Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- With the NCAA tournament under a month away, and the potential at-large pool shrinking every day, a couple of mid-level Big Ten teams will meet, with a lot at stake, when #60 Penn State (19-8, 8-6) faces #81 Ohio State (17-8, 7-7).
Penn St.’s non-conference performance was thoroughly unimpressive, their best win coming over Georgia Tech, with a couple of decent losses to A-10 teams. So, if the Nittany Lions want to make the big dance, they’ll need to rely on their Big 10 record, which is somewhat patchy. They have good wins over Purdue, Michigan St. and Illinois, but they also have lost to most of the teams in the top half of the conference. With two games left they should win, against Indiana and Iowa, a win here would give them a chance at an 11-7 finish. Ohio St. had a strong non-conference run, beating Notre Dame, Miami and Butler, but it hasn’t been very strong in league play. The Buckeyes have lost most of their games against the top teams, and enter this game on a three-game losing streak, including a loss at Northwestern last week. They also have a shot at finishing with double-digit wins if they win this game, as they finish against some of the league’s weaker teams.
Ohio St. features one of the conference’s best offenses, a unit that revolves around making a lot of shots. The Buckeyes take a lot of threes, and hit a pretty solid percentage, but do their best work inside the arc, hitting 54% of attempts. They need the shots to go down, because they are very weak on the offensive glass, and have trouble with turnovers. This will be especially important against Penn St., one of the nation’s best teams on the defensive glass. Ohio St. will have success against a weak Nittany Lion interior defense, but won’t get to the free throw line much, and face tough opposition on shots from three.
The Nittany Lion offense has been good on average, but is somewhat inconsistent (including some particularly bad moments). This often has a lot to do with the three point shot: Penn St. gets a good chunk of its points from behind the arc, and its weaker percentages inside and at the free throw line mean it has difficulty making up for a lot of long-distance misses. The Lions don’t get many rebounds, but do an excellent job controlling the ball, rarely turning it over. This will set up an interesting matchup with an Ohio St. defense that is much better inside than outside. The Buckeyes had trouble with some of the conference’s more three-point heavy offenses, Northwestern and Iowa, but handily beat the other, Michigan, and its not clear how much the 35% of shots they allow from behind the arc will hurt them. Ohio St.’s defensive strength is defending the inside shot without fouling, an area that won’t help them a whole lot in this game.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that this game features a matchup of two players that, in my opinion at least, are battling for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. For Penn St., the candidate is sophomore guard Talor Battle. The 5-11 Battle leads the conference in scoring and is second in assists; he’s not a great percentage shooter, but plays a lot of minutes and makes few mistakes, putting up a strong 2.1 A/TO ratio. The Nittany Lions aren’t just Battle, though, as a couple of strong seniors play important roles, Jammelle Cornley in the frontcourt and Stanley Pringle alongside Battle. Cornley is a solid rebounder who can score well from the floor, but struggles at the free throw line, while Pringle is an excellent three-point shooter who also leads the team in steals. Two other starting spots in the frontcourt have been more fluid, shared between sophomores Andrew Jones, David Jackson and Jeff Brooks. Jones is by far the best of the three, a nearly 60% shooter who is also the team’s strongest rebounder. Jackson and Brooks look pretty similar statistically, solid rebounders who struggle to score. Danny Morrissey is a three-point specialist, but hasn’t been that effective, barely at 33%. The only other player to see serious much time off the bench, guard Chris Bibb has seen his minutes increase of late, and is another half-decent three-point shooter.
The other half of the Player for the year battle is another strong sophomor, Ohio St.’s Evan Turner. Turner is the second leading scorer in the conference, and is a good inside threat who gets to the free throw line a lot. He also leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals, a player who can chip in a lot of areas all over the court. His one serious problem is turnovers, including having 6 against Wisconsin and 8 against Northwestern. Fellow sophomore Jon Diebler is the main perimeter option, an excellent three point-shooter. Freshman William Buford is another player who can score from everywhere, but is somewhat inconsistent. Jeremie Simmons is a good ball-distribution guard who isn’t usually a big scoring threat. 6-8 Dallas Lauderdale doesn’t do much offensively, but is an excellent interior player, shooting nearly 70% from the floor and putting up one of the country’s best shot-blocking rates. B.J. Mullens was a highly hyped coming into the year, and while he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, he’s rounded into a solid player, an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker who is a force around the rim. The Buckeyes are not a particularly deep team, as only one other player, guard P.J. Hill, averages more than 10 minutes a game.
This one promises to be an interesting matchup, though I wouldn’t expect the scoring numbers to be to high come the end of the game. Ohio St.’s offense should be able to score enough to get them past a tricky opponent, but if Penn St. can stay on a roll from behind the arc, the visitors could easily walk away with a win.
Winner: Ohio St. Margin: 4-8
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
After a rather blah non-conference start, PSU pulled off some Big Ten upsets to get back into the tourney mix. A win at Ohio State would be a serious resume-booster, but I don't see it happening in Columbus.
Early Prediction: OSU