Penn State vs. Minnesota Preview: Big Ten Tournament Play Begins With Opportunity for Revenge

By Bill DiFilippo on March 14, 2019 at 11:16 am
Jan 22, 2019; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Eric Curry (24) and forward Jordan Murphy (3) reacts after the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Crisler Center

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota Golden Gophers
19-12 (9-11 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
7 p.m. ET - Thursday, March 14
United Center
Chicago, IL
Watch Info: BTN/BTN2Go
KenPom Rank: 46
Vegas Line: PSU -3

Big Ten Tournament play is here, and in a gigantic surprise to everyone who decided to do something other than watch Penn State play basketball following the month of January, the Nittany Lions will make their tournament debut on the second day of action.

Speaking of Penn State's hideous month of January, one of the foes that toppled Pat Chambers' squad during that stretch will be the team's opponent in the 7-10 game. The No. 10 Nittany Lions will take on the seventh-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers, a team which bested Penn State at Williams Arena on Jan. 19, 65-64. A whole lot has happened since then, as the Nittany Lions were one of the best teams in America in February and March, while Richard Pitino and co. largely struggled during that stretch.

The winner of this game takes on No. 2 Purdue on Friday evening. Now, we turn things over to Roar Lions Roar correspondent Jake Taylor for his thoughts on the road ahead.

Projected Starters
Penn State   RUTGERS
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Soph. 1 Dupree McBrayer - 6'5" - Sr.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - Fr. 2 Gabe Kalscheur - 6'4" - Fr.
Josh Reaves - 6'4" - Sr. 3 Amir Coffey - 6'8" - Jr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Jr. 4 Jordan Murphy - 6'7" - Sr.
John Harrar - 6'8" - Soph. 5 Daniel Oturu - 6'10" - Fr.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood as the month of February approached in Big Ten play. We already know the one Penn State went down — turning into a buzzsaw and closing out the season 7-3 with the losses all coming on the road — but the one the then-16-5 (6-4 in conference games) Gophers went down the opposite, extremely bad one.

Minnesota finished the year 3-7, struggling to close out some close games and picking up a somewhat inexplicable home win over Purdue. Still, as we saw when these two teams matched up in January, the Gophers are a tough squad led by a very good frontcourt duo: forwards Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey. The former was a second-team All-Big Ten selection, while the latter made the third-team squad.

Murphy is a monster, as the 6'7 Texas native will fight like hell on the glass, making securing Gopher misses a priority for the Nittany Lions. Minnesota is a good rebounding team in general — 49th in offensive rebounding percentage, per KenPom — but Murphy is especially tough on both ends on the glass. He can score a little (14.5 ppg), and is great at getting to the free throw line, meaning Lamar Stevens, John Harrar, and Mike Watkins will have to be immense to limit the extent to which Murphy can impose himself on the game. That didn't quite happen last game, as Murphy went for 19 points, 21 rebounds, and six assists in the win.

Coffey can really score the ball. He's not always the most efficient guy on earth, as evidenced by his eFG% of 48.5 percent and his 31.8 percent clip from deep, but when he can get going, he's the kind of guy who can get in a shootout with Stevens. Coffey averages 16 points per game on the year, and in his last three games, the Minnesota native is averaging 29 points per game on 55 percent shooting from the field. Look for Josh Reaves to try and annoy the hell out of him with the hopes of making him go full Shamokin, Pennsylvania.

Slow those two down and prevent Gabe Kalscheur — 41.5 percent from three on the season — from getting hot from downtown and Penn State should win.

Prediction

Minnesota is currently an NCAA Tournament team, sitting on the 10-line and not worrying too much about being lumped into the Last 4 Byes or Last 4 In, per Joe Lunardi. Penn State, meanwhile, is playing with house money, because unless the NIT decides to take them, the season is over with a loss. So here I ask: why not us? Penn State 71, Minnesota 64.

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