Penn State 9-18 (1-14) at Minnesota 19-9 (7-8)
Where: Williams Arena; “The Barn”
When: Saturday, March 2, 3:00 pm
Penn State finally did it, and it was glorious. It took 15 tries, but who cares, that was the most fun I’ve ever had at a game. I’ve been to most Penn State basketball games for 8 years or so. I witnessed Talor Battle beat Illinois in what SHOULD have been an NCAA tournament clinching win (SCREW THE SELECTION COMMITTEE!) I saw this miraculous shot against George Mason in the NIT tournament. Hell, my uncle and I even traveled up to Madison Square Garden to see Penn State beat Notre Dame and advance to the NIT championship and eventually win it. But none of those wins, surprisingly, compare to this one. To me that seems weird, because those games meant more than just getting a win. However, those players, Coach Chambers, and even us, the fans, have been through hell this season. We have stuck with these players. It was all worth it after that win. The team and the fans sure as hell deserved to beat Michigan that night.
But the season must go on, and it doesn’t get much easier from here. Penn State has three games remaining, one home game and two road games. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Wisconsin are the remaining games. Penn State travels to Minnesota on Saturday to take on the Golden Gophers at the Barn, where they are 14-2 this season. Who knows how this game will go, will Penn State have a let down after their miraculous upset? Will they be more confident than ever and roll into Williams Arena and take care of business? What about Minnesota? They are coming off of an upset over top ranked Indiana. Will they have a let down? Lots of factors involved in this game. I’m going to try my best to break it down for yinz.
D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall come in to this game as the second-highest scoring back-court in the Big Ten, behind the traitor and Tim Hardaway Jr. from Michigan. Newbill is averaging 15.9 points per game on the season, and Jermaine Marshall scored 25 points against the Wolverines, going 6-10 from behind the arc. The Nittany Lions have also been getting much needed help from the supporting cast recently. Ross Travis had another double-double against the Wolverines in Wednesday’s win, with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Nick Colella seems to have finally found his three point stroke, the one that we have heard about so often, that never seemed to show up when it mattered most: in games. Sasa Borovnjak is continuing to get better, he’s even found a solid jump shot, and his free throw shooting is improving to the point where I almost trust him at the line over anyone on the team except for Newbill and Marshall.
For Minnesota, they are a very balanced, good defensive team. They have a nice balance of young talent and veteran leadership. Trevor Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, is basically averaging a double-double on the season, with 9.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. Andre Hollins, a sophomore point guard, is leading the Gophers with 13.6 points per game and 3.3 assists.
Two things that I can think of immediately that Penn State will have to do to win this game are keep Andre Hollins out of his comfort zone and contain Trevor Mbakwe. I think D.J. will be able to do a solid job on Hollins, but Mbakwe worries me. Anyone that has seen this man knows that he can bring it. He is a very large guy. For Penn State to keep him in single digits in points and rebounds, Graham, Sasa, and Travis will have to fight and fight and fight and fight. He isn’t a particularly good free throw shooter (61%), so fouling him as soon as he gets deep in the post might be the best way to go about it. That’s probably how it’s going to end up, even if that isn’t Penn State’s initial plan.
Minnesota had been scuffling a bit prior to the Indiana game, they are 4-6 in their last 10 games, but with the Big Ten being as dominant as it has been, who really knows what that means. We all know how Penn State has been recently, having lost 14 straight games before beating Michigan. The things Penn State did against the Wolverines are going to have to happen Saturday, including making free throws, limiting turnovers AND forcing them on the defensive end, and most importantly: making shots. Penn State hit 10-20 three point shots against Michigan, that is huge.
When it’s all said and done, I expect this to be a relatively close game, but I fear Mbakwe will be too much for Penn State’s interior to handle.
My prediction: Penn State 69 Minnesota 75