Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Jan. 23

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

It was an okay weekend in the Big Ten, but it didn’t really teach us anything new. Michigan State had a good weekend against the Wolverines, posting a win and a tie. Ohio State took five of six points at Penn State in the same manner (with a shootout win) while Minnesota and Wisconsin split at the Kohl Center.

The results did have a pretty big impact on the Pairwise, which is going to fluctuate a lot between now and the end of the season. Penn State dropped from first to fourth because of its loss, while the Buckeyes jumped up to eighth because of the win. Even after losing to Wisconsin, Minnesota has nestled itself in at seventh. The Gophers also have the lead in the conference, but it’s a two-point margin over Penn State. The Buckeyes are seven points out of first place and the Badgers (which I’m not surprised about) are six points out.

The Spartans had their three goals spaced out amongst all three periods in Friday’s win. Ed Minney made all 24 stops for his shutout, while Jack Lafontaine started for Michigan. The Wolverines countered with Zach Nagelvoort on Saturday, continuing the weird rotation they have in place, and he made 23 stops.

On Friday the Gophers had the 2-0 lead going into the second. The Badgers tied it in the middle frame but the Gophers took a 3-2 lead. Freshman Trent Frederic tied it in the third period, but Justin Kloos won it in OT. Eric Schierhorn and Jack Berry started. Matt Jurusik started the next night and had 32 saves (the same as Shcieirhorn) as the Badgers won 5-3.

So as it stands now, here’s the Pairwise:

4. Penn State
7. Minnesota
8. Ohio State

And here’s the conference standings:

1. Minnesota
2. Penn State
3. Wisconsin
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan
6. Michigan State

(After the jump: Why Penn State lost, Wisconsin will contend and is Michigan State really progressing)

Why Penn State lost

I guess the good news is the loss to Ohio State just bumped up Penn State’s strength of schedule ranking, although that doesn’t really matter right now. The Buckeyes came into Pegula and took five out of six points from the Nittany Lions, and they did it without their top two players. That’s not great for Penn State. Yes it’s just one weekend, but the Buckeyes have taken eight out of 12 points from Penn State.

Ohio State has gotten some great goaltending from Christian Frey and that’s been part of the reason. But the Buckeyes still aren’t a particularly well put together team and are certainly not near the caliber of a Minnesota-Duluth or a Denver.

The reason Penn State lost is this: The Nittany Lions are built, as everyone has said before, on a shots-first system. That works well against teams like Niagara and Arizona State, but not as well against better teams or teams with better goaltending and defense (Ohio State has good goaltending but not great defense). What really killed the Nittany Lions over the weekend was that Ohio State, even without Laczynski and Schilkey, still have fast players. They have speed and enough skill, even if it’s not consistent, to create turnovers and capitalize off them. That’s how Ohio State scored and won on Saturday.

But this won’t get better or easier, it’s just going to get harder for Penn State. A bunch of their games are against Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have the ability to strike quickly more (Minnesota and Wisconsin have two underrated but incredibly lethal offenses because of the skill and speed they have) than the Buckeyes do. This will make the rest of the season a little rockier and it’s going to be very hard in the NCAA tournament, especially against a good defense or a hot goaltender.

 Wisconsin will contend

Speaking of Wisconsin, if you saw my note from above then you know the Badgers are third in the standings. I think that’s where I originally placed them (who knows, I change my predictions every week). I really thought coaching was at the heart of Wisconsin’s problems and figured Tony Granato would make the “competitive” again. He has, and he’s let the players use their strengths to be a tough team to play against.

I talk about their skill and speed all the time so I won’t bother you with that again. The biggest question mark for the team still is goaltending, so I don’t think they’ll make it far in the Big Ten tournament. But they will definitely cause troubles for teams trying to get that bye spot and might actually steal one. If we were unsure before, the split against Minnesota proved that.

Is Michigan State really progressing?

The Spartans did just beat Michigan and then tied them. And they also defeated North Dakota early in this season. But I think Michigan State’s success over Michigan has more to do with Michigan’s struggles than Michigan State’s improvement. There are some areas the Spartans have gotten better at – the offense has slightly improved and Mason Appleton and Taro Hirose.

Coaches usually get about three years to bring in their recruits and start pushing a program to success and Tom Anastos has been there for six years now. That’s been enough time, but the Spartans really haven’t budged. The defense is faltering and that’s left Ed Minney from being the goaltender he was supposed to be.

The wins over North Dakota but I’d classify that more of an anomaly, because there hasn’t been an upward trend with this team. The wins over Michigan are just proof that Michigan is really not good this year.

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