Penn State awaits word on key pieces as No. 2 Ohio State looms

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Penn State awaits word on key pieces as No. 2 Ohio State looms

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Coming off their biggest win under head coach James Franklin with some extra rest, Penn State players have had plenty of time to contemplate their looming game against No. 2 Ohio State.

During the open weekend, they watched as Wisconsin nearly toppled the Buckeyes (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) on Saturday. But the Nittany Lions will need to use their own approach to stop Ohio State's fourth-ranked scoring offense backed by the third-ranked scoring defense in the nation.

"Wisconsin played them extremely well," Franklin said. "But they are traditional pro-style, pound-you offense and then their defense is playing so well that it allows them to play that and not have to drop back and throw the ball and do things like that. Obviously that's a different style than we're playing right now. So that film for our offense isn't overly valuable."

Penn State's offense has improved and the running game was explosive with 372 yards against Maryland, but Ohio State has been consistently great nearly all season. With quarterback J.T. Barrett leading the way, the Buckeyes are averaging more than 516 yards of offense, 300 yards on the ground.

It's not a favorable matchup for the Nittany Lions who are still unsure if starting linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will play. They've missed the last five and four games, respectively, and as of Tuesday had not been cleared to practice. Franklin did say veteran players who require less practice can be cleared later in the week, however.

"We know they are important to this team," cornerback Grant Haley said. "They have a lot of experience that they bring to the table."

Getting Bell and Cabinda back would be big boosts. They both helped limit Ohio State's offense the last time the teams met at Beaver Stadium. That 31-24 loss in double overtime was the closest Penn State's come to beating Ohio State in the 11 years since the Nittany Lions' last home win in the series. Penn State is 0-4 since they won a memorable game where fans stormed the field in 2005.

Since that game, Penn State has gone 11-25 against Top 25 teams and 0-9 against top 5 teams. Four of those losses to top 5 teams have come to Ohio State.

"They know this is a big game," Franklin said. "We don't need to tell them that. They understand how big this game is. They see it all over social media and everything else and walking around town and on campus and from their families and ticket requests and all those things. They get it."

By Tuesday afternoon, students who camp outside their entrance to the stadium had tents set up nearly to the road, another indication of the game's gravitas. It prompted Franklin to mention the game's atmosphere and expressed his desire for fans to show up and be heard.

Urban Meyer quipped earlier this week about the planned white-out, where everyone in the 106,572-seat complex wears white.

"We have another tough task, a team that's 4-0 at home," Meyer said. "I called it -- the last two times, wish they saved the white outs for other games, but I guess they used it for our game. It's one of the top five atmospheres, again, in college football."

Haley has felt the ground rumble with white-out crowds in the past. He and his teammates will try to maintain the pulse at their feet by slowing the Buckeyes' rushing attack and disrupting Barrett's time to extend plays with his feet.

"We need to make them a one-dimensional team," Haley said. "We obviously need to stop the run, quarterback runs, especially."

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

No surprises on the Main Line and well, the Quakers have quite the hill to climb to advance.

Villanova on Sunday night was awarded the 1-seed in the East Region and will face the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford game Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on TNT.

The Wildcats have been a top-two seed since 2014 and it's the second straight year they're a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament.

Penn was named the 16th seed in the Midwest Region and will face the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS in Wichita, Kansas.

Steve Donahue has the Quakers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in his third season as Penn's head coach.

The Quakers are 24-8 and this will be their 24th-ever appearance in the tournament.

'Nova survived a scare from Providence on Saturday night to win its second straight Big East title and its third in the past four years.

If the Wildcats beat LIU Brooklyn/Radford, they'll face the winner of the No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed Alabama. Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East.

Also in the East are No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Wichita State.

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

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Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. With the regular season ending this weekend, this will be the final Fastbreak Friday column of the season.

Temple (16-13, 8-9 AAC) at Tulsa (18-11, 11-6 AAC), Sunday at 3 p.m.
 It’s been a rough season for the Temple Owls. Yes, there was that win over ranked Wichita State in the middle of a 5-game win streak. But after the stumbles down the stretch, that seems like a distant memory. 

Of course, the bad can be washed away with an AAC tournament run, but first, the Owls need to close out on the road against Tulsa. 

Given their track record on the road, things don’t line up well for Fran Dunphy’s crew. Plus, it’s dollar dog, dollar soda and dollar popcorn night at Tulsa. That’s a delicious trifecta. 

But there is still some fight in this team. Quintin Rose and Shizz Alston have been everything the Owls have needed, and throw in Nate Pierre-Louis and you have a nice core back for next season.

Temple 71,  Tulsa 70

Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Yale (14-14, 7-5 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Brown (11-14, 4-8 Ivy), Saturday at 6 p.m.
Penn enters the final weekend of the regular season in control of its own destiny. If the Quakers beat Yale and Brown on the road they'll win their first Ivy League championship since 2007 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played at the Palestra next weekend. It all adds up to Penn having the inside track to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

This seems like an appropriate time to salute the job done by head coach Steve Donahue. In just his third season at Penn, he has the Quakers poised to reclaim top billing in the Ivy League. He inherited a team that finished 9-19 in the 2014-2015 season and promptly began a swift rebuilding project. Penn went 11-17 in Donahue's first season, 13-14 in his second year, and now stand at 21-7 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Look for those winning ways to continue this weekend and for Donahue and company to do some celebrating.

Penn 73, Yale 66
Penn 69, Brown 60

La Salle (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at St. Joseph's (14-15, 9-8 A-10), Saturday at 2 p.m.
La Salle and St. Joe's will each try to keep the good times rolling heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. La Salle has won three of its last four games, including a convincing 18-point win over Dayton earlier this week. St. Joseph's meanwhile has a 5-1 record in its last six games and just recorded arguably one of the most stunning victories of this college basketball season.

The Hawks went on the road and beat No. 18 Rhode Island, 78-48, on Tuesday, spoiling the Rams' senior night in the process. It was the first road win over a ranked team for St. Joseph's since 1979 and it came in shockingly easy fashion. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum this weekend and avenge a three-point loss to La Salle earlier this season.

St. Joseph's 74, La Salle 68 

Drexel (12-19, 6-12 CAA) at James Madison (10-21, 6-12 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m. in first round of CAA Tournament
The Dragons' season has been marked with highs and lows. While it may seem like a marginal improvement — with 12 wins to their credit compared to nine last season — they did double their conference win total. 

Also, Drexel beat the top two teams in the CAA this season as well as set an NCAA Division-I record for the largest comeback ever when they erased a 34-point deficit against Delaware. 

But the Dragons did have two separate losing streaks that would cause any coach to lose sleep, one of five straight and the other of four straight losses. 

Drexel begins the quest for its first-ever CAA tournament title against JMU, then Charleston awaits on basically home turf. Go ahead and make it a baker’s dozen, Dragons. 

Drexel 76, JMU 74

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 30-11
Amy Fadool: 22-21