The regular season has come and gone, and it is time for some conference tournaments. All 14 teams (now 12 remain) in the Big Ten have made the trip to Indianapolis and Gainbridge Fieldhouse for the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State (19-10, 12-8) comes into the tournament as the No. 6 seed after finishing the season 1-3 over their last four games. The Buckeyes beat Michigan State, but had losses to Maryland, Nebraska and Michigan sprinkled in — all three teams they had previously beaten in the season.
After the first round was completed, the No. 11 seed Penn State (13-16, 7-13) defeated No. 14 seed Minnesota (13-17, 4-16) to advance to meet the Buckeyes on Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. on Big Ten Network. The winner will face No. 3 Purdue (25-6, 14-6) on Friday night at 9:00 p.m ET.
Now, it is time to throw records and statistics out the window. We don’t carry those with us to March. Now it is solely about if you can play 40 minutes of basketball better than the team in front of you.
Ohio State now has one of the toughest tasks in basketball ahead of them — beating the same team three times in one season. The same thing Penn State and Tony Carr did to the Buckeyes in 2018, which was Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann’s first season with the team. Ohio State is 2-0 against the Nittany Lions this season. They defeated Penn State on Dec. 5 in their first conference game of the season, 76-64, and then defeated the Nittany Lions on Jan. 16, 61-56, in a game dominated by defense.
Penn State is one of the top defensive teams in the conference, holding teams to just 64.8 points per game — the best mark in the Big Ten. However, Penn State has the worst scoring offense in the conference, averaging just 64.5 points per game.
The Buckeyes are led by First Team All-Big Ten selection E.J. Liddell and Third Team All-Big Ten selection Malaki Branham. Branham was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Liddell is averaging 19.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Branham is averaging 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Branham is averaging almost 17 points per game in conference play.
According to the Big Ten, Liddell and Bramham are two of the most efficient scorers in the conference from the mid-range.
The Nittany Lions are led in scoring by Siena transfer Jalen Pickett. Pickett is averaging 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Seth Lundy and Sam Sessoms are averaging 12.4 and 11.4 points per game, respectively.
Penn State senior John Harrar is one of the two players in the conference averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. The other player is Illinois star Kofi Cockburn.
Penn State is a team that can frustrate anyone on defense, but they can go long stretches without scoring. Ohio State has to avoid letting the Nittany Lions go on any runs in this one, because they can be tough to score against.
Ohio State will be without gradate senior forward Kyle Young and Justice Sueing in this one. Meechie Johnson should be good to go after hurting his ankle against Michigan, and Zed Key is a game time decision as he recovers from an ankle injury as well.
This is a tough one because it is hard to beat a team three times in a season. The Buckeyes are not playing their best ball and are limping into this one. However, I do think they will be motivated to go on a run in this tournament to make up for the poor finish to the season. Last season, the Buckeyes lost four in a row heading into the Big Ten Tournament and ended up winning three games in four days, losing in the conference championship to Illinois by three points.
It is hard to believe just two weeks ago we were talking about the Buckeyes having a chance at a shared Big Ten title, and now they are the six seed in the conference tournament. They will be motivated to come in and prove themselves as a team that can make a run in the B1G in the next two weeks.
Pickett and Harrar make for a tough matchup up top and down low. Jamari Wheeler is always motivated to play his former team, and he will need to bring his best to slow down the likes of Pickett, Sam Sessoms and Seth Lundy.
Ultimately, I think the duo of Liddell and Branham sprinkled in with some big shots from Jamari Wheeler and Cedric Russell will get this job done and advance Ohio State to the quarterfinals on Friday.
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network