You know it's a great day for Penn State sports when a do-or-die regular season finale is the third most exciting thing going on in the athletic department, but that will be the case today as the Nittany Lions travel to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers today at 1:00 P.M. on the Big Ten Network.
With the Lady Lions taking on Ohio State in the Big Ten women's basketball tournament finals and the wrestling team holding a slim lead at the Big Ten championships, it'll be understandable if you're a little distracted today, but let's set this one up, anyway.
At this point, it's all in for Talor Battle and Co. They've gotten passes and/or new life after many of the losses they've had this season, but there's no way around it this time: Penn State needs this game to have a shot at an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The magic number of 18 wins will still be reasonably within reach with a victory as the team heads to the Big Ten tournament, but a loss likely makes at least three wins in three days will be necessary to have a shot.
Penn State knocked off Minnesota at the Bryce Jordan Center the first time these two teams met on Feb. 13. Battle racked up 28 points, including a dagger of a 3-pointer to lift the Lions in another must-win to keep their tournament hopes alive. Penn State found itself in a dog fight the entire way, though, something that makes a trip to the Barn unsettling.
When Penn State Has The Ball
- These Lions have a habit of shooting poorly in the first half, especially on the road, so it'd be surprising if they came out strong. If they can ride out the storm, though, they should be OK. Scoring well enough to keep themselves within 10 should give them a realistic shot in the second, especially against a team as deficient at home as Minnesota.
- Penn State's scoring distribution wasn't too hot in the first game. Beyond Battle, only David Jackson saw double figures with 13 points. This time around, seniors Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones should look to make bigger contributions offensively. That will take pressure off of Battle and give the team a better shot, generally.
- The Lions turned the ball over only five times in State College, a big, big key in what turned out to be a one-possession ball game. Taking care of the ball will be as important if not more so on the road today.
When Minnesota Has The Ball
- Jones and Brooks ran into early foul trouble in the first game, something that really hurt the Lions in the first half. They need to be aggressive, but careful this time around. As important as good defense is, having their scoring ability on the floor over guys like Billy Oliver and Steve Kirkpatrick is vital.
- Penn State was smashed 31-20 on the boards by the Gophers last time. That kind of domination can't happen on the road or it'll be a long afternoon. Guys like Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III are tough assignments down low, but the way Penn State's guards rebound, they should be able to handle it.
Blake Hoffarber nailed six threes at the BJC and after watching Jon Diebler go 10-12 Tuesday night, that's a chilling statistic. Perimeter defense has been the bane of Penn State's existence all season. How the Lions guard the arc in this one might be the difference between having a chance heading into next week and heading back to the NIT.
Really, the only thing that kept this game close in State College was Penn State's terrible first half in which Ed DeChellis was forced to empty the bench to make up for Jones' and Brooks' foul trouble. Without Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph, the Gophers are a shell of themselves. If Penn State plays a smart game, it should be fine and still breathing when they open in Indy on Thursday. If it doesn't and blows this...well it doesn't belong in the NCAA Tournament. Period.
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