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Penn State vs Minnesota Preview: Can Chambers Finally Break Gophers' Spell?

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The Nittany Lions need another win to continue their resuscitation of this B1G campaign, but they'll have to break a five-game losing streak against tonight's foe to do so.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers
When: 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: BTN, BTN2Go
KenPom Rank: 52
Vegas Line: Minnesota -2
Enemy Blog: The Daily Gopher

Penn State will have [clears throat] a golden opportunity to get a second B1G win on Wednesday night with Minnesota coming to town. The Nittany Lions will have to exorcise some demons however, as the Gophers have had their number since the senior class of 2011 graduated. Rich Pitino's high-octane style of play gave Penn State fits last year, as all three games went in favor of tonight's visitors.

Brandon Taylor was listed as "day-to-day" after he suffered a knock to his knee in Saturday's thrashing of Rutgers, but reading between the lines of Pat Chambers' press conference responses, there is some doubt as to whether the junior forward will be available. If he can't go, it would be a huge miss for Penn State - Taylor put in his best effort in conference play on Saturday with 16 points on 6-10 shooting.

Scouting The Opposition

The Gophers have a glut of talented guards and a highly-skilled, classic post player that can make them a matchup nightmare. Maurice Walker, the 6'10", 250lb mountain of a man gives Minnesota a great option in halfcourt sets. He's averaging 12 points per game on 60% shooting. Walker might be the biggest test Penn State's bigs face all season, and considering his size the Lions will need Jordan Dickerson to defend reasonably well without fouling. That's a big ask from Penn State's junior center, who's averaging eight fouls per 40 minutes.

However, the Lions' first task on Wednesday night will be to slow down a Gophers team that prefers a chaotic, end-to-end game. Minnesota is 30th in the country in adjusted tempo. Their hectic style lures opponents into quick possessions and sloppy mistakes that lead to runouts - the Gophers force turnovers on 24.9% of defensive possessions, and 58.6% of those turnovers are steals.

How are they so effective in that style? Because Rich Pitino has the personnel to do it. Guards Deandre Mathieu, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris are all among the top 60 in the country in steal percentage (as is Walker, surprisingly). Andre Hollins isn't quite the defensive stat sheet stuffer as his backcourt mates, but he is the main offensive threat at 14.5 ppg.

What To Watch For

If there's one area of the game Penn State can exploit, it's on the offensive glass. Minnesota will play with three guards and stretch-four Joey King for most of the game, placing the rebounding duties almost squarely on the shoulders of the center - usually Walker, who plays 57% of available minutes. With the 6'9" King grabbing just 9.3% of available defensive rebounds, this is a game where Ross Travis can shine on the offensive glass. Longer possessions won't just give Penn State extra chances to score, they'll slow the game down and keep Minnesota from dictating the tempo.

Prediction

As good as Penn State looked on Saturday, it was still against Rutgers. If Newbill and crew (Crewbill?) can shoot 50% from the field for the second straight game, it could be a winnable one for the Nittany Lions. But Minnesota's M.O. is to take a team out of its comfort zone, and they did that to great effect three times last season. It seems like Pitino already has Chambers' number, and I don't expect that script to flip this evening. Minnesota 75, Penn State 67.