Following a 70-58 humbling against Nebraska this past Wednesday, Penn State returns to action Sunday looking to keep fleeting postseason hopes alive in a crucial matchup against Minnesota at the Bryce Jordan Center. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at 4:00 PM.
At 1-4 in Big Ten play, the Golden Gophers share the conference basement with the Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers, who sport identical league records. If Penn State is to stay on the .500 pace necessary to earn a postseason berth, it almost must have a win against this team, lest it be forced to beat a stronger opponent down the line.
Winning won't be easy for coach Patrick Chambers' Nittany Lions, though.
The Gophers enter still a respectable 13-5 on the season and coming off an impressive 77-74 upset at No. 8 Indiana on Thursday. They also rank a lofty No. 48 in field goal percentage at 47.3 percent on the season.
And so, Penn State would appear to have a tough task on its hands. But as the Lions showed in back-to-back solid performances against Purdue and Indiana last week, they can play with the upper tier of the Big Ten on their home floor. We'll see if the friendly Jordan Center atmosphere helps at all against the Gophers.
Check out some things to watch for in the game below.
When Penn State has the ball...
-Guard Jermaine Marshall was a non-factor against the Cornhuskers, with his two-point effort marking the third time he has scored two or fewer points in a Penn State loss this season. As the team's second-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game, Marshall is integral to the offense. If Penn State is going to win this one, it can't afford for him to have another quiet day.
-One positive among the few from the Nebraska game was Penn State's +8 rebounding margin on the offensive glass. A similar effort at home will likely pave the way to plentiful second chances that could give the Lions an edge they'll need to earn a victory.
-Penn State was 3-of-24 from beyond the arc against Nebraska. That stat says two things: No. 1, the Lions weren't shooting well and No. 2, the Lions were oblivious to the fact that they weren't shooting well. If almost half of the Lions' shots come from a range they're hitting at just a 12.5 percent clip from, that's a problem. Penn State needs to look for higher percentage shots if the deep ones aren't falling this time around.
When Minnesota has the ball...
-With forward and leading scorer Trevor Mbakwe out for the season for Minnesota, Penn State should have an advantage in the interior. Keeping the Gophers out of the paint would be a good place for the Lions to start defensively.
-In all four of its Big Ten losses, Minnesota turned the ball over at least 12 times. If Penn State can take at least that number of possessions away from the Gophers, it'll go a long way to combating their accuracy from the field.
Without Mbakwe, Minnesota is a beatable team that doesn't have much in the way of prolific scoring. Rodney Williams (10.4 points per game), Julian Welch (10.2), Austin Hollins (8.6) and Ralph Sampson III (8.5) make up a decent ensemble cast, but Mbakwe was the soul of this offense, and it's clearly a shadow of itself without him. If Penn State can hold those guys to their averages, it will have an excellent chance to win, and given the way the Lions have played at home lately, that's not hard to imagine them doing. Pick: Penn State, 65-62.