Penn State vs. Minnesota Preview: Nittany Lions Out to Play Spoiler, Take Two

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

All the pressure is on the Golden Gophers, who can kiss their NCAA tournament hopes goodbye if they don't beat the Nittany Lions for the third time this season.

Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-12, 8-10)
When: Thursday, 6:30pm ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TV: ESPN2
KenPom Rank: 52
Vegas Line: Minnesota -4.5
Enemy Blog: The Daily Gopher (vote Pat Chambers)

Remember back in 2011, when the Talor Battle & Jeff Brooks-led Nittany Lions were on the fringes of the bubble and needed every bit of their three-game win streak in the B1G tournament to make the dance? Well, Minnesota isn't quite that deep in the hole, but they need to win tonight's game (and probably tomorrow's quarterfinal game against Wisconsin) to have a shot at hearing their name called on Sunday.

Thankfully for the Gophers, they have plenty of momentum heading into this one. They walloped Penn State 81-63 just four days ago, clinching the seven seed for Minnesota and setting up this rematch. For the second year in a row the Nittany Lions were stifled out of the gate, scoring just three measly points in the first seven minutes of action.

Scouting The Opposition

As we saw on Sunday, Minnesota's got balance. Guards Deandre Mathieu, Austin Hollins, and Andre Hollins combined for 43 points in the Barn, and big man Maurice Walker had 16 points off the bench. Even reserve guard Maverick Ahanmisi got in the act with 13 points after having made just eight field goals the entire season before Sunday. The point is that Minny has plenty of scoring options, so trying to devise a gameplan to stop this offense could prove futile.

Pat Chambers' focus should be squarely on figuring out how to break down the Gophers constant pressure defense. Penn State committed 16 turnovers and struggled to get into the lane on Sunday, never getting an offensive rhythm going until it was far too late. Getting some early buckets should remedy the Nittany Lions of any "oh no, not again" jitters.

Key Matchup

Walker missed just one shot in the last matchup, and while I don't have any proof of this, I'm willing to bet my life savings that miss was caused by Jordan Dickerson. Walker is a hefty 6'10", 270lb problem in the paint and he overpowered Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor every time. Dickerson has to be able to stay on the floor to defend him because Penn State simply doesn't have anyone else that can match up with such a skilled big man.

Prediction

There's not much pressure on Penn State here. They're probably going to some postseason tournament somewhere, and I'd venture a guess that it won't be on the players' minds tonight. Minnesota, on the other hand, has it all to play for. A loss would be catastrophic, and if the Lions don't roll over from the start for the second game in a row I kind of like their chances. Plus Eric has already made an ominous prediction about this one, so I'll go with the oracle and say PSU 75, Minnesota 72.

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