The Minnesota Golden Gophers are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 19-12 record (8-10 in the Big 10), so a nice run in the conference tournament is vital to their chances to earn a spot in the field of 68 on Sunday. They ended the regular season with an 81-63 win over Penn State this past Sunday, and they will take on the Nittany Lions again on Thursday in the first game of the conference tournament for both teams.
The Gophers swept the regular season series between the two teams, including a 68-65 road win on Jan. 8, but can they make it three wins this season over the Nittany Lions with the stakes higher?
A Battle of the Backcourts
The Gophers are led by the back court trio of Andre Hollins (14.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game), Deandre Mathieu (11.9 points, 4.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game) and Austin Hollins (11.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game), and all three will need to perform well during Thursday night’s game. Tim Frazier (15.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game) and D.J. Newbill (17.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game) are the only two players averaging more than 10 points per game for the Nittany Lions, and Frazier is the only player that averages more than two assists per game.
Newbill finished the regular season second in the Big 10 in scoring, including 24 points (9-for-20 from the floor; 3-for-6 from beyond the arc) against the Gophers last Sunday, and his performance will be one of the primary things to watch during Thursday night’s game. Austin Hollins is averaging 19.0 points per game over the last three games, including a career-high 27 points against Iowa on Feb. 25, but he will be responsible for Newbill on the defensive end most of the time and his ability to avoid foul trouble will be vital for Minnesota.
Prediction: Minnesota 72, Penn State 62
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.