Pat Chambers has Penn State playing well enough to garner national attention for the first time in decades, but with consecutive losses, a win is becoming critical. The Lions are one of ten Big Ten teams that are currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament. There are 15 regular-season conference games remaining including tonight’s, so the journey is only a quarter of they way through.
Penn State fans would be very uneasy with a third loss in a row and Ohio State coming to State College three days later. A win would bring the conference record back to even, with one road win and one home loss so far. The game tonight is far from a must-win situation, though it may seem like it during the heat of the moment.
It’s never easy to win on the road but it’s not easy to guard Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins when they are playing their best, either. Penn State’s two senior leaders have not given a consistent effort in recent weeks for various reasons. It would be nice to see their best effort in a game that would help put the team back on the right track with a win.
Scouting the Opposition
Minnesota is scoring 73.6 points per game while giving up 66.7 and has had an uneven season. With three Big Ten wins already in hand, the Gophers have NCAA Tournament hopes though they have a 9-7 record overall. They currently sit in the mid-30’s in the Kenpom ratings just like the Lions and are 41 in the Net Rankings, 6 spots behind Pat Chambers’ team. They will be playing hard, in front of a supportive home crowd.
Daniel Oturu is averaging 19.9 points per game including a four-game stretch that he has dropped in 25 per contest against Big Ten competition. The 6-foot-10 center is an inch taller than Mike Watkins, but he has close to 15 fewer pounds of muscle than the Penn State center. Oturu averages 12.4 rebounds per game, which is good for 3rd in the country. His 3.14 blocks per game is 8th in the country.
Marcus Carr is in the top-10 nationally with 7.2 assists per game. The sophomore transfer from Pittsburgh is averaging 15.9 points per game. He had 21 points and 12 assists on Sunday in a win against Michigan. Gabe Kalscheur has been the consistent third scorer for Richard Pitino’s team, averaging 12.3 per game.
Oturu and Carr average more than 35 minutes played per game, they will be on the court all night if Minnesota has their way. Kalscheur is out there for more than thirty minutes per game on most nights so the Gophers don’t go as deep on the bench as the Lions are able to when needed.
Payton Willis (9.8 pts, 2.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds) and Alihan Demir (8.2 pts, 5 rebounds, 1.6 assists) round out the starting five. Lamar Stevens (2.8 per game) has had foul trouble this season, getting four or more in six games, fouling out once. Carr, Oturu and Kalscheur all average more than 2.7 fouls per game, but only Carr has fouled out, just one time.
If fouls become a factor it should favor the Lions.
What To Watch For
Low-Post Battle- Daniel Oturu is a sophomore that put on 20 pounds since his freshman year. He is the same size, roughly, as Mike Watkins and John Harrar. Oturu is still growing into his body, which is kind of scary to think, but could also be an advantage for Penn State. Oturu will stretch the defense, attempting 1.6 three point shots per game, hitting at a rate of 34.6%, which is respectable enough to force a hand in his face. Power should be in favor of the Lions, but if Oturu can get Watkins and Harrar chasing him around the court, it would be to his advantage.
Energy- Pat Chambers’ teams have been known fight hard even when they had little chance to win. After giving maximum effort against Iowa for a huge win in the Palestra, the Lions have struggled to recapture their normal peak effort for the past two games. Win or lose, it will be important for the team to play confident, and hard, all night.
This game could go either way. The Big Ten is wide open this year, the two teams are evenly matched.
It’s going to be tough to overcome the crowd inside Williams Arena, and Oturu is a beast, but the Lions have plenty of beasts on their side. Let’s hope everything goes well for Penn State, they win the battle in the paint, make some 3-point shots and avoid long periods without scoring. Penn State 73, Minnesota 69