Gophers Dominate Penn State, Dominoes Begin to Fall

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By Mike Gallagher

After an up and down end to the regular season, no one really knew what to expect heading into a match-up with Penn State that posed a few problems for the Minnesota Gophers basketball team.

Firstly, Talor Battle had lit them up twice this year already, going for 20+ in each of the two games earlier in the year.  Secondly the Nittany Lions had played the Gophers tight, despite only winning three conference games this year, the latter of the two matchups being decided at the buzzer by a Lawrence Westbrook jumper.

Going into the game, Tubby Smith knew it would be a challenge.

“Penn State has a lot of weapons and the ability to play people tough,” Smith told me during his weekly conference call.  “We’ll lose if we don’t play to our potential.  Battle is a good player and their supporting cast has had good games against us.”

The Gophers played up to their potential and more on Thursday, especially the key players Tubby discussed earlier in the week.

“The point guard situation has been resolved, Devoe Joseph has been a great point guard and leader,” said Smith.  “How Iverson and Sampson play is really key.  Both have a very high basketball IQ and rebounding would really be a problem without them.  They’ll be very beneficial, especially against Penn State.”

Joseph led the team in scoring Thursday with 15, while Iverson was a perfect 5-5 from the field contributing 12 points.  Sampson threw in eight as well and led the team with five rebounds.  Lawrence Westbrook showed up very late and wasn’t much of a factor, which is more encouraging than discouraging considering the Gophers still blew out Penn State by 21.

The good news didn’t stop rolling for the Gophers on this day, though.  On a Thursday full of hope for bubble teams everywhere, all you heard were bubbles popping at the end of the night.

UAB, Memphis, and Arizona State all lost absolutely brutal games in poor fashion.

Arizona State played one decent half of basketball before laying an egg in half #2 against Pac-10 #7 seed Stanford.  Herb Sendek really needs to consider what he tells the guys at halftime a little more next season.

UAB fell behind 16-2 to Conference USA #6 seed Southern Mississippi and only tallied 44 points in a pathetic showing.

Memphis probably had the most unforgivable loss on Thursday, taking one on the chin from RPI #144 Houston for the second time this season.  At least they kept it close, a one point loss is ALMOST respectable.

You can officially write those three off of the bubble.

Two other teams tried to go home early on Thursday, which almost would have made this all too good to be true.

Washington trailed by nine at the half to Pac-10 #6 seed Oregon State before Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter exerted their authority on their tournament lives and brought the Huskies back for a 59-52 victory.

San Diego State nearly choked away their season vs. Colorado State in the Mountain West quarterfinals, but snuck by on two foul shots with 23 seconds left to win 72-71.

ESPN has laid the math out very nicely, as Joe Lunardi continues to prove his one-month-a-year worth in his oft updated Bubble Watch on ESPN.com.  Should Utah State win the WAC, UTEP win C-USA, and favorites from all the other conferences that have already secured their berth in the NCAA’s win their respected conferences, that leaves five at large bids for 13 teams.

Lunardi has not written off the three teams that lost today, so take away those three and it leaves five spots for ten teams.

Minnesota handled their business and now will face Michigan State at 8 p.m. tonight.  To earn serious consideration for one of those five spots, the Gophers will need to win this game.  It’s a team Minnesota has played close twice this year, losing by seven on the road early in the year and by one at The Barn January 23rd.

As ridiculous as it sounds, not much changes when looking at the keys to this game as opposed to the Penn State game.

In the January 23rd match-up, the Gophers had no one that could stop Kalin Lucas, and he burned them for 22, including the game winning three.  The Gophers effectively shut down a gimpy Talor Battle Thursday, and will have their hands full with an experienced team Friday.  The goal should remain the same, though; stop the opponents point guard from having a huge game.

The problem with that is the Spartans have a great supporting cast and can hurt you in a lot of different ways.  Damian Johnson played excellent defense Thursday and will be a key on the defensive end Friday.  Ralph Sampson will have to be his usual shot swatting self in the paint as well, and can’t get bullied by Delvin Roe and Draymond Green inside.  They are undersized so Sampson will have a length advantage, but Ralph struggles with the strength of bigs at times.

On the offensive end, the inside out game worked very well against Penn State, with Sampson making some nice passes and being a presence inside.  He has developed on the offensive end and it will be vitally important to establish him again this game.

Lawrence Westbrook will need to have the game of his life tonight as well.  It very well could be his last meaningful college game, and he needs, along with Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber, to be knocking down jumpers for the offense to be effective.

Overall, Thursday was the Golden Gophers friend and hopefully Friday will treat them the same way.

Games of vital importance outside of their own on Friday will be ones to watch as well.  There are three to keep a close eye on, all of which could send teams from the bubble watch straight to the NIT:

Stanford-Washington:  Stanford already helped the Gophers once by taking out Arizona State, can they be heroes for the second day in a row?

San Diego State-New Mexico:  The Aztecs have already taken out UNM once this year, if it happens again surely SDSU is in.

Illinois-Wisconsin:  The game that will most interest Gopher fans.  Illinois got the best of Wisconsin at Kohl Center earlier this year, but lost to Wisconsin by 15 last Saturday at home.  Illinois has now lost five of six, one of which was to the Gophers in their only meeting this year.  The Gophers sit at ten conference wins as do the Illini, so if both lose tomorrow, looking at both their profiles and their head-to-head matchup, it’s hard to see how Illinois gets the nod while Minnesota goes to MSG for the NIT.  In short, it’s a must win for the Illini and one the Gophers desperately need them to lose.

For more of a look at this game check out this recap of the January 23rd Michigan State-Minnesota meeting

http://thesportsbank.wpengine.com/minnesota-golden-gophers/michigan-st-minnesota-was-an-edgy-gritty-affair/

Check back daily for more Gopher tournament updates.

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Comments

  1. i appreciate the daily updates, mike… for those of us rubes without the time to research so thoroughly, it’s invaluable, especially in relation to our favorite team… GO GOPHERS!

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