#19  Golden Gophers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

2:30 (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

TV: Big Ten Network

Tickets: Still a few obstructed seats left

Chatroom: I won’t be here, but if you are, stop by and discuss the game

It is not a coincidence that the Gophers seem to struggled the most against small teams. What they have in size, they lack in quickness, and one of these days, that lack of quickness will lead to a lack of a win. Minnesota’s  problems were on display for the world to see on Thursday, and unless adjusments are made, the Penn State game could be just as ugly.

The Nittany Lions are just about the worst possible opponent for the Gophers to face right now. They are a lot like the Iowa Hawkeyes in that they lack size, but are much more dangerous in that they have talent. Minnesota won’t be facing a stand around and chuck it up opponent on Sunday. Penn State has the best back court in the conference, and the best 6’2” power forward since Ernie Abercrombie.

Penn State comes into Sunday’s game at Williams Arena with a 13-3 record and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions won their last game at home against soon not to be #14 Purdue in front of a robust  crowd of…4,404. Their best non-conference win came at Georgia Tech. Their worst loss  was at home against Temple, in front of 11,000 empty seats.

The Nittany lions play at a pace similar to the Gophers, but make better use of their posessions, averaging an extra point per every 100 times they have the ball. They are one of the better three point shooting teams in the country at 39.7%, and in large part because of their small line-up struggled from inside the three-point line, making only 48.1% of their two point attempts.  They are dreadful at the two point line, making 65% of their attempts. On defense, they are worse than the Gophers, but still not horrible. Despite their size, they are an incredible defensive rebounding team, ranking 3rd in offensive rebounds allowed. They also don’t put their opponents at the free throw line. In short, they won’t give the game to the Gophers, unless they are at the free throw line.

Tubby Smith is truely a man of faith. If he wasn’t, he would have given up on the “Twin Towers” starting line-up long ago. The Gophers have been reluctant to get the ball inside, even with their massive size advantage. Against Penn State, the inside will be open if they go there, and they will need to stay competitive. Penn State’s tallest starter is only 6’9”. Jamelle Cornley, the aforemention 6’2” power forward is listed at 6’5”, but don’t believe it for a second. Stanley Pringle and Talor Battle of Penn State’s heralded back court are both about 6′ tall. David Jackson is a legit 6’6” small forward. The Gophers should be bigger at every position, and herein lies the problem. Minnesota has not been able to adjust to the smaller  line ups and struggles with their own small line up.

When the starting line ups are announced we will know if the Minnesota coaching staff has been watching game films. Paul Carter should start in place of Sampson III, with the freshman centers replacing one another throughout the game. Devron Bostick, showing more than a few signs of life lately, gives the Gophers a guard with post up moves and interior defending ability without sacraficing quickness. He shouldn’t start, at least not yet, but with Blake Hoffaraber’s struggles, he should be one of the first players off the bench. Minnesota’s struggles aren’t with the line up or the game plan, but with the combination of the two.

In past year’s, using the word “struggling” to describe a 14-1 team would seem ridiculous. Of course, we didn’t have a 14-1 team, but even this team that up until now has exceeded all expectations could be playing much better. It is a shaky 14-1, but with a few minor adjustments, I have no doubt that the Gophers could compete for the conference title. Those adjustments will need to start against Penn State.

Keys for the Gophers

  1. Get the ball inside at least once every possession. The “Twin Towers” attempted only six shots against Penn State. If this number is closer to twenty, it shouldn’t be a close game.
  2. Press early, but abandon it even earlier if it doesn’t work. The Gophers will face a real challenge with Penn State’s back court. They need to make Battle and Pringle work on every possession at both ends of the floor, and running a press will do that. However, both Penn State guards are exceptional ball handlers who rarely commit turnovers. It is in situations like this when I am more than happy not having to make decisions.
  3. Get luck. The Gophers rank 343rd in the country in opponents free throw percentage. Penn State is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. Something has to give, and if Penn State shoots 80% or better from the free throw line, it will be just more proof that Minnesota teams are cursed.

Keys for the Nittany Lions

  1. Make free throws. It sounds simple and it is.
  2. Keep the Gophers off the offensive glass. Iowa gave the game away by giving the cold shooting Gophers plenty of extra opportunities.
  3. Take smart shots on the inside. The Gophers are the best shot blocking team in the country and Penn State is tiny. They will need to go inside, but if they aren’t careful their inside game could be the start of many Minnesota fast breaks.

Key Players for the Gophers

  1. Blake Hoffarber is in a slump, but he shot himself out of a slump against Penn State last year by hitting five threes. With most of the same players and same game plans, Hoffarber could have another big day.
  2. Al Nolen played his worst game of the season last game, with ordinary defense and bad free throw shooting. He will need to be effective in feeding the post and containing Penn State’s guards.
  3. Damian Johnson will need to find a way to get open looks at the basket. He isn’t much of a post player, and primarily scores by slashing to the basket, with shorter and quicker players able to keep up with him. He won’t need to score much, but will need to be at the very least a threat on offense and fill up the box score in other areas.

Key Players for the Nittany Lions

  1. Talor Battle would be the favorite for Big Ten player of the year if he played for a better team. He averages 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
  2. Stanley Pringle has upped his scoring average by eight points per game since last season, and is an effective but streaky three point shooter.
  3. Jamelle Cornley averages 14 points and 7 rebounds per game. He is still a primarly interior player, but already has a career high for three pointers in a season, and is 6-14 from the outside.

Prediction: After Penn State’s “Big Three” they have a big nothing, and the Gophers depth will be too much. Minnesota 67 Penn State 59.

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