Gophers at Penn State
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
First-half shooting–.The Gophers shot better than 50 percent in the first half in road wins at Purdue and Northwestern, but they were held to just 27 percent shooting in Wednesday’s 65-47 loss at Michigan State. Getting off to a better start offensively Saturday against Penn State will help the Gophers withstand any runs from the home team. The Nittany Lions’ confidence will be high coming off a 72-63 win against Michigan State in State College, Pa. They shot 60 percent in the first half of that game to take a 44-32 lead at halftime against the Spartans.
Ball movement– One way to ruin the offensive flow Saturday will be for the Gophers to have no ball movement in the half court. When shots aren’t falling sometimes Minnesota’s guards have to tendency to over dribble and force drives to the basket without passing the ball around the perimeter. That leads to poor shot selection and lack of rhythm. Gophers coach Richard Pitino addressed the lack of ball movement with his team in practices following the Michigan State loss.
Lynch foul trouble– Fouling out in four of the five Big Ten games this season is an alarming trend for Gophers center Reggie Lynch, who leads the conference with 8.93 fouls per 40 minutes. Lynch changes the game offensively and defensively when he’s on the floor. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks in three straight Big Ten wins. But Lynch was held to just two points in 17 minutes before fouling out at Michigan State. With Lynch on the bench, Minnesota has no consistent low-post scoring threat and clearly misses the top shot-blocking presence in the Big Ten.
Time: 11 a.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Bryce Jordan Center. Line: Penn State by 1. Series: Minnesota leads 13-32; Minnesota lost last meeting 86-77 Jan. 5, 2016 in State College. TV: ESPNU. Online/Live video: ESPNapp Radio: 1500ESPN.
MINNESOTA (15-3, 3-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.3
G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 12.1
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.2
F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 10.3
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.2
Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 6.0 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 8.8 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.1 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 84-68 (5th season)
Notable: The Gophers are trying to snap a three-game losing streak against the Nittany Lions. Their last win in State College came 68-65 in Pitino’s first season in 2013-14. The Gophers had a six-game winning streak against Penn State from 2012-14. ... Minnesota's big men are due for a bounce back game after Murphy, Lynch, Curry and Konate combined for just 15 points on 6-for-21 shooting with eight turnovers at Michigan State. Murphy and Lynch also had zero free throws in the game.
PENN STATE (10-7, 2-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Tony Carr 6-3 Fr. 11.5
G-Shep Garner 6-2 Jr. 12.8
G-Josh Reaves 6-4 So. 8.3
F-Lamar Stevens 6-7 Fr. 12.7
C-Julian Moore 6-10 Jr. 2.6
Key reserves– Payton Banks, F, 6-6, Jr., 12.0 ppg; Mike Watkins, C, 6-9, RS-Fr., 10.0 ppg; Terrence Samuel, G, 6-3, Jr., 4.5 ppg; Nazeer Bostick, G, 6-4, Fr., 2.1 ppg
Coach: Pat Chambers 124-126 (8th season)
Notable: Three of Penn State’s top four scorers are freshmen with Stevens, Carr and Watkins, who are all from Philadelphia. Stevens and Carr were high school teammates leading Roman Catholic to a state championship last year. Watkins, a 6-9, 246-pound redshirt freshman, has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten this year. He’s averaging 10.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game (first among NCAA freshmen and second in the conference behind Lynch’s 3.1).
Fuller’s prediction (16-2 picks record): Gophers 73, Penn State 70. The Gophers were too impressive in wins over Purdue and Northwestern on the road to let the Michigan State loss carry over Saturday. The difference in atmosphere between Purdue's Mackey Arena and Michigan State's Breslin Center compared to the Bryce Jordan Center is significant. Penn State’s crowd likely won’t be much of a factor at all. The question is how quickly can the Gophers jump on the younger Nittany Lions to show they’re a much better team? Mason (12 ppg on 10-for-35 shooting last three games) and Murphy (9.8 ppg on 37.8 percent shooting in Big Ten play) have been struggling lately. What better time for a breakout game together. Minnesota’s two captains need to make a statement early that their team is ready to play.