The Lions sit atop the Big Ten Standings heading into the final weekend of the regular-season for the team. Were it the final weekend for all of the teams in the conference, Penn State’s chances of winning the title would be much better.
When the Big Ten had just 6 teams, Minnesota won the regular-season title with 39 points through 20 games, the lowest a team has ever had while finishing in first place. Since the league went to a 24-game schedule two years ago, the winning point totals have been 53 (Notre Dame) and 46 (Ohio State). Penn State can get to 42 points with a sweep against Minnesota, which would make it mathematically possible to win the league title.
While it is possible, it is not likely. Every team in the B1G besides Wisconsin and Penn State has 4 games remaining, a possible 12 points in conference play still hanging in the balance. We will know the scenarios next week that would benefit Penn State, while the Lions are on a bye and left to watch how it unfolds.
For now it’s nice to know that Guy Gadowsky’s squad remains in first place in the conference and with a solid finish, should host a Big Ten Tournament game or more, then continue on to the NCAA Tournament.
According the the College Hockey News’ PairWise Probability Matrix, Penn State currently has an 87% chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Holding the No. 10 spot in the PairWise is a solid position this late in the season. Until the conference tournaments are played, it will not be certain how many at-large bids will be available. Right now the number seems to be at 14, until a team outside the top-16 wins one of the conference tournaments. If that happens, then there will be fewer at-large bids.
Since there are 6 automatic bids available, one for each conference, the top-10 teams are guaranteed a spot in the field. If Penn State can stay where it is when the Big Ten Tournament is over, or rise higher, the team will return to Allentown and the NCAA Tournament.
Any type of stumble, either this weekend or in the Big Ten Tournament, could put those hopes in jeopardy. Thankfully, Minnesota is currently No. 17 in the PairWise Rankings, so a split of the series would likely keep the Lions where they are, a sweep in their favor would all but stamp their invitation to the Big Dance. Were Minnesota to sweep, it would leave the Lions with a bye week to soak it in, knowing that they are likely going to have to travel for the first series of the conference tournament, and if they don’t win, they may be done for the season.
While we are in the last week of regular-season conference play in Hockey Valley, the playoff picture remains uncertain. Fans will be able to take in THON and also celebrate the weekend while the Big Ten Network televises both games of the series against the Gophers. It should be a very exciting weekend.