I basically wrote the preview in this morning's post. In case you missed it, I just typed TALOR BATTLE somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty times. Ok that's a lie, I typed it once and then copied and pasted it a bunch of times - it's still effort. It's not that far off of an accurate preview - he really is the whole team.
Battle leads the team in minutes (35.1 per game), points (18.8), rebounds (5.8), assists (3.5) and has more than double the number of field goal attempts (173) of the second-leading chucker on the Nittany Lions (Jeff Brooks - 82) and 12 more than anybody else in the Big Ten (despite shooting just 43%). I'm sure you remember him, particularly from his 29 point outburst to lead PSU to a win in East Lansing over Michigan State last year, but more likely for his single-handed upset of the Gophers in State College last year (if you don't recall, Battle scored 7 points in the final minutes turning a Gopher lead into a Gopher loss).
He is no doubt a tough player and is difficult to handle because he can hit the three but isn't reliant on it, and is also able to get his points either by getting to the rim, hitting a pull up, or getting out in transition. But without much help (and there isn't much), Battle can force things (he also leads the team in turnovers) and has tossed up some clunkers: 3-15 shooting against Temple, 8-23 agains Wilmington, and 3-13 against Tulane, to name a few. Of course, he can also put up 32 with 9 boards like he did against Virginia Tech or a 27-8 like he did against Penn or even play the distributor role like he did in in their last game against American with 16 points and 7 assists. No doubt Al Nolen is going to have his hands full.
Luckily nobody else will. Penn State has a bunch of spazzes who average between six and eight points per game, but nobody to really make you shake in your boots. 6-7 David Jackson had an outburst for 26 against Sacred Heart, but I'm pretty sure their whole team is 6-4 white guys so I'm not all that impressed. Chris Babb chucks three-pointers like that guy who drives you crazy at the Y, but he shoots just 33% so chuck away, chuck-boy. Someone named Bill Edwards has hit double-figures in scoring the last two games, but he also shot 1-8 against Maryland-Baltimore County. 6-10 Andrew Jones was one of the guys who was supposed to be a big contributor this year, but he can't even be bothered to break double-figures more than once a month. Even second-leading scorer Jeff Brooks is averaging 3 per game in the teams last three outings and just shot 1-7 against American.
No, there isn't much here to scare you outside of Battle. Even their kenpom numbers aren't thrilling - they are decidely average every where. The only real standout stats are they don't allow offensive rebounds (8th best in the nation), they don't turn it over (22nd), and they are terrible at turning other teams over (287th) and never block shots (314th) or get steals (294th).
Don't forget, this is the same team who has already lost to Wilmington and Tulane, and doesn't have a good win yet this year. The Gophers have shown they don't have much trouble with bad teams, and Penn State is a bad team. Even if Battle goes off, they should win, and if he doesn't, they should roll.
Minnesota 80, Penn State 64.
FUN FACT: Since 1990, Penn State has finished in the top three of the NIT five times, but have just three NCAA bids. Also, remember Jan Jagla?
As far as a quick prediction on how the conference season will go:
Dec 29 vs. Penn State: WIN - no problem
Jan 2 @ Iowa: WIN - this game terrifies me, but holy crap is Iowa bad.
Jan 5 @ Purdue: LOSS - only the Dawger would call this a Gopher win
Jan 9 vs. Ohio State: WIN - might be different with Evan Turner, but should be a win without him
Jan 13 @ Michigan State: LOSS - No way.
Jan 17 @ Indiana: WIN - road games and Gophers are still scary, but if they lose to Indiana it's time to just quit the season
Jan 23 vs. Michigan State: LOSS - I think the Gophers have a big win in them this year, but the Spartans match up too well.
Jan 26 vs. Northwestern: WIN - Scary team this year, but should be handled at home.
Jan 31 @ Ohio State: LOSS - considered a win here, but does going into Columbus and winning really sound like something this team would do?
Feb 6 @ Penn State: WIN - they did it two years ago and almost did last year, and this year's Gophers are the best of the three and this year's Lions are the worst of the three.
Feb 11 vs. Michigan: WIN - Earlier this year I thought this would end up being a hell of a game. Not so much.
Feb 14 @ Northwestern: LOSS - NW is good this year, and they always sown the Gophers in Evanston.
Feb 18 vs. Wisconsin: WIN - Tubby owns Bo.
Feb 20 vs. Indiana: WIN - Still suck.
Feb 24 vs. Purdue: WIN - This seems like a place for the team's big win. JaJuan Johnson vs. Ralph Sampson is the matchup of the century.
Feb 27 @ Illinois: LOSS - winning in Champaign is not allowed as far as the Gophers are concerned.
March 3 @ Michigan: LOSS - flipped flopped on this one a bunch, but don't you see the Wolverines getting better as the year goes on and doesn't it feel like the kind of game the Gophers always lose down the stretch?
March 7 vs. Iowa: WIN - Nice easy win to wrap up.
That puts them at 11-7 in conference play and 20-10 overall. With the win over Butler on a neutral court and an ok non-conference schedule, they should be in the NCAA Tournament without issue. Probably to lose in the first round.
[EDIT: I meant to point out this link from the Daily Gopher (for the three people who read this crappy blog and don't read that awesome one) where Gopher Nation breaks down all kinds of nerd stats on your favorite team. It's a good read, check it out.]