Penn State (8-13, 5-12, #52 NET) entertains the Minnesota Golden Gophers Wednesday, in what will be the final home game for seniors Jamari Wheeler, John Harrar, Trent Buttrick and Taylor Nussbaum (assuming they don't take advantage of the free year of eligibility). The Lions are coming off a sloppy, lethargic 73-52 blowout loss to Purdue. The Boilermakers started the game a scorching 10-13 from the field and jumped out to a double-digit lead just nine minutes into the contest. The Lions would trim the deficit to three, but would then only score five points in the final 8:40 of the half as Purdue raced out to a 41-26 advantage, all but sealing the victory. Myreon Jones was the only Nittany Lion to reach double figures in scoring, leading the team with 11. The 52 points were a season-low for the Nittany Lions.
While Purdue came to town hot, Minnesota (13-12, 6-12, #69 NET) is riding a 5-game losing streak. The Gophers started the season 6-0 and won nine of their first 10, rising as high as 16th in the AP poll, with wins over Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan (the only blemish on Michigan’s record), but the wheels have fallen off Richard Pitino’s team since. The Gophers, once a shoo-in for an NCAA Tournament berth, have seen those chances evaporate the last few weeks.
Minnesota leads the all-time series 37-15, but the teams have split the last 10 and each won at home last year, the Gophers prevailing 75-69 at the Barn and Penn State holding serve by winning at the BJC 83-77.
|G Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Sr.||G Marcus Carr- 6'2" - Jr.|
|G Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Jr.||G Jamal Mashburn Jr. – 6’2” – Fr.|
|G Izaiah Brockington - 6'4" - Jr.||G Tre' WIlliams- 6'5" - So.|
|G Myles Dread - 6'4" - Jr.||F Brandon Johnson - 6'8" - Sr.|
|F John Harrar - 6'9" - Sr.||F Liam Robbins - 7'0"" - Jr.|
Minnesota has been a Jekyll and Hyde team this year, not only in the two distinctly different halves of the season but in their play at home and on the road as well. The Gophers shoot 44% from the field at home and only 34% away from the Barn and they average 79 PPG at home and only 65.6 on the road, where the Gophers are 0-9, and only two road games have been decided by less than 10 points. They have four Quad 1 wins, with only 18 teams having more, but have just lost to the two teams in the basement of the league.
Not having 7’ center Liam Robbins the last two games due to a sprained ankle obviously plays a part in those two losses, but the team was struggling before he was out. Robbins is the best rim protector in the league, leading the B1G in blocked shots and #11 in the nation at 2.7 blocks per game. He also is the second-leading scorer on the team at 11.7 PPG and the team’s leading rebounder. He was in a walking boot on the sideline in Lincoln, so his status is in question for Wednesday’s game.
As valuable as Robbins is, the unquestioned fuel that makes the Gophers go is junior guard Marcus Carr. Carr is an electric offensive player coming off a career-high 41 points in the loss to the Huskers. He is third in B1G in scoring and 28th in the nation at 20 PPG. In the game against Nebraska, he played all 40 minutes and he leads the league in minutes played at 35 per game. Carr is a volume scorer and will eat you alive in high ball-screen action if you don’t defend it well. Teams have been hedging hard and doubling him coming off screens to get the ball out of his hands, but it is tough to stop him, as evidenced by his scoring average. Like the rest of the team, he has struggled on the road, shooting only 26% away from home. He is quick as a hiccup and will attack the rim, which gets him to the FT line often. He is 7th in the country in FT attempts per game and 5th in FTs made per game.
With Gabe Kalsheur, Minnesota’s best perimeter defender, out after surgery on a broken finger on his right hand, Jamal Mashburn, Jr. has stepped into the starting line-up. Mashburn is strong and athletic, just like his Kentucky-legend dad, and has been gaining confidence with more playing time, averaging nearly 15 PPG over the last five games.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Wheels on the Carr. Jamari Wheeler is known for his on-ball defense, so this is a game for him to shine. If he is up to the challenge and he can slow down Carr on his own it will allow PSU’s other defenders to shut down the wingmen. More than likely, the Lions will need to throw a lot of bodies at Carr and play swarming defense to try to corral him. Once again, playing defense by moving their feet and not using their hands, and not fouling, will be key as the Gophers are #2 in D1 in FTs made per game at 17.
Reward Harrar’s hard work. John Harrar has been a rebounding machine this season, especially on the offensive glass, where he pulls in nearly four a game, 11th best in the country. With Minnesota’s struggles rebounding the ball this is a game to reward John for his nonstop effort and let him work inside. While Robbins is a great shot-blocker, he is also foul prone. He’s been whistled for four or more fouls in 14 games and has fouled out six times. Go at him, get him on the bench and attack the rim even harder while he watches.
Knock down open looks. Minnesota’s defense has been dreadful during their losing streak. They are allowing nearly 79 PPG and teams have shot over 50% from the field and from behind the arc. This is a game for PSU’s shooters to get out of the funk they were in versus Purdue. I expect Myreon Jones and Myles Dread to both hit double figures and for Penn State to make at least 10 3s.
The last time Penn State hosted a struggling team on a long losing streak, Nebraska ambushed them 62-61, but this game is different. Nebraska came into that game playing well. Minnesota is battling injuries, they have been a terrible road team all year and the Gophers are No. 329 in the country shooting from behind the arc at 29% so the Blue and White can sag and try to eliminate driving lanes, maybe even throw in some zone. Carr will get his, but the Lions will keep the Gophers o-fer the road and get the W for the seniors in their last time on the Jordan Center hardwood.
Penn State 75 Minnesota 70