Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Quick Preview: Gophers vs. Penn State

I admit I thought Penn State had a chance to be a sleeper in the Big Ten this season.  I said they had a chance to finish as high as 5th in the league this year (though I also said they could finish 14th and it wouldn't surprise me).  As usual, I'm an idiot and they are terrible.  They're 1-6 in conference play, which is actually worse than the Gophers if you can believe that.  That lone win came against Rutgers at home, and outside of a nice win over George Washington there isn't a single thing in their schedule they can be proud of.  The next best things are home wins over Akron and a 6-point road loss to Michigan State.  It's been that kind of season.

I thought Penn State could be a sleeper because they had an "elite" player (depends on how you want to define elite though) and a bunch of returning upperclassmen.  Hasn't quite worked out.  D.J. Newbill (the "elite" guy) is pretty much playing out of his mind (22 points, 4.5 rebs, 3.1 assists per game with good shooting percentages) but nobody has stepped up to help.

Brandon Taylor is shooting the ball a ton but has stopped driving and become a jump shooter which has killed his percentages, and his increased ball handling has turned him into a turnover machine.  Ross Travis is still an elite rebounder but has pretty much completely checked out offensively and is 5-29 on free throws this year (5-29!!!!).  John Johnson, one of the only perimeter threats on the team, has been suspended indefinitely for being a bad boy. Donovan Jack turns the ball over whenever he touches it, Jordan Dickerson shoots 46% and he's 7-1, and Geno Thorpe has done the opposite of improve in his sophomore year.  Freshman Shep Garner is having a nice season and he's going to be an outstanding four year player for the Nittany Lions in the Tim Frazier/Talor Battle mode (called it!) but he's the only one outside of Newbill who's not having a terrible season.

If the Gophers go zone, and they should, barring a monster game from Newbill (certainly possible) they should be able ton hold Penn State down.  The Nittany Lions don't move the ball well with just 42% of their baskets coming off an assist (341st in the country) and they don't shoot the 3 well at just 32.8% (218th) - both of which are sort of keys when going up against a zone defense.  Only Newbill and Garner - both at 36% - are credible three point shooters with Johnson in detention.  Taylor will shoot 'em and he is 8-15 over his last 3 games so the Gophers should probably guard him and stuff, but overall this year he's been pretty brutal (prior to this hot streak he went 4-26).  Letting most of the team bomb away should be to the Gophers' advantage.

Outside of that they're pretty average at most stuff, and I don't mean average for a Big 10 team I mean average for a division I team which includes all 344 teams.  They foul a ton, don't create any turnovers, and are pretty lackluster at just about everything.  They don't get the ball stolen from them much, which could be interesting since it's a Gopher strong point, and they defend ok but nothing special.  It's a disappointing and not very scary team, and one the Gophers should be able to deal with.

That "should be" is really the key.  I feel strongly enough to guarantee you the Gophers have an 8-12 point lead at some point in the second half.  It's a Big Ten road game, and we've seen what happens to this team when they have a late lead.  Is the win over Illinois enough to get this team back on track and confident enough to close this one out?  Probably not but I'm rolling with it.

Minnesota 70, Penn State 62.

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