The quarterfinals are set. I’ll have more on that later in an official preview, but Minnesota will host Michigan, Penn State will host Wisconsin and Notre Dame will host Michigan. The Buckeyes have the bye.
Ohio State is the only team on the inside of the tournament at seventh. Notre Dame and Penn State sit on the bubble at 15th and 16th, respectively. Minnesota is 21st.
Cale Morris will be the key
The Fighting Irish weren’t doing so well in the beginning of the year and, despite a Frozen Four appearance, have struggled this season. But Cale Morris has looked more and more like the goaltender of last year. Morris was key in the Friday game against Penn State last weekend, and his performance was key in helping the Fighting Irish hold onto home ice.
And it’s going to be the catalyst for the Fighting Irish as the playoffs progress. Right now Notre Dame is on the bubble, and this week will have heavy PairWise implications. While Notre Dame, which lost a few key players in the offseason, has become pretty solid. But goaltending is always what wins championships.
How good is Minnesota, really?
Quietly the Gophers picked up home ice and a third-place finish in the league, which is an improvement from their start to the season. The Gophers, though, are still 21st in the PairWise and likely to miss the NCAA tournament again (unless they earn the automatic bid) although in much less dramatic fashion and in a much more certain way.
Even though the Gophers will probably be a long shot instead of a near miss this season, I don’t think it means Minnesota is wose than it was before. There’s always a period of adjustment with a new coach, and the Gophers still have a top scorer in Rem Pitlick.
Of the top three teams, the Gophers have the shakiest goaltending, which doesn’t bode well for their NCAA tournament hopes. But Mat Robson is still a good goaltender, and he’d just need to get really hot at the right time. And the new Big Ten tournament format might be beneficial to teams without lights-out goaltending.
Give credit to Wisconsin
Heading into last weekend I assumed there was little chance Wisconsin would get home ice because they needed to sweep Michigan, and I doubted they would sweep Michigan – epecially without K’Andre Miller.
But the Badgers pulled through. After winning 5-4 in overtimeon Friday, Wisconsin won 4-3 again in overtime. They didn’t earn home ice, but that’s an impressive feat – especially without one of your top players.