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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Penn State

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The Gophers appear to be “IN” but can guarantee that with a win on Thursday

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Rutgers
Rasir Bolton could be the X-factor on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a new, optimistic day in Gopher basketball land. They finished the regular season on a relative high note, with a crucial home win against Purdue and despite a unequivocal loss at Maryland. All that to say that they are likely in the NCAA Tournament according to most pundits if the season ended today.

Also acting in their favor, aside from an incredibly weak bubble, is their Big Ten Tournament scenario. Minnesota drew Penn State who, at 14-17 overall, have no chance at making the NCAA Tournament without winning the conference tournament. However, they have great metrics and represent a chance for the Gophers to pick up another Q1 win to add to their resume. A loss also wouldn’t be particularly damaging either, as it would be a Q1 loss.

Obviously you don’t want to lose to Penn State, but it beats the prospect of being in a scenario where you absolutely cannot lose to a Rutgers or Nebraska. With the Gophers safely IN according to most pundits, and a 10-seed at that, a lot has to happen between now and Sunday for the Gophers to be at risk for selection. A win against the Nittany Lions erases all doubt.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Penn State Nittany Lions (7-13, 14-17)

What time are they playing?

Thursday, March 14 @ 6 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KTLK 1130-AM/103.5-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Minnesota narrowly escaped Penn State at home in their one and only game earlier this season, sneaking by with a 65-64 victory in mid-January. At the time, Penn State was off to an 0-7 start in the conference and would eventually end up an unsightly 0-10 before recording their first victory.

Since then the Lions have gone 7-3 in the conference and racked up wins over Michigan and Maryland, and have won five of their last six. Their peripherals support the idea that they may not be as bad as their overall record indicates. In fact, they’re two-point favorites heading into the game against the Gophers and have a better KenPom and NET rating. Gotta get those Ws, amirite?

Lamar Stevens, an All-Big Ten first team (coaches) selection, leads the offense scoring 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, the former ranking second in the conference. He’ll get his, but the Gophers need to make sure that supporting castmates Rasir Bolton and Josh Reaves don’t go off. Each average in double figures, scoring-wise, but tend to be up and down. Reaves scored 26 in their most recent game against Illinois, one game after being held to just eight.

Predictions

The Gophers are 4-0 this season on a neutral court, so that counts for something, right? But with Penn State trending in the right direction and the Gophers treading water, it’s hard to pick them with a ton of certainty. Still, it looks to be a toss-up from every direction, so let’s roll into this with a little optimism shall we? I’ll take Minnesota by 2, 70-68.