Thank you Michigan. If the Gophers somehow manage to lose to Penn State tomorrow we can always point out that Michigan's loss was worse. For anyone who has been under a rock, the Gopher hooptyballers face the a no longer winless in the B1G PSU squad tomorrow. Had you forgotten that Penn State played basketball? You could be forgiven for that. I mean, we're in March and this is the Gophers' first time facing the pumpkin pushing lions.
To help us get to know our upcoming opponent a little better, I turned to Chad Markulics (@Chad_Markulics), basketball writer for fellow SB Nation blog Black Shoe Diaries.
The Daily Gopher: You guys beat Michigan. Here's your chance to explain what the heck happened, babble incoherently with excitement, or simply type WOO HOO over and over. Go!
Chad Markulics: Penn State won because they made shots. Hard-hitting analysis, I know, but shooting has been far and away their biggest issue all season, and it just clicked on Wednesday night. Jermaine Marshall is a notoriously streaky shooter, and Michigan made the mistake of giving him open look after open look from the top of the arc. And when a guy is connecting like that it becomes contagious.
Also, I haven't stopped rubbing my eyes and staring into the distance in disbelief since the end of the game. Eat your heart out, Burke.
TDG: So help me out...has PSU really been that bad (MGoBlog almost started a "Worst B1G bball team ever?" watch) or has the team been underachieving? How would you explain their struggles in conference play?
CM: They had been that bad up until the home game against Iowa two weeks ago. Saying they have been underachieving implies that they are sufficiently talented, but a talented team should be able to overcome some issues in home games against teams like Nebraska. We knew they would struggle without Tim Frazier, but nobody really knew just how ugly it would get in the Big Ten. They essentially have three guys playing out of position on the floor at any given time, and I don't think they really figured out how to adjust until the Iowa game.
TDG: I'll have to admit, with all the losing and not seeing PSU on the schedule until the our Senior Night, I know very little about this Nittany Lions team. What are the team's strengths and weaknesses and who should Gopher fans be keeping an eye on?
CM: They work harder than most every team I've seen them play thus far. Pat Chambers might be a master of brainwashing techniques because the disregard these guys have for their body while taking a charge is unreal. Nick Colella might be made out of carbon fiber, because I don't know how else to explain the fact that he's never injured. So you have to out-talent(?) them, and as we've seen this year it's not very hard to do. Rebounding is probably their best attribute that can be measured statistically (they grab 70% of available defensive rebounds), but even there they're in the middle of the pack in the conference.
Not having a true point guard on the roster opens Pandora's Box of problems. The defensive rotations are downright dreadful on occasion and that leads to a lot of fouls (23.1 per game; Illinois ranks second with 19.8 fouls per game in the conference), which slows the game down and forces them to operate in half court sets, which, unless you're Wisconsin, isn't ideal considering the lack of scoring options.
As for who to keep an eye on, I'd look at Ross Travis. He's prone to taking long jumpers even though he's a below-average shooter at best, but if he's aggressive in getting looks around the basket he poses a real problem. He played the game of his life thus far against Michigan, posting 15 points and 12 boards (while guarding Trey Burke for much of the second half), but he has yet to string together two good performances, so it'll be interesting to see how he fares against your bigs.
TDG: How has the fanbase handled the losing? Are folks already preparing the torches and pitchforks for a march on Coach Chambers' house? Or has everyone been patient with him in his first season?
CM: It had been getting increasingly vitriolic up until Wednesday. Some fans were clamoring for Chambers' head (which is insane), but that demographic skewed towards the more casual of fans. If you watch the team's body language, listen to their postgame interviews or hear opposing coaches rave about Chambers, you have to do some serious mental gymnastics to convince yourself that it's not working, despite the record.
TDG: What are your expectations for PSU basketball under Chambers long term? What do you think a good level of success would be for him?
CM: I would love to see this program at a level where they would be competitive for a tourney spot every other year or so. It might take some time (and if the school's handling of the Ed DeChellis situation is any indication, Chambers will have some time), but next year could be the start of that trend. With Frazier back, Newbill with a year of Big Ten hoops under his belt, and five newcomers, I'll be disappointed if they aren't making a serious push for the NCAA tournament.
TDG: What are your expectations for the rest of the season now that the "0-fer" monkey is off this team's back?
CM: Wins are gravy at this point. I'd expect them to play hard and be competitive in every game. Hopefully they'll keep hitting shots and snag one more win (Northwestern seems like the obvious prey) but I'm just glad they won't be remembered as the worst Big Ten team ever.
TDG: What do you think PSU has to do in order to defeat the Gophers?
CM: Try to stifle Mbakwe and keep Minnesota off the offensive glass. You guys are awesome in that department, so if PSU can limit second chances and keep the Gophers out of their comfort zone, they might be able to pull something out.
TDG: Predictions for Saturday afternoon?
CM: This is a peculiar game considering both teams are coming off major highs from big upsets. Usually you find out what a team is really made of after an emotional victory, and considering Minnesota still has a lot to play for the pressure could be on them. But I do expect Penn State to regress to the mean a little considering they haven't won a road game in forever. So I'll go Minnesota: 61, Penn State 53. Gophers get a needed victory and Penn State doesn't shit the bed. Everybody wins (except the people who are looking at Tubby Smith. They don't win. I miss the Tubbystache).
Thanks for having me. Go State!
Thanks for answering my question Chad! Be sure to check back tomorrow for the PSU game OPEN THREAD. And as always...