Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 23-24

There is interesting conference and nonconference play this week. First, our records.

Last week
Drew Claussen: 2-1-2 (.600)
Paula Weston: 2-1-2 (.600)

Drew: 51-46-8 (.524)
Paula: 42-54-9 (.443)

This Week

Everyone plays this weekend. There are two conference series, there is one nonconference series and there is the North Star College Cup.

Michigan at Wisconsin

Drew: Obviously they need to focus on simply winning a couple games, but I’d like the see the Wolverines also focus on their defensive technique this weekend. A team that has the Achilles’ heel of being prone to giving up four, five or six goals in a game is not going to go far when the postseason comes around. Michigan has been able to outscore its bad defense recently, but things will catch up to the Wolverines if things aren’t fixed. The Badgers are down a player, so even though their improved play has allowed them to be more successful the past couple weekends, this has Michigan sweep written all over it.

Paula: I, too, wonder how long it will be before Michigan’s team defense — or lack thereof — will prove too counterproductive to overcome, but I don’t think this will be the weekend, either. The Wolverines beat the Buckeyes on the road, 10-6, Jan. 16, their only game last weekend. On the road, the Badgers tied the Golden Gophers, 2-2, and earned a shootout point Jan. 16, then lost to Minnesota the following night, 5-2. The Badgers went 2-1-1 against the Wolverines last season, sweeping in Madison (Jan. 10-11, 2014) before losing and tying in Ann Arbor a few weeks later. Both of these games are televised. Friday’s 8:00 p.m. start is carried by the Big Ten Network, and Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. game will be televised by The Wisconsin Channel.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 3-0, 5-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 5-2, 5-2.

Ohio State at Michigan State

Drew: The last series was a split in Columbus and it’s looking like there might be another one this weekend, although the Buckeyes have actually been better on the road than at home this season. I’m going to recycle my line from last week concerning the Spartans; they’ve been a team that does not get swept this year. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that streak ends this weekend and that Ohio State comes out eager to put last weekend’s loss to Michigan in the rear-view mirror. That’s based on a gut feeling which, with how my picking has dropped off the planet lately, will probably be wrong.

Paula: The Buckeyes had that 10-6 loss to Michigan last Friday while the Spartans tied Penn State, 2-2, Jan. 16 and picked up the shootout point, then lost to the Nittany Lions, 5-2, the following night. The Buckeyes are 5-2-3 against the Spartans in the last 10 meetings and split a pair of games in Columbus earlier this season (Nov. 20-21, 2014). Both of these games begin at 7:00 p.m. and both are televised. Friday’s contest is carried by Fox Sports Detroit and SportsTime Ohio, while Saturday’s game is on the Big Ten Network.

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

Northern Michigan at Penn State

Drew: This series got a lot more interesting due to some happenings at Northern Michigan this week. The Wildcats will be without Walt Kyle who was placed on “administrative leave” this week. The loss of the head coach could either make the team band together and play well or completely unravel. Even though it was ranked for a chunk of time this season, Northern Michigan was swept by Alabama-Hunstville last weekend, so I’m going to pick the second option.

Paula: I don’t know what’s happening in Marquette regarding Kyle’s administrative leave plus the move to place Bridget Berube Carter, NMU’s associate athletic director, on indefinite administrative leave, and I cannot presume to know how it will affect the Wildcats, but I’m sure that Drew is correct that it will have at least some impact. These teams have never met, but the coaches are certainly familiar with each other. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions tied and defeated visiting Michigan State, bringing PSU’s home record to 7-1-2. The Wildcats were swept in Huntsville by the Chargers and are now 1-3-2 in their last six games, all since the start of the calendar year. Friday’s 7:00 p.m. game is not televised, but the Big Ten Network has Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game.

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

North Star College Cup

Paula: This field includes Bemijdi State, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State. Games are at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Bemidji State playing Minnesota-Duluth in the first game and Minnesota State playing Minnesota in the second. The winners advance to Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. title game; Friday’s losing teams play the earlier Saturday game. Friday night’s game between the Golden Gophers and Mavericks will be carried by Fox Sports North Plus, and whichever game the Gophers play Saturday will be televised by Fox Sports North.

Minnesota captured the inaugural North Star College Cup in 2014, winning a shootout following a 4-4 title game tie against St. Cloud State. This year, if the championship game ends in a tie, there will be 20-minute overtime periods until there’s a winner. All three of the other games in the tourney will still resort to five-minute overtimes followed by shootouts.

Last weekend, the Gophers tied visiting Wisconsin 2-2 and lost that shootout before defeating the Badgers 5-2. Their first opponent, Minnesota State, rides an eight-game undefeated streak (7-0-1) into this tournament, dating to Dec. 6, 2014. Last weekend, the Mavericks swept Ferris State in Big Rapids, 2-1 and 3-1. Bemidji State lost two road games to Lake Superior State last weekend, 1-0 and 4-2. At home last weekend, Minnesota-Duluth tied Western Michigan 2-2 before beating the Broncos 4-2.

Drew: One year after I picked the Mavericks to win the inaugural NSCC, and they went 0-2, the Mavericks will roll into the tournament as the No. 1 team in the country and the favorite to win the whole thing. Oh what a difference a year makes. Friday night may very well be the first time that Minnesota State will be an honest favorite over Minnesota and the Mavericks will be an incredibly tough test for the Gophers. As I noted in my column this week, Adam Wilcox’s numbers drop off when he sees 30 or more shots. The Gophers have only allowed just over 23 shots against in his 11 wins this season. I’d say that it is a pretty safe bet that Minnesota State will put 30 shots on frame on Friday. Minnesota State has had a tough time in its previous games at the Xcel Energy Center and has struggled against the Gophers in the past; however, I don’t think it’s fair to compare this year’s squad to any of Mankato’s past teams, even last year’s team, which ended up being a pretty good one. If the Mavericks can get a decent effort from whoever Mike Hastings puts in net — Stephon Williams or Cole Huggins — I think Minnesota State wins on Friday.

As far as the rest of the tournament, there’s no shootout this year! Actually, there’s no shootout in the championship game. The semifinals games will use the same format as last year, but I still like the rule change. I’m temped to pick Bemidji State to pull the upset on Minnesota-Duluth. The Beavers have the talent to do so, but their inconsistency makes me shy away from actually picking it.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota-Duluth over Bemidji State 5-2 and Minnesota State over Minnesota 4-2. Gophers over Beavers 4-1 in the third-place game and Mavericks over Bulldogs 3-2 in the championship, which let’s say goes to overtime and brings those new rules into play, just for fun.

Paula’s picks: Minnesota-Duluth over Bemidji State, 4-2, in the early Friday game, and an upset win by the Gophers over the Mavericks Friday night, 3-2. Minnesota State over Bemidji State in the consolation game Saturday, 5-2, and the Gophers defend their North Star Cup title with a 3-2 win over Duluth. And, yes, I know how unlikely this scenario is.