The Big Ten hockey tournament will begin on Friday night as six teams square off while the Lions rest at home with a bye. There are some interesting match-ups in the first round, with the lowest seed Wisconsin playing as well as any team in the league.
You could say that the Badgers are playing as well as any team in the country, coming off a sweep of Arizona State that led to a series win, on the road, against the Buckeyes last weekend. Ohio State will host Wisconsin in what could be the most exciting series of the weekend anywhere in college hockey.
The Sun Devils were sitting pretty in the top-10 when they lost their final two games of the season to the Badgers, dipping low enough to No. 11 that they will have to wait a couple of weeks to feel comfortable that their season will continue in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes sit at No. 12 in the PairWise Rankings and have a 56% chance of making the field as an at-large team according to College Hockey News’ PairWise Probability Matrix.
If Ohio State gets swept at home or even loses 2 of 3, they could miss the NCAA Tournament. Arizona State will likely make the field, but if they don’t, they can thank the Badgers.
Michigan State lost 6 of its final 7 games until getting a win and a tie against Notre Dame on the road last weekend. The Spartans were the surprise of the league this year, leading the pack until mid-January, when the losing streak began. If they can play like they did earlier in the season, or as they did a week ago, Michigan could be in for a wild ride.
The Wolverines are 12-6-2 since December 1 after having a very slow start to the season. They got swept by Notre Dame, at home, two weeks ago. That was their only series loss in the past three months. They came back with a win and a tie on the road against the Gophers last weekend, remaining one of the hottest teams in the country. Michigan sits at No. 18 in the PairWise Rankings and still has a 23% chance of making the NCAA Tournament according to the PairWise Probability Matrix.
Minnesota has a similar chance of making the NCAA Tournament at No. 17 in the PairWise Rankings. They are 14-13-7 just like their opponent, Notre Dame. It is a perfect 4/5 match-up. The Fighting Irish lost 6 straight games heading into the break in December, knocking them out of NCAA Tournament position. There remains a 9% chance, at No. 20 in the PairWise Rankings, that Notre Dame could reach an at-large NCAA Tournament spot.
Both the Gophers and Fighting Irish have teams that could do some damage in the post-season, but overall, the two are playing the least inspired hockey in the league right now, hovering around .500 for the past couple of months.
Here is the bracket.
Keep in mind that Penn State, while getting the bye in the first round, will face the lowest seed that reaches the second round. The seeds for the tournament do not match how well the teams are currently playing. On one hand, any team that wins a best of three series will be playing well. On the other hand, if the current level of play were the seeds, it would be more like this: #2 Wisconsin, #3 Michigan, #4 Ohio State, #5 Michigan State, #6 Minnesota, #7 Notre Dame.
The entire conference is in the top-27 of the PairWise Rankings, so no team will be an easy win; however, if the Badgers beat Ohio State, they will face the Lions in the semi-finals. That would be a massively tough draw for Penn State, coming off two bye weeks. It would make Wisconsin arguably the hottest team in the conference, coming off three straight series wins against teams expected to play in the NCAA Tournament.
So keep that in mind when you fill out your brackets. If Wisconsin loses, the Lions will face either Michigan State or the winner of the Minnesota/Notre Dame match-up. That would be a fair draw for the team that won the regular season title. Any team Guy Gadowsky’s squad will face will be coming off a series win but the Badgers would be as hot as any team in the country were they to end up in Hockey Valley next week.
Pick Your Bracket
Like the Big Ten hockey tournament bracket itself, we’ll reseed our Black Shoe Diaries bracket next week when the winners advance. For this week, let’s pick our winners of the three match-ups.
I have Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota advancing. I hope I am wrong and while it is not great to be cheering for the Buckeyes, it seems like the best thing for Penn State. So go Ohio State, you can do it, I believe in you! But I’m picking the Badgers.
Let us know what you think in the comment section. Who do you want to advance? Who do you think will advance?