Few teams in the Big Ten are playing as well as the Penn State Nittany Lions currently are. Penn State finished the regular season by going 7-3 in their final 10 games which led to the Nittany Lions finishing the regular season with a 14-17 record. Their hot finish also got the team to the 10th seed in the Big Ten Tournament, netting a first round bye.
After spending their Wednesday enjoying their first round bye, the 10th seeded Nittany Lions are preparing to do battle with the 7th seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. This will be the second match up of the season between the two teams, with Minnesota having captured a 65-64 victory over Penn State on January 20th.
In the January 20th match up the Golden Gophers were lucky to get past the Nittany Lions. Penn State blew an 11-point second half lead, and Lamar Stevens missed a 16-foot jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game for Penn State.
Scouting the Opposition
At 16-5 Minnesota appeared to be well on their way to a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Since then, the Golden Gophers are just 3-7 and are limping their way into the Big Ten Tournament.
Richard Pitino’s squad is led by junior Amir Coffey. The 6-foot-8 Coffey is averaging a team high 16.0 points and 3.2 assists per game. 6-foot-6 Jordan Muprhy (14.5 PPG) and 6-foot-10 Daniel Oturu (10.8 PPG) give the Golden Gophers a good scoring duo in their frontcourt.
The Golden Gophers are a team that can be a handful on the boards. Their 37.6 rebounds per game ranks 68th nationally and 4th in the Big Ten. The aforementioned Murphy leads the way for Minnesota with 11.7 rebounds per game. Oturu can also be a force on the boards. Stevens, Mike Watkins and John Harrar will need to be ready to fight for rebounds, while also playing strong defense on Thursday night.
What to Watch For
The next victim on Penn State’s avenge list - During Penn State’s hot stretch in February and March they have beaten three teams (Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers) that they had lost to earlier in the season. Can Penn State add Minnesota to this list on Thursday night?
Minnesota on the bubble? - The Gophers should be a safe bet to make the big dance. However, a loss on Thursday night would make things murkier for the Gophers. Even if it did not knock them out of the NCAA Tournament completely, a loss could send them to Dayton for a play-in game on Tuesday.
Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament - Since 2015 the Nittany Lions are 5-4 in the Big Ten Tournament. They have won at least one game in the tournament each of these years except 2016, when they suffered a close loss to Ohio State after having a first round bye, and they have won at least two games in two of the four years. While Pat Chambers has his shortcomings as a coach one area he has done well in recent years is having his squad ready for the Big Ten Tournament.
Minnesota and Penn State are two teams that finished their regular seasons in two completely different fashions. While Minnesota limped to a 3-7 finish to the season, Penn State went 7-3 in their final 10 games. This time of year it’s often times the hot team, not necessarily the better team, that walks away victorious.
Penn State 71, Minnesota 66