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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Penn State

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Gophers looking to get back on track after dismantling in East Lansing

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Penn State Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers got a major dose of reality in their second game with Michigan State on Tuesday, and ran into a Miles Bridges buzzsaw on their way to an 18-point loss. The game was never really close and exposed the shooting woes that Minnesota is susceptible to. And the Spartans made it look easy.

For a young team playing above and beyond expectations, a blowup like this was long overdue. And, frankly, it’s probably best that it came on the road against a good Spartan team instead of, say, at home against Rutgers. The Gophers got punched right in the mouth, which is something that teams need periodically as a reminder that there’s always work to do.

Next up, however, is Penn State, which offers a winnable road game in a season where Minnesota has already picked up two excellent road victories against Purdue and Northwestern. The prospect of being 3-1 on the road this early in the season should have Gopher fans salivating, as the schedule loosens up a bit after a brutal start.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a huge win at “home” against Michigan State, which actually took place at The Palestra, the true home of UPenn. So, take that victory with a grain of salt, as Lion fans turned out in droves for the special game, and the team was clearly amped up from playing in a historic building on national TV. Still, the 9-point win was a no-doubter, which speaks to Penn State’s capabilities.

This game, however, will be played at the Bryce Jordan Center at noon ET, which should offer a sleepy Saturday morning crowd. Just what the Gophers are looking for. Penn State comes in at 10-7 on the season, suffering head scratching losses to Albany and George Mason, while dropping a 10-point contest at home to Northwestern. Michigan State is their best win by far, though they narrowly missed on the road against Michigan.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Penn State Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2)

What time are they playing?

11 a.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Bryce Jordan Center

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPNU

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Penn State has been an excellent defensive team and a miserable offensive one. Penn State has the second best adjusted defensive rating in Big Ten play. They play mostly man to man defense, and have bought into Pat Chambers scheme this year. Penn State is good at defending both two and three point attempts. However, Penn State was able to play Rutgers, so take those rankings with a bit of a grain of salt.

Offense is a different story. In Big Ten play, the Nittany Lions score less than a point per possession. They turn the ball over on 18% of their possessions and do not rebound well. What the Nittany Lions are good is getting to the line. They are first in the Big Ten in FTA/FGA, and will try to attack the basket throughout the game. Penn State is not a good three point shooting team, so the Gophers should be able to pack the paint and rely on their defense to get stops.

Keys to the Game

1. Keep Reggie Lynch on the floor

Reggie Lynch has fouled out of four of Minnesota’s five Big Ten games. The Gophers need him to stay on the floor. He is their best source of rim protection, and his offensive game has improved enough to keep defenses honest. The Gophers have more open looks on offense when Lynch is on the floor, and a better defensive rating on defense.

2. Mental Toughness

Minnesota played young against Michigan State, and the true sign of a good team is being able to return to form after a poor outing. The Gophers are more talented than Penn State and have beaten better competition this year. It will be imperative for Minnesota to leave behind any lingering negativity from East Lansing.

3. Do not settle for mid-range jump shots

In their losses, Minnesota has frequently settled for mid-range jump shots. Quite a few of these have been rushed in some way, either requiring an off-balance look or not squared. Penn State is a good defensive unit who will make Minnesota work for shots. The Gophers will have a size advantage on the inside, and should be able to get mismatches on each possession. For that to happen, the perimeter players will have to look inside to get feeds in while the bigs have good position. Furthermore, Minnesota as a team needs to do a better job setting strong, legal, screens. Minnesota did a poor job against Michigan State, and has struggled with screens for much of Big Ten play.

Predictions

KenPom has this going to the Gophers 73-71. We like Minnesota to get back on track in a sleepy arena against a Penn State team that’s been off for a week. I’ll take the Gophers by 5.