Penn State (18-9-3) is sitting in first place in the Big Ten standings and in the No. 8 spot in the PairWise Rankings. Their position is fine for now but nothing is safe coming down the home stretch. This will be the final road series of the regular season.
The good news is that Wisconsin has not been playing very well lately, losing their last 5 games. The team is loaded with talent, notably a few NHL first round draft picks, but they have not been able to put it together as a team. The Badgers have slid all the way down to 37 in the PairWise Rankings.
While it would appear to be a good thing for the Lions, to have their opponent on a cold streak, the lower PairWise Ranking for Wisconsin means a loss will hurt Penn State more than it typically would against a conference foe. A split would not be the end of the world but anything less for Guy Gadowsky’s squad would put a lot of pressure on the team next week.
The Lions will close out the regular season with a pair of games against Minnesota, with THON unfolding right across the street. Both games of the Gopher series will be broadcast nationally on the Big Ten Network, so it will be a great way to showcase the team and university.
Race In The B1G
As you can see it’s a very tight race for the conference lead and since there are 6 teams still within striking distance, anything could happen.
It is possible that the Lions could finish anywhere between first and sixth place. While the series with Wisconsin won’t help the team’s PairWise Ranking, a pair of wins would make it that much harder for teams to catch them in conference standings.
While we all would enjoy the adulation the team would get for winning the regular season B1G title, the official winner of the league is the team that wins the Big Ten Tournament. At first glance, the top seed would seem the best place to start for a team wanting to win the tournament, since it comes with a first-round bye.
As we pointed out a couple of weeks ago, a first round bye may not be the best thing for this team, which already has an awkward bye in the final week of Big Ten competition. A second bye would give the team just two tune-up games at the most, in the final 4 weeks of the season, to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. The second and third round of the tournament are single-game match-ups, whereas the first weekend the teams play a best-of-three format.
Keep that in mind as we watch what happens in the coming weeks. Ricky Bobby used to say that if you’re not first, you’re last. That may not be the case for the Lions. They may want to consider second place as the best spot. Maybe they can run the table for the final 4 games while Michigan State wins 5 of their final 6 to take the title by 1 point. That would work out just fine.