Fresh off Big 10 win #1, and arguably the upset of the season in college basketball against 4th ranked Michigan on Wednesday, Penn State heads to “The Barn” to take on Minnesota. Tubby Smith’s squad is coming off an upset of their own, knocking off top ranked Indiana in Minneapolis on Tuesday night, 77-73, leading to perhaps the greatest court storming ever, by virtue of the raised floor in Williams Arena. That win appears to have Minnesota off of the NCAA bubble, and now playing to improve their seeding. Tip time is 3:00 on BTN.
THE LAST TIME OUT
Everything finally clicked for Penn State against #4 Michigan, including the breaks. A club that has fought hard all year, despite the 14 game losing streak that is now a distant memory, showed that same resiliency on Wednesday, and was rewarded. It was a closely contested first half, but the Wolverines lead by 3 at the break, aided in part by a disastrous final 30 seconds. Coming out of the break, the Wolverines opened it up to an 11 point game with a quick 8-0 run. PSU would respond, but never seemed to get the stop they needed. With 10 minutes left, the deficit had grown to 15 points, and loss #15 seemed a given. Then a funny thing happened, the Lions woke up on both ends. The long and short of it was a game closing 31-12 run, fueled by great defense, and better shooting. Jermaine Marshall finished with 25 points, including 6 of 10 from three, while D.J. Newbill had 17. The unsung hero of the night, however, would be sophomore Ross Travis, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and played inspired defense, especially in the 2nd half on Trey Burke. All told, the Lions defense forced 15 Michigan turnovers (6 by Burke), and held the 40% three point shooting Wolverines to just 5 of 20 from behind the arc.
ABOUT THE GOPHERS
Minnesota entered the season with high expectations, and appeared the be meeting them, rising as high as #8 in the country with a 15-1 record going into a visit to Assembly Hall against the Hoosiers. The Gophers fell 88-81 that night, in what would be the first of 4 straight losses, and start a run that now stands at just 4 wins in their last 13 games, including Tuesday’s shocker over then #1 Indiana. They have defended their home court, however, sitting at 6-2 in the league. This is your typical deep, and athletic, Tubby Smith team. 10 players average 9 minutes or more, and 5 average at least 9 points. Leading the way is sophomore guard Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg), The Gophers are not a great shooting club, at just 44% from the field, and 32% from three, but they are one of the best clubs in the nation on the boards, grabbing 39 per game. They are lead by the talented Trevor Mbawke’s 8.6/game.
It’s no secret PSU’s weakness on defense is on the inside, and the Gophers have Mbawke along with Rodney Williams on the inside. Sasa Borovnjak, Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor and Jon Graham will need to be on their game. The interesting part will be which team is better ready to handle their recent success. The Gophers would seem to have the edge being at home, plus having a lot more to play for. All the momentum (and tournament standing) gained from their win against Indiana would likely go out the window, and some, with a loss on their own court to 1-14 Penn State. The Lions will play hard, they always do, but as has been the case most of the year, the other side will just have too much talent.
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