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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions' Second Straight Meeting With Gophers Far From A Formality

by on March 13, 2014 2:00 PM

If you've been casually following Penn State basketball's season, you might be excused for assuming that Thursday night's first round meeting with Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament is something of a formality.

Considering that both teams are only days removed from a 18-point Gopher win over Penn State it's hard to imagine that much would change a few days later.

However, the first meeting between the two teams was a three point Gopher victory at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Penn State's early 20-point deficit at The Barn was largely self-inflicted, resulting in a lopsided Minnesota win. Despite a second half deficit of 25-points, Penn State used a 20-4 run to cut the Gopher lead into single digits and was far from outplayed after the game's opening eight minutes.

So Thursday night could make for an intriguing third meeting between the two teams.

Certainly, Penn State is dealing in reality -- the fact is that the Gophers have beaten the Nittany Lions both times they've played this season -- but head coach Patrick Chambers and his team know that not all wins are created equal. 

As Penn State enters what could be the last regular season game of the year for the Nittany Lions on Thursday night, the game will be as much about avoiding early turnovers and unforced errors as it will be anything else.

The Nittany Lions will have a few things working for them as well. They'll be playing at a neutral site without the benefit of senior day and an emotional crowd behind the Gophers. In the Big Ten Tournament it is everyone's senior day and the crowd will be far less one-sided for any team in the tournament.

For a Nittany Lion team that has had a season full of what-ifs, Thursday night is a chance to give that feeling to a different team, a Minnesota team that is still on the NCAA Tournament bubble only days away from Selection Sunday.

In a Big Ten conference that has eaten itself alive this season, anything is possible and a Penn State win on Thursday night would be far from the most surprising result in conference play this year.

It might be too early to pencil in a victory for Penn State, but the Nittany Lions haven't been in nine Big Ten games decided by 5 or fewer points because they made it easy on opposing teams.

Tip is scheduled for 6:30 PM 

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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