A year ago, the Nittany Lions fired coach Jerry Dunn after finishing last in the Big Ten with a 2-14 mark (7-21 overall). Former PSU assistant Ed DeChellis has taken over the program and, after a 6-5 nonconference start, his Nittany Lions stunned Minnesota 75-72 in Wednesday's Big Ten opener.
So, if this game had "easy win" written on it before the season, it certainly does not now -- especially for the Buckeyes (8-6, 0-1).
"I think it's very important for us because it is an opportunity for us to win a game," OSU coach Jim O‘Brien said. "I think if you want to have a chance to accomplish anything in the league, you have to steal a couple of games on the road. This is a game we think we can win. That's not a slight for Penn State. But it clearly is an opportunity for us to win a game on the road.
"If were lucky enough to get this, perhaps, with a couple of home games coming up, maybe we can get ourselves on a little run. But if we look past this, it's a mistake. Minnesota, perhaps, did that the other day. We can't afford to do that."
O'Brien's point is well taken. After this game, OSU plays five of its next seven games inside Value City Arena.
"I've given up, quite honestly, trying to read them," O‘Brien said. "I'm hoping they will be ready to play tomorrow. There are days when I say, `We are really ready,' and we're not. I have no feel for that right now."
But center and team captain Velimir Radinovic said the Buckeyes feel the urgency of Saturday's game.
"We approach this as a must-win game," he said. "We're coming off two losses, a tough one at home to Texas Tech and a blowout at Illinois. We've got to rally the troops.
"If we have good guard play and everybody steps up their game and comes out ready to play, I think we'll be O.K. If we don't come out flat like we did against Illinois and we run our offense, we should be fine."
O'Brien said his team's struggles have made it hard to establish any kind of substitution pattern.
"It's not the way you'd like to do it, but we are hoping whatever messages are out there will get through soon -- shot selection, guarding, understanding what it is we're talking about," he said. "We're inconsistent with our substitution patterns and who is starting because we're inconsistent with our performance. When the right thing is not happening, you have to make changes."
Jan Jagla, a 7-0 junior, leads Penn State with 17.8 points a game. He scored a career-high 28 points in the Nittany Lions' win over Minnesota. Freshman guard Marlon Smith is second in scoring with 10.0 points a game. Jagla also is the squad's top rebounder with an average of 8.8 a contest.
"Jan Jagla is having a terrific season," O‘Brien said. "He's a tough match-up because he's a 6-10 three man. He gives them a size advantage at his position. Then, the other night, they were very efficient at the end of the game. Obviously, they had to play pretty well because I think Minnesota is very talented."
Where Illinois pressured OSU into 16 turnovers, O'Brien expects less defensive pressure from PSU's thin roster.
"This game will be played a lot differently than our last game," he said. "They don't have nearly as many guys. They play six or seven guys. They'll play more zone than Illinois did. When they play man-to-man, the pressure will not be as intense on the ball as it was against Illinois.
"We need to play against some zone. Our last couple of games, we have played against no zone at all."
Radinovic said the effort has been there, but the Buckeyes have struggled to get good results.
"You can have hard work and hustle plays and all of that stuff," he said. "But you aren't going to be competitive unless you execute and run your stuff. We have to have both sides of the equation -- effort and execution."
* Sophomore forward Matt Sylvester started 16 of OSU's 32 games last year, averaging 21.6 minutes and 5.7 points per game. But Sylvester has struggled getting minutes this year, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 2.8 points per game.
"He's fighting for time with (walk-on) Ugo (Nwankwo), because Ugo has played hard," O‘Brien said. "He's fighting for time with J.J. (Sullinger) and perhaps at times even Ricardo. He's not been forgotten. I'm just hoping that he starts to play a little bit better."
* Ohio State has won three in row overall against Penn State, dating to a loss in Columbus in January 2001. OSU has also won its last three trips to State College, including 76-67 last year.
* DeChellis is in his first season at Penn State. His seven-year career at East Tennessee State produced a record of 105-93 prior to his first year as the Nittany Lion mentor.
"I have known Ed for a long time," O‘Brien said. "He's a good guy for our conference. He's a good guy for college basketball because he is, in general, a solid guy and a very good basketball coach. I think he will do a good job there."
* Radinovic leads the Big Ten in field goal shooting percentage, knocking down 67.7 percent of his shots (44-65). He made 6 of 10 shots against Texas Tech (4-8) and Illinois (2-2). He has made 55 percent of his shots for his career (200-362) in 95 games. Against Penn State, Radinovic will go up against the No. 7 field goal percentage shooter in the Big Ten. Jagla has made 53 percent of his shots this year (81-154).
* Junior Tony Stockman leads Ohio State with an average of 13.8 points a game. He has connected on 85 percent of his foul shots (23-27). With a total of 27 steals, Stockman is among Big Ten leaders (5th) with an average of 1.86 thefts a game. Sullinger averages 10.6 points a game, second on the team. He also is connecting on 48 percent of his field goal attempts (56-117).
* O'Brien has sent different starting lineups to the court in six-consecutive games. For the year, the combination of Terence Dials, Radinovic, Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Nick Dials and Sullinger is the eighth different Buckeye starting lineup used this season.
* Here is a link to the Buckeye Hoops forum, where we have the line and TV clearances posted for this game.