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Penn State Post-Season Scenarios: The Final Regular-Season Series

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There is still a great deal of opportunity for the Lions to move up in the rankings.

Photo By Heather Weikel

No. 17 Penn State (14-13-5) is looking to make a late-season run that could drastically improve its post-season positioning. The team will welcome No. 8 Minnesota to Hockey Valley this weekend in what could be a pivotal series for each team.

While the Gophers rest in a comfortable position in terms of gaining an NCAA at-large bid, the team is fighting for a chance to host a Big Ten Tournament opening-round series. With all of the adversity that the Lions have faced over the past month the team can still play its way into fourth place in the Big Ten; a sweep of Minnesota will garner a best-of-three series at the Pegula Ice Arena a week from today.

Here is a look at the current Big Ten standings.

Minnesota could still leap-frog Michigan with a sweep of the Lions, and gain third place. Penn State is playing for a sweep of Minnesota and then hopes that Wisconsin fails to sweep Ohio State in Columbus. Were both Penn State and Wisconsin to sweep, the Badgers would hold the tie-breaker over the Lions for fourth place.

While Penn State’s challenge, beating a very good Gopher team twice, is very difficult, it is not impossible. Should the team fall short, it will travel to either Minnesota or Michigan for the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. It is more difficult to win road games than it is to win in the friendly confines of the Pegula Ice Arena, and that could prove to be critical for the Lion’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large team.

Here are the current Pairwise Rankings

We included No. 18 Bowling Green in the rankings behind the Lions at No. 17 because the teams are essentially dead-even. The teams that are ranked behind No. 18 would have to win out to get into an at-large position, and hope the Lions and teams in front of them lose as well. So they don’t concern Penn State since the team has to do a great deal of winning to get into an at-large position for the NCAA tournament.

One thing to remember is that a team must be .500 or better to get an at-large invitation. So while it would be nice for the Lions to sweep this weekend, if the team were to lose two, it would be all but eliminated from an at-large position. At 14-15-5 with two losses, the Lions would need to sweep the best-of-three, on the road, to keep its head above water were it to lose the following week in the single-game second round of the Big Ten tournament. That would have the team having gone 2-3 to finish the season and on the extreme edges of the NCAA bubble.

The other edge of the .500 bubble sword is that there are two teams in front of the Lions that are also in jeopardy, with a less-than-.500 finish, of dropping out of consideration for an at-large bid. It is not as unlikely for the Lions to get into an at-large spot as it may seem.

Should the Lions win the series this weekend and then win the next series, at home or away, it is likely the team will end up at 14 or better in the Pairwise, which is often good enough to garner an NCAA invitation. There are many variations of what could happen with anything less than two consecutive series wins for the team, so it is too early to map a course or talk about the team needing the automatic bid that comes with winning the Big Ten tournament.

Just as the stakes are high for this weekend and the rewards great, a home series for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, so too is the bounty considerable were the team able to play into an NCAA tournament invitation. The Lions are the host team for the Allentown regional site for the first round of the NCAA tournament. If the team qualifies for the tournament, it would play there, a short drive from campus.