The No. 10 Penn State men’s basketball team (15-16, 6-12) opens up the first round of the Big Ten tournament against No. 7 Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) in Indianapolis tonight at 6:30 p.m. The Nittany Lions are trying to make the most of what has been an up and down regular season that started out with tournament hopes.
Minnesota is led by the backcourt tandem of junior guards Andre Hollins, who is having himself a fine season, leading the squad with 14.6 points/game, and Deandre Mathieu, who is second on the team with 11.9 points/game and leads the Gophers in assists with 4.4/game.
The Nittany Lions will need to rely on a backcourt duo of their own in Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. Frazier, playing in possibly his last game in the Blue and White, is averaging 15.5 points/game and 5.5 assists/game, but hasn’t made the impact he did during his junior campaign in 2011-12. That gap has been filled by Newbill, who has become one of the elite scorers in the Big Ten. Newbill can score against anybody, but will need one of his teammates to step up and take the second-scorer role.
The biggest challenge for Penn State will be in the paint, as it has struggled to rebound consistently. If the Nittany Lion frontcourt can get the job done down low, it should open up opportunities for Newbill to run the floor and score in bunches. The matchup to watch is Penn State’s Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson against Gopher big man Elliott Eliason. The 6’11” junior is averaging 5.5 points/game, as well as 6.9 rebounds, and could cause problems around the basket for Penn State.
The Golden Gophers look to bolster their resume with a run in Indianapolis, as they currently sit on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Although the Gophers hold the 7th strongest strength of schedule in the country, it has struggled with inconsistency and hasn’t been able to notch back to back wins since January. ESPN’s “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi is currently projecting Minnesota as one of the “First Four Out” of the NCAA tournament pool, and a loss to the Nittany Lions could be the dagger that sends the Gophers back to Minneapolis. Penn State, on the other hand, is far from the Big Dance despite its victories over some noteworthy opponents this season.
Minnesota swept the season series this year, winning 68-65 in Happy Valley in January, and 81-63 last Sunday in the regular season finale. Penn State has not had the greatest of luck with the Golden Gophers in the past during tournament play, as it has fallen to Minnesota in the last two Big Ten tournament meetings.
Head coach Pat Chambers is 0-2 in the Big-Ten Tournament since he took over the Nittany Lions in 2011, but this is a great chance for Penn State to pick up its first B1G tournament win since 2011. While the team may not be going dancing, a tournament run would certainly bolster Penn State’s chances at an NIT bid, as well as give Nittany Nation something to smile about.
The game tips off at 6:30 PM on ESPN2 and WatchESPN.com.