Everyone is standing a little taller these days. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are part of the national basketball discussion, having won six games in a row, and continue to rise in national metrics. They’re 32nd in KenPom’s rankings, 15th in RPI and, most importantly, are a LOCK in ESPN’s Bubble Watch, which we all know is the authority in determining who will and won’t be in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the Gophers come home to face the Penn State Nittany Lions and Nebraska Cornhuskers for their final homestand of the year and a realistic chance of extending their winning streak and moving up the conference standings.
The first go-round with Penn State did not go well. The Gophers had their worst offensive game of the year, scoring only 50 points and, frankly, left a very winnable game on the table. The Gophers are still kicking themselves for that missed opportunity, though it’s not quite as glaring with their recent win streak. In fact, the Gophers have now lost four in a row to the Lions.
Penn State comes into the game at 14-14 but riding a two game losing streak. Despite their struggles, the Nittany Lions are a pesky bunch and won’t roll over. Consider that along with their win over the Gophers, they’ve beaten Maryland and took Purdue to overtime in their most recent game. They’ll surprise you.
Who are the Gophers playing?
Penn State Nittany Lions (14-14, 6-9)
What time are they playing?
2 p.m. CT
Where are they playing?
Can I watch the game on TV?
Can I listen to the game on the radio?
Yes. ESPN 1500.
Tell me more about the opponent.
Despite their offensive woes, Penn State does a good job of harassing teams with a good defense. They rank in the top 40 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, though they’re near the bottom of the conference in points given up per game. However, they’re great at forcing turnovers, and force by far the most in the Big Ten at 15 per game.
Freshman guard Tony Carr has been a breath of fresh air for Lions, and is getting stronger as the season goes on. He singlehandedly brought PSU back into the game against Purdue and forced overtime, and is averaging a cool 18 ppg in his last six. As with most leading scorers, the Gophers shut Carr down in their first meeting, where he scored a season low 2 points without hitting a bucket.
Freshman forward Lamar Stevens has also been on a tear recently, with three 20-plus point efforts in his last six games. He’s found a three-point capability as well, and has hit six threes in the same span, after not hitting one for the entire season before that. Strange.
Keys to the Game
1. Bring some offense
There’s one key to the game today and that’s this — score. The Minnesota defense will do its job in keeping Penn State’s offense muted, but that wasn’t enough in the first matchup, where the Gophers barely cracked 50 points. This should go without saying, but the Gophers need to score to win, and that’s something they did not do in game one. The offense has been clicking recently, and with the exception of the Illinois game, Minnesota has had a favorable offense. Still, with a pesky Nittany Lions defense, it will be imperative that guys like Nate Mason, Akeem Springs and Dupree McBrayer come to play. They scored a combined 12 points back in Happy Valley, and Reggie Lynch was the only player to score in double figures. That can’t happen again if the Gophers expect to win.
KenPom likes the Gophers in this one, predicting a nine-point win, 75-66. I like the Gophers as well, and will take them by 8 in a decisive victory.