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Penn State vs. Minnesota Preview: Lions Return Home in Search of Rare Early January Win

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Just like Oklahoma-Kansas but without all the good stuff.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-8, 0-2)
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: Big Ten Network
KenPom Rank: 161
Vegas Line: PSU -6
Enemy Blog: The Daily Gopher

The numbers say that Penn State is a clear favorite in this game, but you could be forgiven for being a pessimist in early January. The Nittany Lions are a mere 6-30 in the first month of the year under Pat Chambers, with only two of those wins coming before Jan 20. The last three seasons have seen PSU start 0-6 or worse, so there's certainly some bad juju surrounding tonight's game.

Part of Penn State's early season struggles can be attributed to tough scheduling - [a "hrrbrgghhbesidesRutgersbrrhhghg" emerges from the crowd] QUIET YOU - but a home date against a 6-8 team that lost to South Dakota and South Dakota State in back to back games at The Barn presents a real opportunity for Chambers to cure his January blues.

Of course, based on each team's last game, there's not much of a contest - PSU got their butts handed to them at Michigan, while the Gophers nearly took down a Denzel Valentine-less Sparty on their home floor. But the road is a different story, and this Minnesota team isn't one that looks like beating many teams on it.

Scouting The Opposition

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for Richard Pitino, who lost major contributors Mo Walker, Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu to graduation this offseason. Pitino brought in a promising four-man recruiting class to replace that esteemed bunch, but with three of them getting major minutes it's not hard to see why the Gophers have struggled to find consistency in the first half of the season.

The brightest of those three newcomers is undoubtedly Jordan Murphy, a 6'6" wing built like Ross Travis but with the skills and productivity (11 ppg, 8 rpg) to match the athleticism. Kevin Dorsey was the class's highest-ranked recruit at 125th on the 247Sports composite rankings and he looks the part at times, though Josh Reaves' former high school teammate at Paul VI (VA) has also struggled to find consistency in his jumper.

As for the returners, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris are dangerous guards capable of big nights, and Joey King is the man that Penn State will need to keep an eye on around the three-point line, as the senior is connecting on 43% of his attempts. If the Lions can keep these three off the arc, they should be able to matchup well with Minnesota's bigs - especially if Pitino decides to keep benching 6'9" Charles Buggs for no apparent reason.

What To Watch For

Minnesota's calling card since Pitino's hiring has been uptempo offense and pressure defense. They've almost abandoned the latter principle this season due to ineffective results despite the gaudy turnover numbers, and they haven't played at a fast pace on offense much either of late. Penn State has taken a similar offensive approach this season, opting to slow the game down quite a bit. That strategy almost worked wonders at Maryland but got torched in Ann Arbor on Saturday; I'm interested to see if Chambers opts to push more against a team that he's had success against by utilizing that uptempo approach.

Prediction

After that beatdown at the hands of Michigan I'm back to square zero with this Penn State team. They showed plenty of heart and toughness during the two weeks prior to Saturday but looked completely lost and overwhelmed at Crisler as the Wolverines hit 14 of their 25 threes. But Minnesota doesn't possess that kind of firepower and a return to the BJC should be a psychological boost, if nothing else. With another 0-6 start looming large should they falter here, I like the Nittany Lions to eek one out, perhaps on a buzzer-beater: Penn State 67, Minnesota 65.