This is a big game for the Gophers. There are a handful of teams fighting for 5th (maybe even 4th) in the league and currently these are the favorites to earn that spot. For Penn State this is a home game and you should win it. For Minnesota this is a winable road game that you need if you want to get yourself on the bubble and into the tournament.
Overall Penn State isn't a great team bu they have a great player in Geary Claxton who is a nightmare match up for Minnesota. Our weakest link in the starting lineup is SF and Raymar Morgan is GN exhibit: A as to what happens when a talented and athletic SF faces the Gophers. Visions of Abu-Shamal starting on one of the best players in the conference will keep me up all night tonight.
But lets say Claxton goes "Morgan" on us and drops 31 and 10 on us. The comforting part is that the rest of the Nittany Lions aren't that scary. PF-Jamel Cornley is a good player and they have some talent in the backcourt but there is a reason they were picked to be in the bottom group with Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa.
They are hot right now and the team that was unable to win a road game last year has started out 2-0 on the road in conference.
PG - McKenzie vs. Taylor Battle - this is a unique match up of a senior vs. a freshman. Battle has been decent this year averaging 7.5 ppg and 3.4 apg (10th in BigTen), what should give Gopher fans hope is his recent performances in Big Ten play. Even though he has averaged 11.5 ppg in his first two B10 road games in those two games he shot 27.2%. In fact on the season he isn't much better shooting 28.7%. The fact that the Gophers have been good at hurrying perimeter shooters (Ben Woodside and Neitzel 2-11 for example) should mean that Battle won't buck his shooting trend this time.
PUSH SG - Westbrook vs. Dan Morrissey - Jr, guard who is about the equivalent of Westbrook (statistically speaking). Neither are big scorers on their teams but both are capable of making plenty of shots if ignored. I have more faith in Westbrook as he's been solid defensively when he's not facing an overly athletic opponent. Morrisey is a shooter but he's not athletic.
SF - Abu-Shamala vs. Geary Claxton - AAAHHH, make him go away! Claxton had his best game of the year last year vs. Minnesota (20 and 12), fortunately we only played him once. JAS isn't capable of guarding him it will take a team effort. Johnson is the best match up we have, but I no longer hold out hope that we'll see a lineup change without an injury. But that's not the point the point is that Claxton won't be stopped by this team, the best we can hope for is to be slowed down and not let anybody else beat us.
PF - Coleman vs. Jamelle Cornley - our best player vs. their 2nd best. Cornley is an undersized PF who is very athletic. Coleman has been playing at a very high level and an undersized, athletic forward won't worry me. If Coleman can keep him off the offensive glass and under his season average that will help tremendously. I am hopeful, but I think realistic that Coleman will win this one for us.
C - Tollackson vs. Andrew Jones - Jones starts but I he's not the key matchup here. Penn State goes small often and this will go one of two ways. Either the Gophers exurt their will and pound the ball inside to Tollackson, Coleman or Williams. OR PSU goes small and we play a smaller lineup with Coleman inside and Johnson at PF.
BENCH - I have to say that I expected good things from this team but the strength of the bench has taken me by surprise. Hoffarber's shooting, Nolen's on-the-ball defense and Johnson's shot blocking ability will not only outplay the Nittany Lions but it will be enough for the gophers to win the game. Penn State will come with freshman David Jackson to play forward, Jr-G Stanley Pringle and 6'11" Brandon Hassell. All are talented but I'll take our bench this week.
1. The other 4 guys - Claxton will get 20+ and probably 10+ rebounds. But in our excitement to stop Claxton we can't over-commit and leave Cornely open for dunks or Morrissey open for 3's. Often your goal should be to stop the opponents best and "make somebody else beat you." But as Raymar showed us that one guy CAN beat us. Let Claxton get plenty of points (just not too many) but keep everyone else in check.
2. Turnovers - They are 15th nationally at keeping care of the ball. But we are fairly good at turning over other teams. We need to frustrate and turnover Battle early and often. Get him a little rattled then bring in Nolen to break him.
3. Don't Come Out Flat - We are heading on the road, don't forget to show up. I have often seen Gopher teams show up and lay an egg. Get good shots early in the paint and box out. If we come out expecting Hoffarber to have a hot hand again and then we get to watch McKenzie, Westbrook and Nolen shoot a lot of threes while they ignore Coleman/Tollackson we coudl be in trouble. Play good D, get good shots and box out. Fortunately these are the things that Tubby has convinced these kids to do.
Prediction - The gophers have not been very good on the road (with 1 exception, MSU) and Claxton could very well dominate, but I like the rest of our matchups. And when Nolen, Hoffarber and Johnson come in the scales will tip in our favor. There is a good chance that Coleman could end up guarding him and if that is the case we could slow him down. As I said in the "keys" section the real danger is we pay so much attention to Claxton that Morrissey hits several threes or Cornley gets layups and dunks on over helping.
When it comes down to it, they are thin on depth, despite their "athleticism they don't offensive rebound very well, they don't shoot very well and have very little size.
I expect that we will shoot better, out rebound them and have fewer turnovers. That usually equates to a win.
Minnesota - 72
Penn State - 66