Penn State (17-5 7-4 B1G) is ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll but more importantly is No. 20 in the NET Rankings heading into a rematch with a team it lost to a few weeks ago. The Golden Gophers remain in a decent position to make the NCAA Tournament but have slid down the rankings since the teams last met.
The Lions have won the last five games since the two teams shared the floor, climbing over 20 spots in the NET Rankings.
There was a lot of talking during the game in Minneapolis between players from both sides. It will be important for the Lions to keep their emotions in check early in the game, letting the fans provide the noise.
With a packed stadium expected and a national television audience, it will be a another great chance to showcase the team that has been built in Happy Valley and the growing support of the fans as well.
The Gophers are 2-3 since beating Penn State on their home court on January 15. The losses were at Rutgers, at Illinois and against Michigan State, so it’s hard to say that the team is faltering. Minnesota has fallen to the mid-40’s in the NET Rankings which at this point puts them squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Marcus Carr played all 40 minutes in a 70-52 win against Wisconsin on Wednesday night. Carr missed a triple-double by one rebound, getting 12 points, 10 assists and 9 boards. Payton Willis had 21 points, his career high, and Daniel Oturu added 17.
Oturu hasn’t missed a beat since we last saw him, averaging close to 20 points over the past 5 games. With 3 starters averaging 34 or more minutes per game and the other two 24, Minnesota doesn’t go very deep on their bench.
What To Watch
Marcus Carr vs. Jamari Wheeler- The last time the two faced off Carr had 27 points, 9 assists and just 2 turnovers. It’s fair to say that Carr won that battle. Wheeler had 4 personal fouls while chasing Carr around the court. It will be interesting to see if Pat Chambers uses the same strategy against Carr or goes with a committee approach. Wheeler played 21 minutes to Carr’s 40 during the last game, so maybe more minutes for Wheeler will be the goal.
The Fans- It has been a very long time since Penn State fans have had the good vibes that they now enjoy. For years, many have gone to games with tremendous loyalty, there to support a team that was often out-matched. The Lions have a chance to get to 4 games over .500 in conference play. It would be a great way to pay back the people in the seats, to watch a payback win against a team that is fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Lamar Stevens vs. Daniel Oturu- We may not see them defending one another much on Saturday but it will be interesting to see how they interact. During the game in Minnesota there was trash talk on both sides for the entire game, extending into the handshake line.
After the game, Oturu and Stevens had words. I’m not an expert lip-reader but from what I can tell they were exchanging recipes for cookies. It appears at one point that Oturu said “Batch of sugar cookies. Your funky batch (of cookies). Your batch.”
Oturu said batch more than once, if I read his lips correctly, directed at the leader of Penn State’s team. He must really love cookies. Both guys could be making some dough in the NBA next year, but they will share the court at least one more time at this level. Hopefully the fans will bring something for Oturu to chew on come Saturday afternoon.
The cookie monster will be wearing number 11 for Penn State and he’s going to be very, very hungry. Expect the Lions to feed him early and often.
It’s going to be a rocking stadium on Saturday. The game time is great for fans and a boatload of tickets have been sold. The Gophers are a very talented team but Penn State has more depth and at home, may get a few extra calls.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lamar Stevens score 30 points but he’ll probably have a more balanced effort while dominating the game. Instead of a high scoring total or a triple-double, something like a double-double with plenty of side orders; assists, steals and blocks.
The fans will get an assist for this game, providing a boost for the Lions.
Penn State wins 82-69.