Penn State vs. Minnesota Preview: Lions Looking to Notch First B1G Win

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The Gophers were able to record their first B1G win of the year last time out - can Penn State do the same on Wednesday?

Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers
When: Wednesday,
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 40
Vegas Line: Minnesota, -1.5
Enemy Blog: The Daily Gopher

It's starting to feel like now or never for Penn State. The first two games of the B1G slate were always going to be unkind - Michigan State is a Final Four team, and a visit to Illinois without Talor Battle is always easier said than done. Nonetheless, an 0-2 start, especially in the fashion Penn State started, doesn't exactly inspire confidence that this group can reach the postseason. A win at the BJC against a, let's say, "beatable" Minnesota team, at least in the context of the B1G, would go a long way towards reinvigorating what is beginning to look and feel like a wasted season.

Scouting The Opposition

The Gophers sure don't play like a team coached by a 31 year-old. Richard Pitino (who is a former duqane assistant, by the way) has his team playing at a high level, though not quite at the level at which the 2012-13 Gophers had reached. Then again, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are gone, and Oto Osenieks and Elliot Eliason have stepped in at the 4 and 5. So there's some dropoff.

But Minnesota's guards are some of the best in the conference, and it starts with the Hollinses. Andre and Austin lead the team in scoring at 15.9 and 13.0 ppg, respectively, and the latter grabs an astonishing 7.0 rebounds per game at just 6'4". The duo have been somewhat streaky from the floor, but the supporting cast has propped up the team's collective 51% eFG%. Senior guard Malik Smith is the team's three-point specialist - 79% of his attempts are from beyond the arc, and he's a 40% shooter.

We could see some hot four-guard on four-guard action in the Jordan Center - Pitino likes to trot out a Deandre Mathieu/Smith/Hollins/Hollins/Eliason lineup every so often, and Pat Chambers could match personnel pretty evenly in that regard. It's all possible because of Mathieu - the Morehead State transfer is the true point guard Minnesota didn't have last season, averaging 4.7 apg, good for third in the conference.

Key Matchup

The guards should cancel each other out, so the big matchup will be Penn State's streaky frontcourt versus Minny's solid-if-unspectacular bigs. Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor would be well served to hit some outside shots to limit the effectiveness of Eliason (2.5 bpg), and Ross Travis is due for a big game after notching a goose-egg in points against Illinois.

Prediction

I picked Penn State to make the NCAA Tournament in the preseason, so, uh, [pulls shirt collar], I'm going with the home team in a close one, 78-76. The charge has got to start soon if the Lions are going to make something of this season, so why not tonight? Chambers seems to think his team is in a good place after a couple of second half debacles. It should be a fast-paced affair with lots of talented guards - hopefully it's the reverse result of the Laurence Westbrook game in 2010-11.

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