The Nittany Lions continue their tough, early stretch in the Big Ten schedule with a trip to Williams Arena tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 (BTN). PSU is entering the contest 13-3 on the season, with a 2-1 record in the Big Ten. Minnesota is 14-1 on the season, 2-1 in the Big Ten as well.
The Gophers are in their second season of the Tubby Smith era. While their trio of seniors from last season are gone (Tollackson, Coleman, McKenzie), Tubby brought in a solid recruiting class and has been working with a legit 11 man rotation (they all average at least 10 MPG). They are very balanced and very deep. Junior G Lawrence Westbrook leads the Gophs in scoring at a mild 12.8 PPG. Their best shooter is Blake Hoffarber (PSU fans should remember him well for his large role during the Gophers comeback at the BJC) who’s averaging 9.0 PPG while shooting 40.8% from 3. Al Nolen runs the show at the Point. He’s a tremendous defender if you couldn’t figure out after Talor Battle’s 0-8 statline in 30 minutes at the Barn last season. Damian Johnson is a stat sheet stuffer, as he averages 9.6 PPG (53% from the field), 4.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.2 SPG and 2.3 BPG. The Gophers don’t have a superstar all-conference type player but they certainly aren’t lacking talent, and they all complement each other very well. So let’s take a look at the Tempo Free matchup.
As you can see, it’s a pretty even match-up. The Gophers get after it on defense, though. They are the third best shot-blocking team in the country and have the highest Steal% in the Big Ten. Minnesota forces their opponents to turn the ball 24.5% of their possessions. How well Pringle and Battle handle the pressure the whole game will have a big impact on this game. Minnesota isn’t anything special on the glass, but don’t expect a NW/PU type domination on the boards by the Lions.
Personally, I haven’t been overly impressed by Minnesota this season. They’re schedule was cake (although harder than PSU’s *shakes head*) and they caught Louisville at the right time in Arizona. They certainly didn’t look good in CHA the other day. However, this is a bad matchup for the Lions. Nolen will lockdown on one of the PSU guards, most likely Battle. Pringle has shot an absurd 53% from behind the arc for the season (which believe it or not, is only good enough for fourth best in the Big Ten). There’s going to be a game where he can’t make a basket. It’s just the way basketball is. Would not surprise me if that day is tomorrow. Jamelle Cornley is going to have to carry most of the load IMO, but Damian Johnson certainly is no slouch defender. While he’s not as strong as JC, he’s certainly longer and will probably swat a couple of Jamelle’s shots. This is going to be a game where the supporting cast is going to have to contribute more than they have all season if PSU is to win. Now while I said Pringle is due for a bad game, Danny Morrissey is certainly due for a big game. The career 38% shooter has only connected on 31.7% of his threes this season. Maybe that crazy three near the end of the Purdue game will get Danny going again. Also, David Jackson has completely fallen off. He’s gone from producing inconsistently to not producing at all to being a liability. Ever since those missed free throws at GT, he hasn’t been the same. However, in his first trip to the Barn last season, he dropped 19 points and 8 boards. The way he’s been playing, I’d be thrilled if he scored 10. Let’s hope another trip to the Barn can cure his struggles. An Andrew Jones repeat performance like against Purdue would be welcomed as well.
PREDICTION: A 3-1 start in the conference would be absolutely incredible. A start like that was unfathomable at the beginning of the season. We’re in the middle of arguably the toughest stretch of our BT schedule. I’m definitely beginning to believe in this team. I absolutely love Pringle and Battle’s fearlessness. It’s nice having some guys willing to try and make plays in crunchtime. PSU hasn’t had that since Crispin. I’ve never been a believer in DeChellis, but I wouldn’t ever understimate Battle. Minnesota is definitely beatable, but unfortunately, I just don’t see it happening on the road. KenPom has us losing 69-64, which would beat the spread of 7 points. Once again, Vegas has put me in a conundrum with their spread. I’m feeling a Minnesota victory in the range of 6-8 points. So I’m going to go with Pomeroy and say we cover in a loss by 5 points. I would not touch this game if I was a betting man.