Penn State at Minnesota Preview: NIT Bubble vs. NCAA Bubble

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams squarely on the bubble for both big postseason tournaments look to bolster their postseason resumes

Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-12, 7-10)
When: Sunday, 5:15 P.M. ET
Where: Williams Arena
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 57
Vegas Line: Minnesota -7
Enemy Blog: The Daily Gopher

After Penn State beat the everloving shit out of Northwestern on Thursday, the Nittany Lions travel to Minneapolis for its final game of the season. Chambers and co. face a formidable opponent in Minnesota, who took down Penn State 68-65 at the Bryce Jordan Center in January.

This game is going to be a war, not just because it's the Big Ten finale for both teams, but because it has major postseason implications. The Gophers are right on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament, while Penn State needs a win as it is on the outside looking in of the NIT. Minnesota can't afford a loss to the Nittany Lions if it wants to make the Tournament, while Penn State needs to win this game and probably two Big Ten Tournament games to have any shot of making the NIT. It's gonna be fun. Start drinking now.

Also, there is a chance at a rematch. Here's the situation, as this game has major implications for the Big Ten Tournament:

Scouting the Opposition

First year head coach Richard Pitino -- the son of Rick, and someone who I desperately want to be nicknamed "Dickie" -- took over a team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, and hasn't missed a beat. Despite losing Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, the team has looked pretty solid, leaning on its trio of guards: Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, and Austin Hollins.

Despite being terribly undersized (across the board: 6'2". 5'9", 6'4"), all three are averaging at least 11.6 points per game, with Andre Hollins leading the way with 14.6 points per game. The troika has led Minnesota's potent attack, which has an AdjO of 112.7, which is 37th in America, per KenPom.

On the defensive end, Minnesota is eh. KenPom has them 102nd in AdjD, and the team is allowing 67.9 points per game, which is 115th nationally. The Gophers are anchored defensively by 6'11" center Elliott Eliason, who is pulling down 7.1 boards a night and blocks 2.1 shots every game.

Minnesota has limped to the finish line, going 3-7 in its last 10 games with three terrible losses: Northwestern and Illinois at home -- the Illinois loss was by 13 points -- and a triple OT loss in West Lafayette against Purdue. However, the Gophers beat Iowa 95-89. I dunno. They're a weird squad.

Key Matchup

I'm salivating over the thought of a 6'2", 195 lb. Andre Hollins checking 6'4", 205 lb. D.J. Newbill. And, for that matter, the 5'9" Mathieu guarding Tim Frazier. Penn State's backcourt needs to be more physical than Minnesota's. The last time they met, Ellison and Hollins combined for 30, while Newbill fouled out in 15 minutes of play. D.J. Newbill didn't do anything -- literally, he nearly had a 15 trillion -- and Penn State lost by three. If he stays in the game and imposes his will without committing fouls, Penn State should win...on paper.

Prediction

I'm begrudgingly taking Minnesota for one reason: Joe Lunardi has them as a First Four Out of the NCAA Tournament. It literally cannot afford this loss. I think that Penn State plays well, but the Gophers come out and play like the fate of the world depends on the result of the game, which for all intents and purposes, it does. Also, I think Penn State is in for a little bit of a let down after that Northwestern game. Give me the Gophers, 75-61. I really hope I'm wrong. PPP.

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