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Minnesota at Penn State Preview

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Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-5, 1-4)
When: Today, 4:00 PM
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Affiliates, Sirius - CH 92, XM - CH 191

It seems like the last 5 meetings between these two teams have come down to the wire. There's good reason to believe that today's game will be no exception to this series' trend. Minnesota comes in as a 2 point road favorite after just upsetting Indiana in Bloomington on Thursday. It was the Gopher's first win in Big Ten play this year, saving their season for a brief moment.

If you haven't been paying attention, you wouldn't know Minnesota's season took a turn for the worst after Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL at the Old Spice Classic in November. Mbakwe was PSU's Frazier, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds in the 6 games prior to his injury. Many thought Minnesota would go into the tank after his injury, but they actually won 6 straight to finish their non-conference season at 12-1. However, the start of conference play has seemed to expose Minnesota's weaknesses without Mbakwe. They lost to Michigan and Illinois on the road, and Iowa and Purdue at home.

Since Mbakwe's injury, it has been junior Rodney Williams who is leading the way for the Gophers. The 6-7 athletic freak is averaging 12.6 PPG and 8.8 RPG in conference play. Joining him up front is Ralph Sampson III. He would be one of those 'he's still around?!' guys except he constantly disappears during games that no one cares. For instance, despite scoring 22 points and grabbing 9 rebounds against Illinois in the conference-opener, he is averaging 9.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG in 5 conference games. Aside from these two, however, Minnesota is thin up front. They'll try to get spot minutes from Eliot Eliason and Oto Osenieks.

Tubby Smith's team has a revamped backcourt after last season's graduation of Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen. JuCo transfer Julian Welch has been big, averaging 10.8 PPG and 1.6 SPG. True freshman Joe Coleman has recently entered the starting lineup the last two games (10 PPG and 4.5 RPG in those two games). Sophomore Austin Hollins was instrumental in their upset of the Hoosiers by scoring 18 points, bringing his Big Ten average up to 8.2 PPG. Maverick Ahanmisi, Andre Hollins (no relation to Austin), and Chip Armelin will all get time today in the backcourt, as well. The secret to Penn State's offense is shutting down Tim Frazier's penetration. We'll see if this group has what it takes.

These two teams have very similar profiles in conference play. They both average around 64 possessions/game, while scoring at 0.99 PPP and giving up 1.08 PPP. Obviously Minnesota is a better shooting team, since PSU is so bad, but they're only shooting at 47.1% eFG%. Penn State is the better rebounding team and actually gets to the foul line at a better rate. If the Lions continue to work hard on defense and not let a 32.5% 3-point shooting team get loose, I really like their chances. This could be a favorable matchup if the Lions continue to play as hard as they have the past few weeks.

Minnesota is prime for a letdown performance after a great victory at Indiana. Penn State shoots better at home and might actually have a student crowd behind them for once with the THON promotion. All of that said, I still don't have any real expectation of this team winning, but this is one of their best chances they'll get.