Penn State–Minnesota Preview
Well here we are, 8-4 and looking down the barrel of a tough Big Ten slate. That isn’t suggesting that anybody in the Big Ten gets off with an easy schedule but the Lions aren’t starting out with much to look forward to. First up is a trip to The Barn and a Minnesota team that struggled early on but is currently on a 5 game winning streak. As all Tubby Smith coached teams, this years edition of the Gophers lives on stingy defense and the talents of the Lawrence Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber, and Damian Johnson who all average about 11 points a game (Westbrook leads with 12.9).
If the Lions are going to have a chance it this game it’ll come from hitting the outside shot, as all of the teams that have beaten Minnesota this year are ones who could hit it from the outside. That being said the ability to keep the Gophers honest defending the inside and getting the ball to Drew Jones and Jeff Brooks inside the paint will be critical to the Lions success. The Lions are playing decent defense this year so the issue shouldn’t be keeping up with the guard play or banging around on the inside but more of consistent offensive execution. Good ball movement, smart play, and patience will be key to staying around in an arena that the Lions are 1-15 in.
Besides stingy defense the Lions will have to deal with NE-NW Drafts from section 104 B
So we’ve got a basic outline of how to get it done in The Barn, but who really needs to step up and get the job done tonight if the Lions are going to head back home with a 9-4 record?
Chris Babb: He is a streaky shooter but when it comes to hitting the wide open shot he has to hit them. Chris hasn’t shown that he can be the automatic shooter that Stanley Pringle was, but he has the tools and technique to get to that level. After back-to-back double-digit games Babb is getting the starting nod over Tim Frazier which is probably in the teams best interest as Frazier is liable to have issues with the Gopher’s press. Babb is also grabbing about 4 rebounds a game and has a better Big Ten body build; and while Frazier should see time tonight but the key to the game will be winning the 5 min periods the first two or so being the most important. Putting Babb in over Frazier does slow the tempo down a little bit, but it also gives you experience, shooting and defense that Frazier is still learning. It isn’t unlikely that you’ll see Babb, Battle, and Frazier all on the floor at once, but starting Babb is the smart move at this point.
Drew Jones/Andrew Ott: The more you get from the two of these guys the better. The key for every game in the Big Ten, is being able to put air between the defensive players by playing balanced which will help you get better looks at the basket. The best way to spread out the defense is to hit your outside shots and still maintain an inside game. So far Drew has seen limited success under the rim and has had people wondering if he has maxed out on his talent. He’ll be matched up against a talented Ralph Sampson (the 3rd) who averages 6.4 points a game but has scored 14,11, and 16 points in the 3 of the last 5 outings. If Ott continues to get himself to the line and knock down free throws that could be key in getting the foul advantage and making the Gophers play less aggressive defense. I don’t want to sell Drew just yet, but if he is going to make an impact on this team he is going to need to start doing it soon. Between the two of them they need to get about 15-18 points and draw 4-6 fouls, if they can get close to that level of production that’ll be a big help.
Talor Battle: Duh..but Talor has had several games this year that he has thrown up a million shots and hit well less than half of them. The team is better served to have Talor score 21 points and make 75% of his shots than score 30 points and have him hit 25%. The key to the game will be getting a good number of possessions that lead to points. Empty possessions on the road will kill you, so smart shot selection will really help keep the Lions in the game. Talor shouldn’t be afraid to give up the ball too, unless he is on fire he’ll have to give it up or it’ll be a repeat of the Temple game; triple team Talor and you win, triple team Talor and let him get a pass off to somebody and you’re in trouble. It is basic basketball but Talor will need to make everybody better with good ball movement to really make his 20-30 points payoff. Ball movement will win you games; not to get sidetracked but that is a big reason the Cavs lose in the playoffs; they stop passing the ball and give it to Lebron, he gets off bad shots and they lose. The same goes for Talor, move the ball around and your points will come, hang onto the ball and you’re in for a long night.
All in all tonight is a tough way to start the Big Ten season, but baptism by fire might be best for the team. Find out if you’ve got what it takes to compete. If you don’t, change and get ready for the next game. This team has the talent and skill to play with anybody in the Big Ten, it all comes down to execution and smart play. Now if it was only that simple….