Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4 SU, 4-5-1 ATS) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-3 SU, 7-4 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, December 29, 2009, Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minn. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Penn State +11.5/Minnesota -11.5
Over/Under: 133

The Big Ten season gets underway as the Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Penn State Nittany Lions at Williams Arena.

Minnesota came into the season with high expectations and a top 25 ranking, but the Golden Gophers haven’t yet lived up to the hype. After defeating Butler in the 76 Classic, the Gophers lost three straight away from home to Portland, Texas A&M and Miami (FL). They have played very well at home this season. The Gophers are undefeated at home and have won every game by at least 23 points. Last season, they were 18-2 at home, including a 20-point victory at home over Penn State.

Other than the four-game stretch against Butler, Portland, Texas A&M and Miami (FL) in which they went 1-3, the Gophers haven’t really faced any other tough competition. Their toughest home game was a 97-74 victory over St. Joseph’s.

Minnesota is a well-rounded team with size, experience, shooters and solid guard play. Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and Damian Johnson give the Gophers good size down low. Lawrence Westbrook is leading the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game. Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber, the team’s second leading scorer at 10.9 ppg, are both shooting at least 40 percent from 3-point range.

Penn State is all about one player – Talor Battle. The junior guard is one of the best scorers in the Big Ten. He is averaging 18.8 points per game, more than double any other Penn State player’s scoring output. He is also leading the team in rebounds (5.8 per game) and assists (3.5 per game). Chris Babb and Tim Frazier give the Nittany Lions two more scoring options in the backcourt, and Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones are all decent down low. But the ball will usually be in Battle’s hands, and if Minnesota can take him out of the game the Nittany Lions don’t stand much of a chance.

Penn State has had a few close losses this season. On November 20, the Nittany Lions lost by three to Tulane on a neutral court. On December 5, they lost by three at Temple. A week later, they lost 66-64 at home to Virginia Tech in which Battle scored exactly half (32) of their points. Since that loss, the Nittany Lions won 104-57 over Gardner-Webb and 76-57 over American.

In the loss to Virginia Tech, Battle was 12-for-26 from the field and 5-for-11 from 3-point range. He scored 32 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out three assists, and had no turnovers. Jackson (12 points) was the only other PSU player in double figures in scoring. Other than Battle and Jackson, the rest of the Nittany Lions shot just 6-for-31 from the field and 0-for-10 from beyond the arc. It’s tough to win games when one or two players are the only ones doing anything, so players like Babb, Frazier, Brooks and Jones have to step up for PSU to have a chance to win at Minnesota.

In both of Penn State’s road games this season, at Virginia and Temple, the Nittany Lions have covered. Those were also the only two games they have been underdogs in, so the Nittany Lions are 0-2 ATS on the road and 0-2 ATS as underdogs this season.

The total has gone over in each of PSU’s last two games, and the total has gone over in four of Minnesota’s last five games.

Minnesota is 5-0 ATS in its last five games, all at home.

Ryno’s Pick: Minnesota is a very good defensive team. Westbrook and Nolen will be responsible for shutting down Battle. It’s unlikely they will completely shut him down, but if Battle scores less than 20 points Minnesota will be happy. The Gophers have a decent size advantage down low, so look for them to exploit that by pounding the ball inside to their big men. If PSU’s defense collapses down low, Hoffarber will light it up from 3-point range. At home, Minnesota has been playing near perfect basketball this season, and the Gophers were pretty much the same way at home last season. Penn State has some experience playing away from home this season against good teams, but the Nittany Lions haven’t proven to be a good enough team to win a road game at a tough place like Williams Arena. Penn State lost to the same team on the road last season by 20 when it had a better team, so it’s unlikely it will keep this one within 20. Take Minnesota -11.5.