No. 3 Ohio State will present a challenge for the young Nittany Lions.
While State College stands still on Wednesday as former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is laid to rest, the men's basketball team will press forward with its season when it travels to meet Ohio State at 6:30 PM inside Value City Arena in Columbus.
The Buckeyes (17-3, 5-2) steamrolled through the non-conference portion of their schedule and have played up to their No. 3 ranking of late, winning four of their last give games to ascend to within a half-game of Michigan for the lead in the Big Ten standings. Their last game was a dominant 79-45 win against Nebraska, so by all appearances, they're playing solid basketball.
The Nittany Lions (10-11, 2-6), however, defeated the same Illinois team that upset Ohio State on Jan. 10 last Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center and catch the Bucks before their showdown with No. 22 Michigan on Sunday. It'll be interesting to see if those circumstances translate to a score closer than the experts expect in this apparent mismatch.
Below are some things to watch for in the game.
When Penn State has the ball ...
-The last time the Lions saw the Buckeyes, the two teams battled for the Big Ten Tournament championship in Indianapolis last March. Penn State dropped a 71-60 decision that day, but turned the ball over just eight times. If the Lions hope to keep it even that close again, they'll have to show similar discipline with the basketball and not give the explosive Bucks extra chances.
-Nick Colella came off the bench to score 11 points for Penn State on Sunday against Indiana. If he can regularly contribute even half of that total moving forward, it'll be a big boost for Penn State's offense.
-After back-to-back efforts of 22 and 17 points against Minnesota and Illinois, respectively, Cammeron Woodyard was held to just six points against the Hoosiers. Watch to see if he can turn it around against the Buckeyes.
When Ohio State has the ball ...
-Last year, Jon Diebler rained 10 three-pointers on the Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center on Senior Night. Luckily for Penn State, he's no longer around. Guard William Buford is still dangerous from the arc, however, shooting 37.8 percent for the season, so the Lions have to keep an eye on him, lest they face more possible terror from deep.
-Penn State won't have much of an answer for Jared Sullinger, averaging 17.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, down low. The goal should be to contain his production to his averages making life as hard on his teammates as possible. Obviously, that's easier said than done, but Sullinger is really too talented for Penn State to stop him if it wanted to.
Ohio State is a much better basketball team and should win easily. Penn State's best chance will include establishing an early lead and preventing big runs at all costs. If the Lions can keep the game within five to 10 points until the final five-or-so minutes, the playing field will be much more even down the stretch. The key is getting to the end with a prayer. Don't expect that to happen, though. Pick: Ohio State 78-55.