Since it’s Thanksgiving, I decided to put together a list of three things the Big Ten and its members/associates should be thankful for. Right now Notre Dame leads the standings with 12 points, Minnesota is second with 11 and Wisconsin is third with 10. Michigan has nine, Penn State has six and Ohio State and Michigan State each have three.
It’s too early to look at the Pairwise, but we can, so we might as well. Minnesota, as usual, leads the Big Ten at No. 7. But Michigan State is right behind them at No. 10. Michigan is No. 13, Wisconsin No. 16 and Ohio State No. 18.
Last weekend featured almost a full non-conference slate, but the teams resume conference play this weekend as Ohio State plays Michigan, Michigan State plays Penn State and Minnesota plays Notre Dame. Wisconsin hosts Mercyhurst.
Early Big Ten play
Starting Big Ten play early has been a boon for the teams. It gives all seven programs–especially Notre Dame–the ability to test themselves early against the teams who’ll determine their postseason success. In the past, the Big Ten front-loaded their non-conference schedule early and only played conference opponents until the NCAA tournament. While that allowed conference teams to test themselves early, it also meant member teams didn’t test themselves from January until March, which resulted in NCAA tournament difficulty.
Once the conference becomes as competitive as it was in 2014, that won’t be an issue anymore. But it does give the member teams a bigger variety and a host of different challenges that last from October to March, which is a better prep for NCAA tournament play.
“It’s definitely a big change,” Buckeye captain Mason Jobst said on Nov. 11. “Personally, I like it, I really enjoy conference games. Every building’s a lot of fun to play in and the rivarlies are a lot of fun. Obviously you need the non-conference games to get ready for the conference, but I think starting in Wisconsin was a lot of fun this year just because they knocked us out of the Big Ten tournament last year. To get a chance so early to play them and get back at them was a lot of fun.”
In the past, the Big Ten has really struggled defeating non-Big Ten teams, which really hurt their Pairwise and factored into NCAA tournament eligibility. It also proved how the conference was struggling, as it had difficulties posting winning records against conferences not named Atlantic Hockey.
The conference has suffered some not great losses, like to Sacred Heart, Mercyhurst and AIC, but all in all their non-conference record is 35-15-5. That calculates to a nice winning percentage of .682, best in the country. While some of those Atlantic Hockey losses will probably sting later in the Pairwise, it’s a big positive that the Big Ten has the best non-conference record.
This may be more for me and the fans then it is for the actual conference, as I’m very excited to have another team to cover. But adding Notre Dame has made the conference much more competitive, as the Fighting Irish bring depth and are a tough team to play against (they also have something truly coveted in the Big Ten–Defense). More teams is always a good thing, as it gives the conference more depth and more talent to test themselves against.