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Penn State vs. Minnesota Basketball Preview: Maybe the Eighth Time is the Charm

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The Lions hit the road on Saturday to battle a Minnesota team that just got embarrassed in Illinois.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Previously on Penn State Basketball, the team finally got its offense on track against Iowa, which is good because if you can’t score on Iowa, well you’ve got a lousy hoops squad. However, the 82-point effort wasn’t enough, as Jordan Bohannon hit five three-point shots and handed out six assists to lead the Hawkeyes to a 89-82 win. It was Penn State’s fifth straight loss, and the Lions are now dead last in the Big Ten at 0-7.

No other team in the conference is without a league win, and for that we can thank the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Penn State’s upcoming opponent is coming off a 95-68 drubbing at the hands an Illinois team that entered the game at 0-5 in the Big Ten. That’s not a good look for the Gophers and their NCAA Tournament hopes, so you can bet your bottom dollar that head coach Richard Pitino won’t let his guys look past our lowly Lions.

Scouting the opposition

Minnesota hasn’t been great on defense this season, but in its last outing it was especially putrid, allowing Illinois to shoot 56 percent from the field with 12 offensive rebounds. For Penn State to have a shot on the road, Myles Dread and Josh Reaves have to stay hot from beyond the arc. Their shooting gave the Lions a dimension to their offense that we haven’t seen enough of this year.

On offense, the Gophers are led by Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy. Coffey is a very long guard whose combination of height and athleticism makes him very tough to deal with. His big strides allow him to get to the bucket quickly, but he can also pull up and shoot over smaller defenders. Murphy is reminiscent of Penn State great Jamelle Cornley. He’s an undersized power forward who uses his large frame to grab loads of rebounds and draw fouls under the basket. Penn State ought to try a big lineup with Mike Watkins and John Harrar both on the floor so that Murphy doesn’t draw fouls on Watkins.

What to watch for

Lamar’s groove - Penn State’s best player has been trying to expand his range beyond the three-point line, but it hasn’t been working out. Over his last two games, Lamar Stevens is 1-for-9 from three-point range, and against Iowa, he missed 14 of his 18 shots overall with no free throw attempts. Stevens has got to be a bigger factor around the basket for the Lions to compete on Saturday.

Reaves can score - Josh Reaves has been trending in the opposite direction as Stevens with three straight double-digit scoring efforts. Against Iowa, the senior was looking very confident from three-point range, and he’s also handed out 16 assists over his past two games. This do-it-all version of Reaves is going to be key to the Lions turning their season around.

More depth, please - The Gophers run a deep rotation, so Penn State will need all hands on deck to keep pace. It will be interesting to see who gets on the floor beyond Penn State’s regular seven-man rotation. At one point it looked like Myreon Jones and Trent Buttrick were ready to get bumped into regular playing time, but neither player logged a minute in the Iowa game. Instead, Deivis Zemgulis and Kyle McCloskey saw time and each knocked down a three-point bucket. It will be interesting to see if Pat Chambers continues to use Zemgulis and McCloskey or if he finds time for Jones and Buttrick again.

Prediction

It’s hard to imagine Minnesota playing as poorly as it did at Illinois. The Gophers are an experienced team with tournament aspirations, so home against Penn State is a game they have to win. Minnesota hasn’t been unbeatable at home, but Penn State has already lost games to DePaul and Bradley away from the Bryce Jordan Center. Minnesota 68, Penn State 62