- WHO: Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-3)
- WHERE: Williams Arena aka The Barn
- WHEN: 9:00 PM
- TV: ESPN2
- LINE: Minnesota by 12
- Enemy Blog: From the Barn
- Pomeroy Profile
Conference play starts tonight, and the Lions open up with no cakewalk. The Golden Gophers play defense, something many opponents in the OOC schedule could not. Will the Nittany Lions be able to handle it?
Minnesota’s only real competition came in the 76 Classic and the Big Ten/ACC challenge. They did beat Butler, but they went 1-3 in those games. However, all of those games were on the road. They lost close games to Miami FL, Texas A&M, and Portland (when they were the story of college basketball).
The Golden Gophers practically returned their whole team from last year (89% returning minutes). Defensive stud Damian Johnson and offensive scorer Lawrence Westbrook return as the senior leaders. Hoffarber, Nolen, Iverson, and Sampson are back as well. The Gophers are deep (11 guys average between 9-25 MPG), tall (21st tallest team in the country), and experienced. Penn State is none of those things. Oh, boy.
Minnesota, much like last year, is still finding their way offensively. Usually Tubby just goes with the hot hand, which this year has been Blake Hoffarber (49% from behind the arc). Blake has torn PSU up in the past so the Lions must be weary of the sharpshooter. Lawrence Westbrook is the go to scorer at 12.9 PPG, but after that, it will be whoever has the hot hand. They can go inside with Sampson (8.4 PPG) or Damian Johnson (10.7 PPG). Or they could outside with Hoffarber, Westbrook, and 6’3″ reserve Devoe Joseph, who also has had crazy success against the Lions.
But the strength of the Gophers is their defense. Pomeroy has them rated as the 2nd best defense in the entire land (behind only Texas). They like to press you and force steals, but if you successfully get into the halfcourt, they’ll swat your shots. Their defensive numbers so far have been outstanding. The Nittany Lions haven’t seen a defense nearly as good as the Gophers will bring tonight.
So can PSU win this game tonight? I guess they can, but I have no idea how they will. Here are some keys for PSU:
- Slow the game down. Minnesota’s weakness is the halfcourt game, so it’s crucial for the ball handlers to be able to beat the Minnesota press with regularity.
- Be aggressive on offense. The Nittany Lions have to get to the foul line. Minnesota’s defense is allowing their opponents to shoot 29% from 3 and 39% from 2. PSU is going to have to put up some points at the foul line. It’ll be much easier.
- Lock down their shooters. The Gophers have had ridiculous success from behind the arc against the Lions. They shot 19-29 last year in 2 games (including a record 9-9 in the game at The Barn). That obviously cannot happen if PSU expects to win.
PREDICTION: Minnesota covers the 12 point spread. Their defense is just too much for a Nittany Lions offense still struggling to find their identity. Battle could go off and I still think it wouldn’t matter (much like the VT game). Good chance this could get ugly.
A few notes…
- David Jackson, who hyperextended his knee against American, will play tonight but who knows how much. DeChellis was quoted as saying he’s 80%.
- Tim Frazier is also hobbled and will not start tonight. He turned his ankle in practice on Sunday. Chris Babb, who played well the last 2 games, will get the start. Babb’s ball-handling skills will be put to the test.
- Nittany Lions haven’t won at Williams Arena since 2001, the only time they’ve won there.
A few links…
- Check out a Q&A interview I did with From The Barn, as part of his Big Ten previews.
- The Only Colors already breaking out the tempo-free scatterplots.
- Brian Siegrist with some valuable tweets, already. I’m sure more will be coming throughout the day/game.
- Lions shuffling into Big Ten play – Jeff Rice