Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 5

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

The first weekend in Big Ten play taught us… nothing, really. Penn State beat Michigan, a team with spotty defense (and no Hayden Lavigne) 11-1 combined. Ohio State and Minnesota split, although the Buckeyes avenged a 5-3 loss with an 8-3 win. The Badgers had an interesting weekend against Omaha, tying 3-3 the first night and then falling 7-4.

So after two Big Ten series, what do we know about the Big Ten? Nothing new, really.

After the jump: No one in college hockey is good this year, strength of schedule matters for measuring success and the Big Ten inconsistency is killing me)

No one in college hockey is really good this year

Maybe there are a couple teams that are passable, although from what I’ve heard talking to various reporters – because I don’t see every team and it’s impossible to tell how good a team is based on their schedule, but we’ll talk about that later – it seems like no one is a true powerhouse. Even the teams that have good records – North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth to name a few, aren’t really strong. It’s no surprise that the Fighting Hawks, despite being last year’s champion, are struggling. And they’re not the only team having a tough time from what we thought would be the top teams.

Denver is good, but not like they were last year. Boston University is another example of what was supposed to be a good team but just isn’t. Injuries have played a key for a few of these teams (Brock Boeser is hurt for North Dakota and Clayton Keller is out for BU). A lot of good players left college hockey after last season and that’s part of the reason too.

If you see a team pulling off an “upset” win, think twice before you over exaggerate the meaning. I said last week that Michigan State’s win over North Dakota was huge – and it was, especially how much the Spartans have been struggling – but it doesn’t mean as much if you realize that most of the high-end teams this season are… not exactly high end.

Strength of schedule matters for measuring success

This one goes out to all the Penn State fans. (Oh by the way I said the exact same thing about Michigan last year). Everyone is pointing out Penn State’s unbeaten record, how much their players are scoring, how good Peyton Jones is and how many goals Penn State scores per game. But those stats without context doesn’t mean much (which is the same thing some of us said about Kyle Connor and his statistics).

It’s incredibly hard to tell if a player is good or not if they aren’t facing quality competition. Penn State averages by far the most goals per game in the country, but as I’ve mentioned before, they also take the most shots in the country. And of course they’re going to score and be able to put up 50 shots on net when they’re playing teams like Arizona State, Alaska Anchorage, Niagara, Canisius. The only good team Penn State has played this year is Notre Dame, and we’re not even sure how good Notre Dame is.

Michigan had talented players on its offense last year certainly, but we all knew the Wolverines were not as good as their offense seemed. All season long they defeated mediocre competition and then couldn’t beat a quality opponent. It would be great to see how Penn State would fare against a good team (although I don’t know if we’ll even get that chance in Big Ten play), but until that happens, it’s impossible to measure how good its players are.

The Big Ten inconsistency is killing me

RIP me. Although all of college hockey is wildly inconsistent, so I shouldn’t be surprised that is also happening in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes and Gophers series was (while unsurprising) a good indication of what awaits us as Big Ten play gets underway. The first night was a Minnesota win and followed with a big Ohio State win (and eight goals from the Buckeyes).

Ohio State hasn’t been Inconsistent very much in terms of winning, but its offense has been. The Gophers and Badgers, though, are examples of two teams that have been inconsistent. While that’s also a product of non-conference scheduling it’s not surprising that will continue into conference play. The Big Ten has been like this for a while, and it’s less a product of all teams being competitive and more a product of something just not clicking. I say not clicking because it makes sense for young teams or teams with new coaching staffs, but not really for teams like Ohio State and Minnesota.

That being said, it’s basically going to be impossible to predict who wins what in conference play this year. Hang onto your seats.

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