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College Hockey:
Pickin’ the Big Ten: March 7-8, 2014

Here’s how Drew Claussen and I are doing with two weeks to go.

Last week
Drew: 2-1-1 (.625)
Paula: 2-1-1 (.625)

Season
Drew: 78-39-13 (.650)
Paula: 80-36-15 (.668)

This week

In the final two weeks of Big Ten conference play, there are three Friday-Saturday series with each team playing.

Michigan State vs. Michigan

Drew: Like the Badgers, I expect Michigan to step up in crunch time. Couple that with the fact Michigan State is having an abysmal second half of the season and I see a Michigan sweep. The Spartans’ six conference ties show that they can play with any team in the conference, but the fact that their only conference wins have come against Penn State shows that they’re terrible at sealing the deal.

Paula: I love having to begin my picks by disagreeing with my esteemed colleague-in-writing. The Spartans are not having an abysmal second half. Michigan State is 3-6-5 in the second half and that does not constitute a winning record — but neither does it constitute a losing record since the start of 2014, and the Spartans took the extra shootout point in three of those five ties. The only thing the Spartans can’t seem to do this season is score goals. They are solid in net and their defense is tight. They play smart, disciplined hockey and their chemistry is good. If they could add goals to the mix, those ties would likely be added to the “wins” column. I’m sure that Michigan know that Michigan State can play with anybody, especially since the Spartans shut out the Wolverines in the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament.

Michigan hosts Friday night, Michigan State hosts Saturday and both games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s game is carried locally by Comcast Channel 900 and Saturday’s game is on Fox Sports Detroit.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 3-1, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, Michigan State 2-1.

Minnesota at Ohio State

Drew: The last time these two top offenses faced off they produced a 1-0 game outside and a 4-2 game inside Mariucci Arena. I think the two games this weekend will resemble the game that was played indoors. Both teams do have something to play for, but it’s unlikely that this weekend’s series will set anything in stone. Minnesota could put itself out of reach for both Wisconsin and Michigan going into the last weekend with a sweep of the Buckeyes. And a sweep by Ohio State would, with a lot of help from other teams, keep their dream of second place alive. I’m going to say OSU steals a couple points this weekend.

Paula: If this weren’t in Columbus, I’d be picking a Minnesota sweep. The Gophers carry a four-game win streak into the Schottenstein Center, having beaten Penn State most recently, 5-1 and 2-1 at home last weekend. The Buckeyes tied Michigan on the road Feb. 28 and took the extra shootout point before losing to the Wolverines in Nationwide Arena on Sunday 4-3. Ohio State has taken points from every Big Ten opponent except for Minnesota. I don’t think Ohio State steals anything this weekend; I think the Buckeyes win a game outright.

Friday’s game is carried by Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Time Ohio and begins at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday’s game is televised by ESPNews with a 6:30 p.m. start.

Drew’s picks: 3-3 tie, Minnesota 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, Minnesota 3-2.

Wisconsin at Penn State

Drew: Penn State has been playing decent at home as of late, but I think Wisconsin will deliver on the road in crunch time. Much has been made of the Badgers’ bad road record (2-7-1), but that record includes losses at Boston College, Boston University, Minnesota, Miami and Michigan — all of which, in my opinion, are tough places to play. If Wisconsin sweeps its final four games, which I believe they will, the Badgers will finish with a decent 6-7-1 road record.

Paula: I don’t think that Pegula Arena is any softer a place to play than the five barns Drew mentions, but I do think that the absence of students for PSU’s spring break will affect the atmosphere. It’s tough to call a Wisconsin sweep given the Badgers’ road record — but it’s tougher to call Penn State wins given that the Nittany Lions have just two and against the same team. The Badgers swept the Nittany Lions Dec. 6-7 in Madison by a collective score of 11-4.

These games begin at 7:00 p.m. each night. Sadly, neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 4-1, 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, 3-2.

The Twittersphere

Drew: I’m cheating on the Big Ten this weekend and heading to Mankato for some old-school WCHA action (Michigan Tech at Minnesota State). I’ll be attending as a fan but for some views on the game and probably the annoying people around me, follow along on Twitter.

Paula: I’m only able to get to one game this weekend, and it’s at Munn Arena on Saturday night. Keep me company and I promise to retweet your wit.

The BTN

Paula here. I have absolutely loved the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Fridays this season and was sad to see the last of those last weekend, now that the BTN shifts attention from hockey to hoops. The BTN did a great job with its coverage — mistaking shootout points for wins aside — and I look forward to its coverage next season.

What I never anticipated was how other networks would respond to the BTN’s presence. There was far more college hockey televised where I live this season — all involving Big Ten schools — arguably because of the competition of the BTN. So kudos to all for recognizing a marketable product that has more mass appeal than previously thought, and thank heavens that those of us who love the sport have more ways to follow it now.

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