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Penn State vs Minnesota Preview: Lions Host Struggling Gophers

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Minnesota has lost three straight Big Ten games. Could the Lions make it a fourth?

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State is coming off a hard fought win against Nebraska, and is looking to keep a streak going against a Minnesota team playing without Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey. The Golden Gophers have lost three straight games, the last two in blowout fashion.

Minnesota is not likely to see Lynch for the rest of the season, but Coffey is expected to return at some point. Whether he’ll be ready to go against Penn State, we’ll probably find out at tipoff.

Depth is a problem for both of these squads, but it’s increasingly imperative for the Gophers as they have been missing two starters for multiple games now. If Josh Reaves is off the lineup again for this game, this could become an issue of which team can make a dire situation into a critical one by drawing fouls early and often.

Scouting the opposition

It comes as no surprise that Dupree McBrayer, Nate Mason, and Jordan Murphy have been taking the bulk of the minutes for Minnesota, especially with two missing starters. Bakary Konate has seen increased playing time in place of the aforementioned Lynch at center. While not downright terrible, he has not been able to replicate Lynch’s efficiency inside. Isaiah Washington (not that one) has probably seen the most minutes since, as he’s now averaging close to 20 minutes a game. Washington played nine minutes back in December when Minnesota played Rutgers.

The results speak for themselves, but the Gophers have really missed Lynch’s presence inside and Coffey’s versatility. Mason, Murphy, and McBrayer have done as well as you could expect of them (sans the few technicals they’ve racked up in previous games), but playing with a short bench and missing starters will do that to you.

Penn State’s strategy in this game is simple. Work Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens inside, draw a few fouls, and force Minnesota to rely on their bench early. If they do that, they should coast to victory.

What to watch for

Can Stevens and Watkins keep it going? - Penn State’s effectiveness inside has been a sight to behold over the past few games, and is going to be the difference maker in this game. If Stevens and Watkins can do to the Gophers what they did to Northwestern and Nebraska, this game should be over rather quickly.

Can they build a lead and keep it? - Against both Nebraska and Northwestern, the Nittany Lions built a double-digit lead that they would later relinquish. With Nebraska, the game went to overtime as a result. How will the team respond to that adversity?

Ball movement - Tony Carr had eight assists last time out, Shep Garner and Jamari Wheeler had two three respectively, and Stevens pitched in another two as well. Can the Lions keep moving the ball the way they did then? Will they fall into old habits if the game is close?

Prediction

Minnesota is likely in desperation mode at this point. Their NCAA tournament hopes are most likely gone, but they can still make the NIT if they finish with a good enough record. This is a win they need to have if they want to get there. Unfortunately for them, the Nittany Lions’ own tournament hopes are on life support right now, so they’re going to fight tooth and nail to get this win. Penn State 67, Minnesota 66.