Big Ten Tournament Preview: No. 10 Penn State vs No. 7 Minnesota
Jake Starr, Trent Fye, Matt McClure, and Jeremy Ganes preview Penn State's Big Ten tournament game:
The Penn State Nittany Lions (14-17, 7-13) take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-12, 9-11) in the second round of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago Thursday night. Minnesota is probably safe to make the NCAA Tournament even with a loss, but Penn State is hot, winning six of its last eight regular season games. Minnesota, on the other hand, is not, finishing the regular season on a 3-7 slide. A dominant win by the Nittany Lions could put the Golden Gophers back into the bubble watch.
In their only regular-season matchup this season back in January, the Nittany Lions got up to a 38-30 lead at halftime, but forward Lamar Stevens’s 27 points were not enough to give them the victory as he missed a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to give the Gophers the victory, 65-64 over the Lions. Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy put up 19 points and a tied his career high in rebounds with 21.
Although they have struggled over their recent stretch of games, the Gophers still feel confident heading into this matchup, especially with a recent upset victory against the then 11th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers. Guard Amir Coffey averaged over 28 points per game in the last three games of the regular season, and Murphy’s 11.7 rebounds per game is tied for fourth-highest in the country and highest in the Big Ten.
The Nittany Lions are currently one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten and are poised to pull off the upset Thursday. Victories against then-No. 17 Maryland and then-No. 6 Michigan highlight Penn State’s successful run to end the regular season and earn a bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Guard Josh Reeves put up 26 points on six 3-pointers in the regular season finale against Illinois. Forward Lamar Stevens averaged over 22 points during the hot streak.
The two teams match up well against each other. Minnesota averages 71.2 points per game, just above Penn State’s average at 69.6. The teams’ 3-point percentages are nearly identical, and the Nittany Lions are slightly better at free-throw shooting. Both teams will have to emphasize their strengths and hide their weaknesses to gain the edge in their upcoming matchup. The Gophers are strong on the glass, as they average 37.5 rebounds per game, the fourth best in the Big Ten, so they will try to take advantage of extra possessions. They are also good at getting to the charity stripe as they have the second most free throw attempts in the conference. Penn State’s offense has struggled to gel at times, as they are second-to-last in field goal percentage and dead last in assists in the Big Ten, but they average nearly three more steals per game than Minnesota, so they will attempt to convert off of forced turnovers.
It’s commonplace for the hotter team, rather than the better team, to win this time of year. Expect Penn State’s Stevens and Reaves to put up enough points and keep Minnesota’s Amir Coffey to a quieter performance to lead the Nittany Lions to a close victory over the Golden Gophers.
Final score prediction: Penn State wins 73-68
Jack McCune is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.