This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Gophers kick off the Big Ten season against Nittany Lions

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under Gophers game day Updated: December 29, 2009 - 6:57 PM

What's up, Gophers fans?

Plenty of storylines tonight.

The Gophers open up Big Ten play against Penn State, the defending NIT champ.

Former coach Clem Haskins returns to Williams Arena for the first time since his resignation following an academic scandal in the late '90s.

Blake Hoffarber's looked great for the last five games. But will it last when he faces more athletic, talented Big Ten teams? Or will his play decline the way it did last year in conference?

And unlike last season, Minnesota will have to do more than finish 9-9 in the Big Ten. The Gophers might need 11 wins, including one or two against Purdue and/or Michigan State to earn an at-large bid by the end of the year. They have one of the toughest stretches of Tubby Smith's tenure in January. Forget magic numbers. They'll just need some magic to get back to the Big Dance.

Let the fun begin.

Key Matchup

Penn State point guard Talor Battle v. Minnesota point guard Al Nolen

Battle's one of the best point guards in the country. He hasn't received Kalin Lucas' publicity, but he's just as important to his team.

Battle, the Big Ten's No. 2 scorer (18.8 points per guard), faces the league's top perimeter defender. Al Nolen leads the Big Ten with 2.75 steals. And he's quietly one of its best distributors (4.92 assists per game) and he takes care of the basketball (3.28 assist-to-turnover ratio).

Battle scored 40 points in two games against the Gophers last season. The two teams split the series. Nolen didn't have his best outings defensively or offensively in those matchups. So it'll be interesting to see how he defends Battle in the Big Ten opener.

Penn State's edge: The Nittany Lions have made 73.6 percent of their free throws. Minnesota gets foul-happy at times. Penn State can use that to its advantage.

Minnesota's edge's: Penn State has the No. 10 three-point field goal percentage defense (35.9 percent allowed). The Gophers have two of the top three-point shooters in the league (Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook). If the Gophers get hot from outside, this one will get ugly.

Prediction: The Gophers should be able to free up Blake Hoffarber outside, as the Nittany Lions have proven that they're not a great defensive team on the perimeter. Talor Battle is Penn State's only player averaging double-figures. I don't think the Nittany Lions have the offensive production or perimeter defense to beat the Gophers.

Minnesota 77, Penn State 66

 

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