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A State Patty’s Day Rooting Guide For Penn State Hockey

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The idle Nittany Lions will have plenty riding on the final weekend of the regular season.

Heather Weikel/Black Shoe Diaries

Penn State has done all it can. Now, the Nittany Lions are relying on everyone else to do their part.

In taking five out of six points against Minnesota last weekend, the Nittany Lions built a four-point lead at the top of the Big Ten and have locked in their place in the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

The remainder of the national tournament bracket will have to wait until the end of the conference tournaments, though based on the current PairWise rankings, we can start to make fairly accurate projections, barring any chaos.

Projected NCAA Tournament Bracket

Loveland, CO Worcester, MA Allentown, PA Albany, NY
Loveland, CO Worcester, MA Allentown, PA Albany, NY
1) North Dakota 4) Boston College 2) Minnesota State 3) Cornell
6) Denver 5) Minnesota Duluth 7) Penn State 8) UMass
11) Bemidji State 12) Northeastern 10) Clarkson 9) Ohio State
27) AIC 13) Arizona State 15) Western Michigan 14) Minnesota
(Note: All rankings are based off the PairWise. USCHO/USA Today polls are excluded.)

While not the most effective method of evaluating Penn State’s projected regional, the Nittany Lions have only fared better against common opponents in the case of the Broncos.

The Mavericks’ sample size is small, with Alaska being the lone common opponent and one of Penn State’s worst performances of the season coming against the Nanooks.

The Golden Knights went 1-0-1 against the Wolverines and split a series against the Badgers, holding a slight edge over the Nittany Lions.

Big Ten Tournament Implications

Depending on who you ask, a first-round bye is either a blessing or a curse. If a team is hampered by injuries, that extra time for rest and recovery can become invaluable.

Or, as Ohio State showed us last season, you can become a sitting duck. With the regular season title locked up with a few games remaining, the 2018-19 Buckeyes were on cruise control heading into the conference tournament.

Following their regular season finale, the Buckeyes had to wait two weeks to return to action. The Nittany Lions dominated the Buckeyes in their own building, winning 5-1 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

Two weeks later, the Buckeyes were bounced in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 2-0 to Denver.

If the Nittany Lions do get that first-round bye, they’ll go three weeks between their regular season finale and the conference semifinals.

With such a gap between action, rust would have the edge over rest.

Just twice — Minnesota in 2015 and Notre Dame in 2018 — in the six-season history of the Big Ten has the regular season champion also been crowned tournament champion.

The first round bye may not be the key factor in all this. Playing meaningful games through the end of the regular season could keep Penn State in top form this year.

The conference has been won by five or more points four times in six years. Those 2018 Fighting Irish were the only ones to even make it to the tournament championship game.

Depending on this weekend’s results, the Nittany Lions could finish anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3. To understand how wide open the Big Ten race truly is, consider this: Notre Dame has almost as good a chance to finish sixth as it does second.

Current Big Ten standings probabilities, courtesy of PlayoffStatus.com

Any of the Fighting Irish, Michigan, Michigan State, or Wisconsin could be the Nittany Lions’ first round opponent. Picking a favorable matchup out of that group is a tough task.

Record Versus B1G

Opponent Record
Opponent Record
Minnesota 3-0-1
Wisconsin 3-1-0
Ohio State 2-1-1
Michigan State 2-2-0
Notre Dame 1-2-1
Michigan 1-2-1

The Badgers have struggled this season, but are coming off a sweep of No. 13 Arizona State after splitting with the Nittany Lions in Madison.

The Spartans were the surprise of the season, leading the conference as recently as Feb. 11. Four straight losses have bumped them back to sixth. John Lethemon has been exceptional, however, stopping 144 of 153 shots against Penn State this season.

The Wolverines went winless in their first seven conference games of the season, but have been a different team since the turn of the calendar year, posting the best conference record in that span, even forcing coach Guy Gadowsky to put his lineup chart in a blender.

Cale Morris is healthy and the Fighting Irish have rediscovered their game. The rest of the Big Ten, be warned. Of Michigan’s three conference losses in 2020, the Fighting Irish are responsible for two of them, sweeping the Wolverines in Ann Arbor last weekend.

Perhaps the best scenario for the Nittany Lions would be to have either Minnesota or Ohio State pass them for No. 1 and let Liam Folkes do his thing against Wisconsin, allowing the Nittany Lions to stay in game form for whoever awaits them in the semifinals.

For the Nittany Lions to receive that first round bye, they will need an Ohio State split against Wisconsin and Minnesota to take four points or fewer against Michigan.

While many will be glued to their televisions and laptops anxiously awaiting the weekend’s results, the Nittany Lions will be doing their best to avoid scoreboard watching.

“We got a little holiday here in State Patty’s Day,” one player said. “So we’ll be having a little fun and enjoying our week off and getting everybody healthy.”