tony Carr, Shep Garner, and Josh Reaves refused to let their season end on a whimpering note. Those heroic shots did fall, setting up another unique opportunity tonight against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the quarterfinals. With Mike Watkins sidelined for the entire Big Ten tournament, the odds of Penn State defeating Ohio State three times are slim. But there's nothing PSU fans love more these days than beating the Buckeyes, especially after that football game back in October. The Lions could draw a supportive crowd from their New York base tonight at Madison Square Garden.

The last time these two teams met was Penn State's high-water mark of this season. In a court-storming blowout just two weeks ago, the Lions solidified themselves as an NCAA contender before faltering down the stretch after Watkins' knee injury. Ohio State lost at Michigan following their trip to State College, but they have bounced back with back-to-back wins over Rutgers and Indiana. With the Big Ten's Coach of the Year and Player of the Year, surely the Buckeyes will be hungry for revenge against the one Big Ten team that has given them problems this year.  

Projected Starters
Penn State   Ohio State
No. 10 - Tony Carr - 6'5 - So. PG No. 3 - C.J. Jackson - 6'1 - Jr.
No. 33 - Shep Garner - 6'2 - Sr. SG No. 15 - Kam Williams - 6'2 - Sr.
No. 23 - Josh Reaves - 6'4 - Jr. SF No. 33 - Keita Bates-Diop - 6'7 - RS Jr.
No. 11 - Lamar Stevens - 6'8 - So. PF No. 1 - Jae'Sean Tate - 6'4 - Sr.
No. 21 - John Harrar - 6'9 - Fr. C No. 34 - Kaleb Wesson - 6'9 - Fr.

Pat Chambers surprisingly went with John Harrar to fill Watkins' vacated spot in the starting lineup yesterday. Who knows if he'll stick with that lineup again tonight, but Julian Moore and Harrar will be depended on to battle with Kaleb Wesson, a selection to the Big Ten's All-Freshman team. The Buckeyes' 270-pound center even gave Watkins all he could handle in the post, but he's rarely been able to play more than 25 minutes. Senior shooting guard Kam Williams is also back in the starting lineup. He came off the bench in State College in his first game back from a suspension. 

Scouting Report

If you've been following along this season, you know all about these Buckeyes. Chris Holtmann orchestrated an incredible turnaround in his first year behind impressive veterans in Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate. KBD will be off to the NBA after this season and is a versatile two-way player. While you know he can score efficiently at all three levels, he can also swat shots (1.7 blocks per game) yet rarely fouls (2.1 fouls committed per 40 minutes). Tate is a fierce competitor that always battles hard despite his undersized frame, similar to former Nittany Lion great, Jamelle Cornley. Tate's averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in his senior season and has been a Lion killer before (I'm sorry).

C.J. Jackson hit a huge game-winner in overtime against Indiana last week in Assembly Hall. The junior has been a pleasant surprise at point guard for Holtmann's club and can be a dangerous shot-maker if he gets hot. Meanwhile, Kam Williams can also still effectively snipe from beyond the arc, as he's shooting 44 percent on the year. 

OSU Four Factors eFG % OReb % TO % FT Rate
Offense (29) 54.5% (43) 30.3% (126) 17.4% (101) 32.0 (215)
Defense (16) 48.4% (52) 24.4% (29) 18.1% (214) 28.8 (64)

Keys to the game

If Penn State is going to pull this off, it obviously starts with Tony Carr. The Big Ten's leading scorer has been an absolute nightmare for the Buckeyes. His best two games of the season came against Ohio State, as Carr has scored a combined 58 points on 29 shots. Holtmann will have to get creative with his defense to slow down the Lions' point guard. C.J. Jackson and Andrew Dakich have simply been no match for him, while freshman Musa Jallow also struggled containing Carr in Happy Valley. 

Plenty of other matchups will go a long way in deciding the outcome. The most important for Penn State will be another fierce battle between KBD and Josh Reaves. The Nits' best defender shut down Bates-Diop in the Bryce Jordan Center, limiting him to just 10 points on 12 shots. Reaves will have to be just as effective in slowing down OSU's leading scorer, especially if Kaleb Wesson proves to be a dominant inside presence against PSU's backup bigs. The Lions could be in deep trouble if KBD and Wesson get going early in the first half, because that will force Pat Chambers to adjust his defense. Theoretically, PSU could have to provide more help against those guys which would then leave them vulnerable to the Buckeyes' long-range bombers. 

Other critical matchups include Shep Garner (career 50 percent three-point shooter in the Garden) against Kam Williams and Lamar Stevens versus Jae'Sean Tate. PSU will likely need double-digit outputs from their four regular starters to stay in this one, unless Carr goes completely bonkers again. That means Stevens must bounce back quickly from a rough outing yesterday, as he only scored eight points on 2-12 shooting. 

Prediction

A lot has to go right for Penn State to pull off this Buckeye trifecta. Ohio State has had a full week off since their last game, while the Lions' starters logged heavy minutes last night in a physical rockfight with Northwestern. Stevens took a nasty elbow to the jaw that surely is still hurting this morning. Wesson's low-post scoring ability could be a huge problem that would crumble PSU's defense.

Therefore, I gotta stay with my head over my heart, but it sure would be fun to see some more Philly Swagger in MSG. Carr was especially boisterous late in the game yesterday after his big shots buried the Wildcats. Isn't that what March is all about? The "Why Not Us?" fever will be back in Happy Valley if PSU can pull this off, but I still gotta say: Ohio State 77 Penn State 69

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