NCAA Odds: Long shot Penn State faces Buckeyes

By: Willie Bee | Saturday, March 12, 2011

It's certainly not the Big Ten Championship matchup everyone expected.

The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament now secure, will be the anticipated half of Sunday's contest at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (12:30 p.m. PT, CBS).  The other half will be the Penn State Nittany Lions who will be making their first-ever appearance in the final of the conference tourney.

Penn State (19-13 straight up, 17-11 against the spread) became an unlikely participant in the game courtesy of a 61-48 triumph over Michigan State in Saturday's second conference semifinal contest.  It was the third consecutive win during the tournament for the ninth-seeded Nittany Lions who covered all three.  They were 3½-point underdogs in Saturday's victory over the Spartans and getting 7½ when they hung a 36-33 final on Wisconsin in one of the worst overall displays of offense in recent college history.

All three of Penn State's tournament games have stayed below the number, and by comfortable margins.  The opening round win against Indiana finished 13 points below the 129-point total with Saturday's game 20½ shy of the NCAA odds.  Friday's game versus the Badgers would've been an 'under' if the teams had played a half-dozen overtime periods.

The Nittany Lions used a 13-2 run in the first half against Michigan State to climb out of an early hole and send the teams into halftime knotted at 26. By the time the Spartans had scored their first 12 points of the second half, PSU guard Talor Battle had 14 himself in the half on his way to a game-high 25.  Tim Frazier added 22 to the Lions' attack on 9-of-13 shooting.

Just before Penn State and Michigan State took the floor, Ohio State (31-2 SU, 15-15 ATS) coasted past Michigan in its semifinal, 68-61, as 10-point chalk.  The Buckeyes built a 17-point advantage with a little less than five minutes to go on an Aaron Craft free throw before the Wolverines closed on a 16-7 run to beat the spread.

'Under' bettors were rewarded with the final score staying just under the 129½-point total.  Both of OSU's tourney games have gone to low-side ticket holders after the Buckeyes closed the regular season on a 5-0 run to the high side.

Ohio State's last eight points in the game came from the charity stripe, but the team missed 10 of 23 free throws on the afternoon.  Buckeyes forward Jared Sullinger recorded a double-double in the contest, scoring 14 and grabbing 13 boards, six off the offensive glass, but it was not a great day overall.  The big freshman was just 5-of-13 from the field and 4-of-10 from the line a day after he converted on 16-of-18 freebies in the 67-61 overtime win versus Northwestern.

Sullinger enters Sunday's title tilt having scored on just 7-of-25 shots from the field in the tournament games against Northwestern and Michigan combined.

Only Iowa had longer odds than Penn State to win the Big Ten when futures rolled out last October.  The Nittany Lions were 18/1 with Ohio State and Michigan State 5/2 co-favorites after Purdue lost Robbie Hummel to a season-ending injury.  A Buckeyes, Spartans matchup on Sunday would've validated preseason prognosticators despite Michigan State not really living up to their expectations.

As long as their odds were to begin the season, the Nittany Lions likely face longer odds in this game.  Ohio State beat Penn State twice during the regular season to run the current string to 14 consecutive Buckeyes wins in the series.  PSU's last win against OSU was at home in Jan. 2004.

The Lions gave Ohio State all it could handle in Columbus on Jan. 15 in a 69-66 loss as huge 17½ underdogs with the Buckeyes covering in State College on March 1 as 6½-point road chalk, 82-61.  Both regular season games went 'over.'

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