Contrary to popular belief, the Penn State basketball season is not over yet. In fact, you could say that after last week's riveting victory over Nebraska, the Big Ten campaign is just getting started. After a disappointing six game losing streak in which the Lions blew three late-game leads, Penn State has a chance to use its first win as a springboard to reach bigger and better things.
Or the program could fall right back into the doldrums and allow itself to become a laughingstock once again. Because the former option is more appealing, and also because optimism is more fun than pessimism, here's four things that Penn State can do to make a win over Ohio State possible on Wednesday night.
1) Don't let Aaron Craft penetrate into the lane. Part of the reason why the Buckeyes have fallen all the way to 128th in the country in offensive efficiency is because Craft isn't the offensive spark plug that the media seems to think he is. The senior is a great defensive player; there's not doubt about that, but his offensive game has been relatively stagnant since he was a wee freshman. Plus, he's starting to turn the ball over more during conference play, which is making his assist-to-turnover ratio inch towards a pedestrian 2:1. Craft can still be dangerous if he gets into the paint, but Tim Frazier is quick enough to stay with him on the perimeter.
2) Stick Ross Travis on LaQuinton Ross. Ross's length, athleticism, and shooting touch have made him a top scoring option for Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes don't have another player who is as good at creating his own shot, so the Lions will need to focus on stopping Ross to keep the score of the game nice and low. To do that, the Lions can either play zone to clog up the lane and force OSU to take jump shots, or they can use Travis, who can use his height and quickness to hopefully force Ross into some tough shots. Since Travis is the only Penn State player who matches up well with Ross, he'll need to be careful to stay out of foul trouble.
3) Fill out the starting lineup with five players who can score. Even though Ohio State doesn't scare anybody on offense, they are still a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end. In fact, Iowa is the only team to be able to score at least 70 points on the Bucks in regulation time. That will be a problem for the Lions, who need to score often to make up for a defense that has been inconsistent at best this season. It would help if PSU could figure out a consistent starting lineup, but Brandon Taylor seems content to shoot his way out of playing time (6-for-27 in his last four games) and neither Geno Thorpe or Graham Woodward appears ready to be a regular during conference play. Perhaps Pat Chambers could rely on John Johnson a little more heavily. The junior transfer can be a bricklayer at times, but at least OSU will have to cover him.
4) Let D.J. Newbill take control of the offense. With Craft and his defensive wizardly likely locked onto Frazier at the start of the game, Chambers should let the bigger, more athletic Newbill take control early. The junior has NBA size at the shooting guard position, and he'll be a tough guard for anyone on the Ohio State roster. If Frazier is frustrated by Craft, it will be up to Newbill to drive into the lane and create opportunities for himself as well as the other players on the court. This is what he was counted on to do last season when Frazier was injured, and the experience should come in handy versus Ohio State.