Minnesota looks to improve its standing for the NCAA Tournament when it takes on Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at the United Center in Chicago. The seventh-seeded Golden Gophers are likely to be included in the NCAA field but would like to pad their resume with a win or two in Chicago, while the No. 10 seed Nittany Lions will need to win the title to get to the Big Dance.
Minnesota is led by the duo of junior guard Amir Coffey (16 points, 3.2 assists) and senior forward Jordan Murphy (14.5 points, 11.7 rebounds), though coach Richard Pitino has four double-figure scorers in his starting lineup. The Golden Gophers are hoping to find some offensive rhythm they've been lacking lately, with the team averaging 63.8 points over its last five outings, with three of those losses. Penn State is at its best when junior forward Lamar Stevens (19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds) is playing well, though the Nittany Lions have been playing much better over the past few weeks, going 7-3 in February and March after an 0-8 January. The team's defense - led by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Josh Reaves (10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds) - has tightened up recently, holding its last four opponents to an average of 60.8 points.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network LINE: Check Intertops for the latest line
ABOUT MINNESOTA (19-12): Look for Minnesota freshman forward Daniel Oturu to play with some ferocity in the Big Ten Tournament after he took offense to being left off the league's All-Freshman team this week. Oturu, who is averaging 10.8 points and led all Big Ten freshmen in rebounding (7.2), field-goal percentage (54.7 percent) and blocks (1.4), has started 26 of the 30 games he's appeared in this season, averaging 23.4 minutes. Against a Penn State front line that held him to one rebound in the teams' first meeting this season, Oturu would make his coach very happy with much more of an effort on the glass in this contest.
ABOUT PENN STATE (14-17): In the Nittany Lions' last appearance in the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in 2015, they were the No. 13 seed but came away with two upset wins before falling to No. 4 seed Purdue in the quarterfinals. Penn State coach Patrick Chambers will certainly remind his team of those results and there's good reason to believe the Nittany Lions could make a bit of a run considering how well they've been playing of late. The key to this one will be a sustained effort over all 40 minutes after Minnesota rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to nip the Nittany Lions 65-64 in January.
1. Minnesota is 7-0 this season when shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
2. Reaves is the first Big Ten player to lead the league in steals in three consecutive seasons, averaging 2.5 to top the conference this season.
3. The winner meets No. 12 Purdue, the second seed, in Friday's quarterfinals.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 72, Penn State 68 Bet Now
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