Big Ten Tourney First Round: 5 things to watch for

Jace Frederick

First off, read my story on DeAndre Mathieu and how he's proving all of his doubters wrong.

Minnesota, currently on the "First Four Out" of most NCAA Tournament projections, enters this week with one last chance to impress the NCAA Selection Committee as it rolls into the Big Ten tournament.

It's opportunity starts on Thursday night, when the Gophers face off against Penn State in the first round.

Minnesota has never won the Big Ten Tournament, a rallying cry used by Gophers coach Richard Pitino.

“I didn’t realize it’s only been in existence since 1998,” he said. “I was acting like it was 100 years old. I found that out [on Sunday]. … It was going. I was like ‘we haven’t won in 100 years. Come on, guys!’ And then [assistant athletic communications director] Dan [Riesig] told me [the year it started] and it ruined the whole deal.”

Still, 18 years is a long time. And winning four-straight this week would allow the Gophers and their fans to rest easy on Sunday.

A potential run would have to start with a victory tonight.

Here are my five things to watch:

Other bubble teams: 

Pitino said one win could be enough to get the Gophers into the tournament, in his opinion.

“I honestly believe if we win one game and things go our way, we can be in the NCAA Tournament,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “You get 20 wins, you have a top-five strength of schedule, but … a couple of things have to pan out the right way.”

Still, if they only win one or two games, they could use a little help.

Here are some teams Gophers fans should root against today: Pitt, St. Joe's, Dayton,Florida State, Cal, Utah, Tennessee, Arkansas and Southern Miss.

Defending Penn State's guards: 

In State College in January it was Tim Frazier lighting the Gophers up, while DJ Newbill went scoreless. 

On Sunday, Newbill poured in 22, while Frazier was hardly even noticeable.

Both of those games resulted in Gophers Ws.

If Minnesota can limit just one of Penn State's star guards, it should come away with the W. The danger with Penn State comes when both go off.

Mathieu and Walker:

Who would have thought before the season that Mo Walker and DeAndre Mathieu would be the keys to the Gophers offensive success? Not this guy, but that's exactly how it's turned out.

The duo both provide valuable balance to Minnesota's offense by supplying interior offense — Mathieu via the bounce, Walker by posting up on the block. 

When those two are aggressive, that leaves the shooters like the Hollins duo and Malik Smith free to roam the perimeter. That's when the Gophers are at their best.

Mentality: The Gophers came out with a fire on Sunday, refusing to lose, and they jumped all over Penn State. Minnesota needs to take a similar mentality into tonight's game. Because even though it stomped the Nittany Lions on Sunday, you can bet a different Penn State team will take the court in Indy. 

Pitino's suit: If you didn't catch my story on Pitino's wardrobe, check it out!  

I'm guessing Pitino goes with the light brown suit today, so he doesn't look like he's repping Penn State by any means, but we'll see.

KenPom Prediction: Gophers 71, Penn State 69 (Minnesota has a 59 percent chance of victory)