Penn State’s Chances In 2016 Big Ten Hockey Tournament
With the final three weeks of the Big Ten conference’s regular season rapidly approaching, most of the talk surrounds the top three teams — all of which have good chances to earn the regular season title. Just four total points separate the dominant trio at the top of the Big Ten standings, and at this point, each team has a chance to either separate from the pack or secure a high seed and an elusive first-round bye in the tournament.
With only three points separating third and second place, Penn State has the potential to surpass Michigan and seize one of the top two spots. However, after losing 7-4 against Ohio State in the second game of a series split last weekend, the task became slightly more difficult.
Currently, the Big Ten conference standings are as follows:
- No. 20 Minnesota, 33 points
- No. 6 Michigan, 32 points
- No. 15 Penn State, 29 points
- Michigan State, 16 points
- Ohio State, 15 points
- Wisconsin, 7 points
The odds become stacked a bit higher against Penn State given the fact that Michigan has obvious momentum, since it’s been 14 games since it lost in regulation. The Wolverines head into the weekend ready to take on the Golden Gophers on the road in a crucial two-game series. The Nittany Lions are at a points disadvantage, as they won’t play again until March 4 where they’ll take on a Wisconsin team that won’t roll over as it tries to climb out of the Big Ten basement.
The Lions should side with the Golden Gophers this weekend and root for overtime games so teams get one or two points at a time and no one gets the full three. The best outcome would be a Minnesota sweep that would prevent the Wolverines from distancing themselves in the standings and allow Penn State to bridge the points gap. Unfortunately, both of those teams have a series in hand; next weekend when Penn State tries to sweep Wisconsin, the other two teams are also capable of sweeping lesser Big Ten teams.
If Minnesota and Ohio State can slow down the Wolverines in the next two weeks, the stage will be set for a season finale for the ages in Ann Arbor, where the Lions will have the opportunity to leapfrog Michigan and steal the No. 2 spot in the standings. Sure, the Gophers will likely lock up first place by that time, but second place would gift Penn State a coveted first-round bye in the tournament and alleviate the pressure of having to win three games in three days – a tall task considering the the quality of Big Ten competition.
The graphic shown below depicts the Big Ten tournament’s format:
If Penn State closes out the regular season with the two-seed, the first-round bye will give it ample time to prepare for three-seeded Michigan after it likely beats six-seeded Wisconsin in the first round of the tournament.
Despite Penn State’s favorable history against Michigan, the team hasn’t fared well against the Wolverines this season. It was swept by Michigan in a weekend series earlier in the year — the first coming at Pegula, and the second at Madison Square Garden two days later. With a top line of NHL prospects, defeating this loaded Michigan team will be extremely difficult, but not impossible.
If Penn State pulls off the upset against Michigan, top-seeded Minnesota will likely be its championship opponent. Despite the Gophers’ lofty seeding, the Lions should head into this matchup feeling confident after splitting both season series with the Gophers.
If Penn State sweeps Wisconsin next weekend and can grapple the two-seed away from Michigan, Penn State’s road to the illustrious Big Ten tournament title becomes much shorter and infinitely more feasible. This team has shown its resiliency time and time again throughout the 2015-16 campaign, and don’t think it’s about to ease up now.