Penn State will host Minnesota at 6 p.m. tonight in State College. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.
Five things to watch as the Gophers try to get their third Big Ten road win of coach Richard Pitino's tenure and first of the year:
Channeling their inner Rocky. Pitino has now called Minnesota's last outing -- a 79-71 win vs. Illinois at home -- its toughest performance of the year. The Gophers out-rebounded their opponent by 8 boards -- the first time that's happened in conference play -- and pretty much had their way in the post. Anomaly or start of a new trend? Wednesday will begin to answer that.
King of Boards? Although Gophers center Mo Walker (12 points, 13 rebounds) was the main factor in the Gophers' improved physicality last weekend, he wasn't the only one putting up a huge game. Power forward Joey King also had one of his best nights of season on the boards, totaling seven -- he'd previously managed more than two just once in the Big Ten slate. "I asked him what changed," Pitino told the media. "He said 'I'm sick and tired of you bringing up my rebounding.' I do that every game." But was it a fluke or did something new click?
Newbill in the house. The Nittany Lions don't have a lot of star power, but they've got one cog, anyway, that could go toe-to-toe with any guard in the Big Ten: DJ Newbill. Even though the now-senior has only actually been playing for the Nits for three years, it seems like he's been in Happy Valley forever -- and he's still there, rocking and rolling and leading the Big Ten in scoring with 22 points per game. Newbill can drive, shoot, dish and draw fouls. On a Big Ten elite squad, he would likely contend for Player of the Year. As it is, he remains a little bit underrated nationally and within the conference, but certainly not in the mind of Pitino, despite that the Gophers held him scoreless in State College last year (the only time all year he put up a goose egg). "We've got to try to throw multiple looks at him, make sure he never gets a clean look, which is very hard to do," Pitino said. "He's going to get his points, he's a great player, he's a guy that could potentially play at the next level."
Good vibes all around. Both teams, who have combined for just three league wins, are coming off much-needed victories, so expect for each squad to be feeling good. One difference? Penn State (who routed Rutgers by 28 on Saturday) gets home-court advantage and the Gophers have this Can't-Win-On-The-Road thing hanging over them. It's impossible for a team, especially one who hasn't showed the most mental strength this season, not to think about that. Minnesota did pull out one of Pitino's two conference wins at State College last year, but not without a struggle. The Gophers ultimately won, 68-65 but took their first lead of the second half with just 1:43 left -- after then-star guard Tim Frazier left with a leg injury.
Carlos efficiency (or not). Perhaps one of the most underrated storylines of Saturday's Illinois win was JUCO transfer Carlos Morris' big first half. The junior wing cooled down plenty in the second, of course, when Walker and senior guard Andre Hollins took over. Not exactly separate things. Illinois, game planning for the senior big man and senior shooter, was forced to adjust in the second half to now deal with Morris as well. If Morris can consistently do that -- meaning driving to the rack and taking smart shots -- Walker and Hollins will have a lot more opportunities. "He gives us that third or fourth weapon," assistant coach Dan McHale said. "He needs to keep being aggressive. He's at his best in the open court and when he doesn't settle for jumpers and really attacks the rim. That really needs to be his calling card."