The last weekend in Big Ten regular season play is here. Much in the conference will be decided this weekend – including who wins the regular season championship and who earns the bye spots. Only two teams – Minnesota and Wisconsin – can earn first place. The Gophers are a lock for a bye day, but Penn State has a chance at getting the No. 2 seed, which would give them the second bye day.
Here are the current standings:
1. Minnesota (39)
2. Wisconsin (36)
3. Penn State (31)
4. Ohio State (29)
5. Michigan (16)
6. Michigan State (11)
So here’s the deal. The Badgers and Gophers tied the regular-season series, which means Minnesota must win at least one game to either win the Big Ten or earn a share of the title. The Badgers can clinch a piece of the title with at least a win and either a Gophers loss or shootout win. There are several scenarios where the Badgers can claim the title or a share of the title, but basically they’re good if they win both games, or if they win and Minnesota splits, or if they win one game and Minnesota loses both. (This gets a little more complicated because there are three points up for grabs in each game, so it’s not just wins and losses but also potential shootout wins).
Now for the No. 2 seed. The Nittany Lions are just five points behind the Badgers. Penn State has the season series tiebreaker, but they’ll still need some help. They need to at least win one game and take the other one into the shootout and have the Badgers lose both games. That’s a plausible scenario because the Badgers have a tougher test in Ohio State while Penn State should beat Michigan. But, Penn State is playing at Michigan and the Wolverines are just coming off a big win over Minnesota (that could cost the Gophers a piece of the Big Ten title).
So the last weekend in Big Ten play will be full of drama. And that’s not even including the Pairwise (the Badgers are in the bubble and the Buckeyes are on the outside. But the difference between the two teams isn’t much.)
Wisconsin vs Ohio State: March 10 at 7:07 p.m.; March 11 at 7:07 p.m.
This is the series that could make or break not one, but both teams. For the Badgers, it could be the difference between earning a share of the regular-season title and missing out on a bye spot completely. Not to mention it could knock the Badgers outside of the Pairwise bubble. And for the Buckeyes it could do the opposite. Ohio State has no chance at earning a No. 1 or 2 seed, but the Buckeyes are currently on the outside looking in for the Pairwise a couple of wins here would help them move up.
The Badgers have the upper hand in this series, winning a pair of games back in January (including the overtime win at Madison Square Garden). Wisconsin has played well in the conference, except the three losses to penn State. The Badgers just split their series with the Gophers and Nittany Lions. Luke Kunin is just five points away from the 40-point mark, and Trent Frederic has been a standout freshman. Goalkeeping, though, hasn’t been very strong for the Badgers.
Speaking of the 40-point mark, Mason Jobst already passed it and Nick Silky is just one point away. David Gust, who really doesn’t get talked about, is just four points away. Ohio State’s goaltending is also fairly questionable, because it can be really good but isn’t really consistent.
The Buckeyes are a lot healthier now than they were the last time these two teams met. But, the Badgers have gotten better as the season progressed and I’m not sure the Buckeyes are quite as strong now. And while Ohio State’s offense is strong, the Badgers have been able to limit it.
Prediction: Series split
Michigan vs. Penn State: March 10 at 7:35 p.m.; March 11 at 7:35 p.m.
This is a must-win series for Penn State if they want a bye day (which they need to win the tournament). Michigan has been struggling this year but they have a chance to play spoiler, which they may have done by beating Minnesota (see above). The Wolverines have won just two of their last nine games, but those wins were against Minnesota and Ohio State. Penn State has won three of its last four, including a series win against Michigan State and a 6-0 win on senior night against the Badgers.
Penn State still has a powerful offense, topped by Denis Smirnov. The freshman has topped the 40-point mark, making him the leading rookie scorer in the nation. The other top freshman on the team is Peyton Jones, who’s save percentage is .902. Goaltending is actually a strength for the Wolverines. They’re rolling a three-goaltender rotation, but each one has a save percentage over .909 (this is good amongst Big Ten goalies). The offense, though, is really struggling. Jake Slaker’s 21 points are a team-high.
Penn State should win, but it looks like the Wolverines are playing better and relishing the role of spoiler.
Prediction: Penn State sweeps
Minnesota vs. Michigan State: March 10 at 6:30 p.m. CT; March 11 at 7 p.m. CT
The Gophers host a struggling Michigan State team in the last weekend, and Minnesota needs just two wins to secure the Big Ten title. And they need at least one to earn a share of it. Earlier this year the Gophers swept the Spartans.
Minnesota, though, just lost a game to Michigan. And before that, the Gophers split with the Badgers. No one talks about Tyler Sheehy for some reason but he leads the conference with 52 points. The Gophers may not have the top-ranked offense in the country but they’re still in the top five thanks to Sheehy and Justin Kloos. Eric Scheirhorn has a save percentage of .902.
The Spartans have won just one game in their last six, and that was last weekend’s win over Ohio State – which might cost the Buckeyes a spot in the NCAA tournament. Aside from the win over the Buckeyes, Michigan State’s only conference wins this year have happened against Michigan. But Mason Appleton is probably the bright light for the team, as he now has 29 points.
Prediction: Minnesota sweeps