After two down-to-the-wire Big Ten wins in a row for the Buckeyes, the team will face their next challenger in the form of the Penn State Nittany Lions. While previous years would suggest that a game against Penn State would be a reprieve for the Buckeyes, the performance of the Lions thus far in 2011 points in the opposite direction. With back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Illinois, Penn State will attempt to make it a trifecta of quality wins on Saturday.
|School:||Pennsylvania State University|
|Location:||University Park, PA|
|Conference:||Big Ten Conference|
|Stadium:||Bryce Jordan Center|
|Head Coach:||Ed DeChellis|
The Nittany Lions last made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2001, when they upset #2 North Carolina on their way to the Sweet 16. With the early Big Ten wins the team has achieved, hopes are rising in Happy Valley for a new Tournament birth. While Penn State is unlikely to be seen as anything but the underdog in most of their Big Ten games this season, you never know how things could play out. However, it must be noted that Penn State’s losses in non-conference play, including a truly bad defeat at Maine, will severely hurt their chances. Their record currently stands at 10-6, and with 13 Big Ten games left to play, the road to a Tournament-worthy resume is steep.
Lord knows that a Tournament invitation would be a nice ending to the career of senior guard Talor Battle, who actually led Penn State to the NIT title in 2009. Battle has established himself as a legitimate threat in the conference with his outside shooting and superb playmaking. At only six feet and 170 pounds, Battle is obviously under-sized compared to many of his opponents, but he has no hesitation taking it to the rim. Battle has seen his scoring average increase with each season, and he’s currently first in the conference in scoring at nearly 21 points per game.
Last season the Buckeyes handled Penn State with final scores of 75-62 and 75-67, and in those games Battle has 24 and 22 points, respectively. Clearly Thad does not focus all of the defensive attention on shutting down Penn State’s explosive point guard, instead taking a balanced approach and ensuring that the supporting cast for the Lions is not responsible for an upset. Penn State’s next three scorers on average – Jeff Brooks, David Jackson, and Andrew Jones – are all fellow seniors with Battle and account for another 29 points per game.
If the games against Michigan State and Illinois are any indication, look for Penn State to come out playing very aggressive defense and crashing the boards. Their goal will be to make the game a low-scoring affair. Ohio State will probably be best served, as has been the case several times this season, by seeking to pick up fouls inside in the early-going to open things up and build an early lead off free throws. It is essential for Ohio State to take care of the ball and be patient in getting good shots. If the team performs well in those two areas, they should be able to take an 18-0 record into a #1 national ranking next week.
The Buckeyes’ game against Penn State will be played at 5:30pm in Columbus and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.