Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Penn State

The Gophers head into State College to take on Penn State, and as usual the Nittany Lions aren't necessarily very good, but can still be dangerous.  Given that conference road games are usually a little dicey, I don't exactly have a great feeling about this one.  They haven't really done much since they beat St. John's back in November, losing to Ole Miss, Pitt, Princeton, Michigan State, and Illinois since then, but I'm scared anyway.  Penn State can look really good - like when they scored 47 points in the first half against the Spartans - and they can look really bad - such as when they scored 16 in the second half of that same game.  Last time out Penn State scored just 55 points on less than 30% shooting against Illinois, so it'll be on the Gophers to sack up and play some defense and beat this team down.

Penn State can hurt you in a variety of ways what with five players who averaged double figures in scoring.  It all starts with do everything point guard Tim Frazier (averaging 17 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds per game) although good news for the Gophers is he's been horrible in Big Ten play this year, shooting 6-23 while averaging just 8.5 points and 3 assists.  Frazier's overall numbers are in line with his career levels, but he's just been held down by a couple of very good defenses.  Given that the Gophers' are struggling defensively this year, Frazier is a great player who is due to bounce back in a big way, and home games have a tendency to help get slumps straightened out, I'm more than a little afraid of Frazier in this game.

Of course, Frazier isn't even their leading scorer.  That would be 6-4 shooting guard D.J. Newbill, who is averaging 18 per game and has only been held under 15 once this season (last game against Illinois).  Newbill is a pretty solid scorer who can get to the rim and has a good mid-range jumper.  He can also knock down the three pointer (43% this year) although it's not his main skill.  If Penn State has a guy who will kill the Gophers with threes it's probably Josh Johnson, a transfer from Pitt who hit 38% two seasons ago. He just became eligible three games ago and has gone 6-10 from behind the arc in those games while scoring 18+ points twice.  Two bench guards, Graham Woodward (from Minnesota yay!) and Allen Roberts are three-point specialists who the Gophers have to hope don't get hot. 

Penn State's front court is pretty much made up of three guys:  The athletic stretch 4 who can block shots and hit threes in Brandon Taylor, the gritty, hustly, dirty work rebounder in Ross Travis, and the guy who comes off the bench in Donovan Jack.  All three are just good enough to have a monster game and throw everything out of whack - Taylor had 18 points with 5 threes against Michigan State, Travis had 17 points and 13 rebounds against Ole Miss, and Jack scored 18 against both LaSalle and Marshall.  Given the Gophers issues with dribble penetration and interior defense, expect at least one of these guys to go off.  The Nittany Lions also have a seven footer in sophomore Jordan Dickerson, but he didn't see the court until the last three games, although playing 15 minutes last game against Illinois means he may become a rotation piece and the Gophers could see him.

Overall, I think the Gophers are definitely the better team.  They have another point in their favor in that Penn State doesn't have a true center outside of Dickerson, so the Gophers will have opportunities to go with a smaller lineup, and let's face it the team is markedly better when neither Oto Osenieks nor Joey King are on the court.  Not in the Gophers' favor is that this is a road game in the Big Ten, and Penn State can score points.  The Gophers will just need to make enough jumpers to out score them.

Minnesota 77, Penn State 74

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