- The Penn State Nittany Lions (7-10, 4-9 Big Ten) host the Ohio State Buckeyes (17-4, 11-4 Big Ten) Thursday, Feb. 18
- These teams are going in opposite directions, with Penn State dropping three of its last four and Ohio State winning six straight
- Read below for odds, analysis, and best bet for this matchup
The Penn State Nittany Lions (7-10, 4-9 Big Ten), coming off an embarrassing 62-61 loss to Nebraska that snapped the Cornhuskers’ 26-game conference losing streak, host the Ohio State Buckeyes (17-4, 11-4 Big Ten) Thursday, Feb. 18 in University Park. Tip is set for 8:00 pm ET at the Bryce Jordan Center.
OSU is one of the hottest teams in the land, winning six straight and nine of its last ten. The Bucks’ latest win came Saturday in a 78-59 home victory over Indiana. That same day, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee projected head coach Chris Holtmann’s squad as a No. 1 seed in the tournament next month. Things are going a little differently for Penn State. The Nittany Lions may have hit rock-bottom Sunday, losing to woebegone Nebraska 62-61 at home in the final moments.
Jim Ferry’s club enters Thursday’s tilt as 5.5-point underdogs.
Ohio State vs Penn State Odds
|Ohio State||-5.5 (-110)||-240||Ov 146 (-110)|
|Penn State||+5.5 (-110)||+190||Un 146 (-110)|
Odds taken Feb. 17 at FanDuel.
The ultra-deep Big Ten is enjoying one of its best seasons in years. Four teams from the conference are rated in KenPom’s top-10 overall ratings. And while squads like No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Illinois have superstar performers like Luka Garza, Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, the ultra-deep No. 7 Ohio State is dominating without a true go-to guy. That team-effort identity was on display Saturday against the Hoosiers.
Sophomore forward EJ Liddell, the team’s leading scorer this season at 15.1 points per outing, put up a team-high 19 in the 19-point win. The Buckeyes shot 48-percent from the field and their hustling style of play — featuring aggressive rebounding on both ends and different role players stepping up each night — was once again the key to victory.
Four different players have led OSU in scoring on any given night this season, with Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. each turning the trick nine times. Holtmann’s club is rated in the top-10 in adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 4), scoring 122.6 points per 100 possessions, and their 15.2 turnover percentage is No. 10 in the country.
Nebraska will be hard-pressed to keep up with the gritty and talented Ohio State roster.
How can Penn State have a 7-10 record and still be rated No. 39 overall on KenPom?
The Nits beat highly-regarded VCU and then-No. 15 Virginia Tech in their non-conference schedule and have been competitive in the arduous Big Ten. Ferry’s team simply hasn’t been able to win the close ones though. The finish against Nebraska made it six Big Ten games in which Penn State led inside the 3:00 mark and lost.
So, how can Penn State overcome this fairly large hurdle?
First, the Lions lack a defensive enforcer. They rank dead-last in the Big Ten in block by a lot. That lack of a presence on the blocks matters in crunch time. They also lack a do-it-all guard. Jamari Wheeler is a plus-defender. Sam Sessoms has great handles. And the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 points a game, Myreon Jones, can absolutely stroke it from deep and finish inside. But his slight build and average dribbling ability is susceptible to strong defenses.
Unless Penn State finds an answer for these ills, the Nittany Lions are headed for their fourth defeat in five games.
Bench Is Key
As if Holtmann’s team wasn’t deep enough, the emergence of freshman forward Zed Key has been fun to watch.
— Zed Key (@iamzedkey) February 13, 2021
The Long Island product is averaging 12.8 minutes per game in relief of senior Kyle Young and Liddell at the center position. He’s averaging 6.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game while hitting 65-percent of this shots from the field.
Contrary to Penn State of late, the Buckeyes recent winning stretch has seen OSU win through its defense. And Key does his part as a rim protector and shot blocker in the paint. If he keeps it up, it’s just one more piece to the Buckeye puzzle that is headed toward the Big Dance with major momentum.
Considering the Buckeyes’ talent and the Lions’ inability to win close games, at -5.5, this is an easy choice.
The pick: Ohio State -5.5 (-110)