Three Things I Think: Big Ten, March 18

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

Minnesota clinched the first Big Ten conference title on Friday with an overtime win against Michigan. Kyle Rau scored the game winner, and Gophers’ senior class became the first at Minnesota to win three-straight conference titles.

The Badgers finished the regular season in second place, Michigan third and Penn State last. Ohio State split the series with Penn State while Michigan State also split with Wisconsin, leaving the Buckeyes with the fourth seed and the Spartans with the fifth.

After the weekend, Minnesota is No. 1 in PairWise rankings and Wisconsin is No. 5. While the rankings will change during the conference tournaments, the Gophers and Badgers should make the NCAA Tournament regardless.

The Wolverines have the most at stake this weekend, as they are currently 11th in the PairWise. If they defeat the Nittany Lions in the first game, the Wolverines should make the NCAA Tournament.

(After the jump: Big Ten Awards, playoff uncertainty, Michigan possibly getting hot)

Playoff uncertainty

The Big Ten officially released the matchups after the weekend.

Michigan and Penn State will face off and Ohio State will play Michigan State in the first round of the tournament. Wisconsin will play either Michigan or Penn State, and Minnesota will face either Ohio State or Michigan State. The winners will play on Saturday.

Because it’s a one-and-done deal — especially the first round of the tournament — anything can happen. I believe it’s likely Minnesota and Wisconsin will play for the Big Ten championship, but the first round will be interesting.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Penn State or Michigan State moved on to the second round.

While Wisconsin has played more consistently lately, there’s no guarantee they can win on the road. And Penn State — which could beat Michigan — played well against Wisconsin.

Michigan possibly getting hot

Minnesota sat a few players for Saturday’s contest against the Wolverines, including Adam Wilcox and Sam Warning. So Wilcox wasn’t in net when the Gophers surrendered six goals. It was only the second time this season Minnesota allowed that many goals, and the first time since Nov. 24.

But after watching Michigan’s first game against Minnesota this weekend and parts of the second, I was pretty impressed. I was also impressed when the Wolverines played Ohio State, but Minnesota is a better opponent.

I’ve said nice things about Michigan before, but it hasn’t stuck. I believe the Wolverines are playing better hockey now, but the key is consistency. After snapping a four-game losing streak, the Wolverines are 4-2-1 with wins over Ohio State and Michigan State.

The Buckeyes and Spartans might not have the best records, but they’re not pushover teams either.

But as I mentioned earlier, the Wolverines should be able to make the NCAA Tournament as long as they defeat Penn State in the first round.

Big Ten Awards

The Big Ten released its inaugural conference awards, which include the Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

I wasn’t one of the media members who voted, but I put together a set of my own.

A lot of the choices I agree with and a lot of them are close calls. Adam Wilcox earned a first team selection as well as the goaltender and player of the year awards. I would’ve put Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel on the First Team and made him the Goaltender of the Year Award.

The All-Freshman Team consisted of JT Compher, Hudson Fasching, Nick Schilkey, Michael Downing, Drew Brevig and Christian Frey.

It’s surprising Frey earned the nod over Zach Nagelvoort, who was forced into Michigan’s starting job after Steve Racine went down. Frey had to join a tumultuous situation in Ohio State, but he played in half the season. I’ve seen both Frey and Nagelvoort.

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