Minnesota (6-8; 0-2 in the Big Ten) vs. Penn State (9-6; 0-2) at Bryce Jordan Center

Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. CT


Radio: 1500-a.m.

Spread: Minnesota +6

Pregame reading:

Jordan Murphy, the Gophers’ quick study, is still a learning freshman. Read it here.

Previewing both Minnesota and Penn State here.

Notes on Joey King’s slump, new vocal leadership and transfer Reggie Lynch’s potential here.

Three storylines to watch tonight:

Effort vs. environment. Last time out, the Gophers’ energy vs. Michigan State marked their best of the year, probably by far. That’s notable considering the Gophers weren’t simply hitting shots – they made just 33.8 percent from the field – they were doing it with defense, intensity and rebounding. Minnesota was playing the country’s No. 1 team and Williams Arena was rocking the most it had been all season, so it’s logical that the Gophers had a little pep to their steps. But what about tonight, when they face another bottom-of-the-barrel team in Penn State at Bryce Jordan, a quiet arena with the students out of town? Will the Gophers find a way to maintain that effort in an environment that makes you kind of want to take a nap? Seems like a basic thing to expect out of a team, right? Well, on Monday, Richard Pitino, on his weekly radio show on 1500, said not so fast. “It’s very simple for people to say ‘You should always play hard.’ I’m with you. But it’s not as always easy as people may think at times because there are so many elements that go into it. I knew our guys would compete against Michigan State. Now we’ve got to get them to do it at Penn State.”

Takeover time, Murph. In these last few games, 6-6 freshman forward Jordan Murphy has started to look more and more ready to play the star role he’s been cast – and that’s good news for the Gophers, who sorely need someone to take the reins. Murphy has started the last three games and Saturday he helped to bring the energy that’s been lacking at the start of games this season. He’s looking less timid too – and perhaps there’s a balance here – taking shots he probably wouldn’t have taken a couple of weeks ago and getting involved on almost every possession. He’s looked more and more comfortable every step of the way this year and as he has he’s continued to get better. Now he’s just got to continue to improve his game and stay out of foul trouble. There is a higher peak Murphy can reach this year, and he’s charging toward it.

Embracing Uglyball. When Pitino reflects on his offense, there’s a good chance his blood pressure rises just a little bit. Minnesota doesn’t have any real natural shooters except Joey King, who is in a seven-game slump. And the Gophers’ inside play is more than a little unpredictable with centers Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou not reliable in the post yet and undersized Murphy playing a multitude of positions. So what’s the answer? Uglyball. Pitino pointed out this weekend that the Gophers are going to have to start creating more offense off their defense by turning teams over, converting in transition and winning low-scoring games …since there isn’t much else offensively the team is great at. “It’s not going to be a beauty contest,” he said. “The Clemson game, where it was 89-83 [Minnesota win], I don’t think that’s necessarily realistic with our team this year.” A more fluid driving attack would help too, since the Gophers have some players – Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey – who are capable of getting to the rim, creating plays with kick outs or getting fouled. We’re not seeing enough of that right now, which is why the Gophers look incredibly stagnant at times. This team, and it seems, sometimes, Pitino, is still trying to figure out what it does well, but the time for experimentation is over.

The numbers:

6 – The point differential in Penn State’s loss to No. 3 Maryland by on the road after taking an eight-point lead at halftime.

38 – The Nittany Lions’ national rank in two-pointer defense, allowing opponents to make just 42.9 percent of those shots, per analyst Ken Pomeroy. Penn State also ranks 25th in block percentage, led by Jordan Dickerson’s 2.1 a game. Minnesota has struggled to score inside all season.

2 – Minnesota losses in the last two games played against Penn State, both last year.

The prediction:

Minnesota 63, Penn State 60