You wouldn’t know it by looking at Penn State’s record, but Minnesota’s shocking, come from behind victory at Happy Valley in the first week of the Big Ten season was as close as Minnesota has come to a quality victory. Back then, the Nittany Lions were the upstart team in the conference, with consecutive road wins and a dominant player that defied traditional positions and anyone trying to guard him. His name is Gearry Claxton, and 7 minutes into his teams next game against Wisconsin, he tore up his knee. Since then Penn State’s record is what you would expect from a one man team without their one man. A once promising season has been turned upside down, and Penn State basketball fans will have to wait at least another year.
While Penn State’s 4-9 conference record isn’t exactly unexpected, the way they have played is. Many teams in their position would have given up by now. After all, their best player, best scorer, best rebounder, and by all accounts the heart and soul of the team is now more concerned with being able to play basketball again, let alone playing for his college team, but Penn State didn’t see this as a reason to quit. They led Ohio State well into the second half at home, nearly won at Michigan (something Ohio State couldn’t do), beat Illinois, and shocked Michigan State in what may have been the biggest upset of the year in all of college basketball. The effort, the fight, everything good about a college basketball team is stil there, but without talent they can only take you so far.
Without Claxton, the Nittany Lions’ roster has been severely depleted, but the cupboard is not completely bare. Jamelle Cornley, like Claxton, defies categorization. At only 6’5″ but weighing 240 pounds, he can play inside and out. His 11 points and 6 rebounds per game lead active member of the team (Claxton led in both categories before his injury). Ironically, Cornley was finally recovering from a nagging injury when Claxton was lost. Talor Battle, a freshman point guard, has struggled with consistency like most first year players, but has season highs of 20 points and 5 assists. In the first match-up between Penn State and Minnesota he scored 19 points, but made a few bone headed mistakes that arguably cost his team the game.
Minnesota should win rather easily tomorrow. Unfortunately, other than a probable game against Northwestern or Penn State in the conference tournament, this may be Minnesota’s last chance for a win. Tomorrow’s game should be a welcome opportunity for the Gophers to work out their rotation for the rest of the season, and possibly try out a few new offensive and defensive sets at game speed. Such opportunities are rare, especially in the Big Ten, and Minnesota would wise to use the game against Penn State to learn and improve, and not just run away with an easy win.
Prediction: Minnesota 80 – Penn State 55
If you have any thoughts about the game or pertinent links, by all means share them in the comments.