Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 19-20

Minnesota leads the league with 33 points, but the Gophers are off this week. Michigan trails Minnesota by a point, but the Wolverines play a single nonconference game this week. That makes for an interesting weekend for our six-team league. First, though, Drew Claussen and I share our picks percentages, which were a wee bit better at the start of the calendar year.

Last week
Drew: 3-1-2 (.250)
Paula: 2-2-2 (.500)

Drew: 68-43-17 (.598)
Paula: 70-41-17 (.613)

This week

With Minnesota and Michigan out of the conference picture this week, Penn State has the chance to catch the second-place Wolverines with a sweep, and the two teams at the bottom of the league — Michigan State with 10 points and Wisconsin with seven — will be jockeying for postseason position. A very interesting weekend, indeed.

Michigan State at Wisconsin

Drew: The two teams at the bottom of the standings will face off this weekend in Madison. Getting four or more points this weekend will lift the Badgers out of last place, a position that they have frequently been in lately. Wisconsin has shown signs of having a decently potent offense this season, so MSU will need Jake Hildebrand to be strong this weekend. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a Badgers sweep for the first time this season.

Paula: For two years now, the Badgers have practically anchored the Big Ten, so this weekend must feel like a real opportunity to Wisconsin. The Spartans, though, have been playing better in the last four weeks or so, with the exception of their 6-1 loss to Penn State last Friday, a loss from which they rebounded with a 2-2 tie. Each of these teams lost and tied last weekend, with Wisconsin losing to Michigan 4-1 Feb. 12 before a 4-4 Saturday tie. The Spartans and Badgers split a pair of games in East Lansing in December, with Michigan State winning 4-3 in the first game and Wisconsin taking the rematch 3-0. The Badgers have scored four or more goals in three of their last four games. Jake Hildebrand has allowed two goals in four of his last six games. I think the Spartans will struggle on the big ice sheet, but I do think these will be good contests. Games begin at 8:00 p.m. each night, and Friday’s game is televised by the Big Ten.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 4-3, 5-3.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 4-3, 4-3.

Ohio State at Penn State

Drew: This series is the middle of a three-week stretch where Penn State needs to pick up some points in order to have a shot at capturing the regular-season title and/or a first-round bye. The Nittany Lions took five of six conference points on the road last weekend at Michigan State; they probably wanted all six but getting five on the road isn’t anything to scoff at. Ohio State dropped a couple more one-goal games to Minnesota last weekend at home. The Buckeyes have consistently shown that they can play with anyone this year, but struggle mightily at sealing the deal.

Paula: This is the last home weekend for Penn State’s seniors, and for that reason alone I see the Nittany Lions picking up at least five points against an Ohio State team that is tougher than most people realize. This is PSU’s first graduating class; I can’t imagine the adrenaline in that locker room this weekend. These teams also split a series this season, less than a month ago in Columbus. The Nittany Lions won in overtime Jan. 22, 3-2, and the Buckeyes won the following night, 5-1. Ohio State certainly has the potential to pick up points this weekend, but I’m not sure it’s up to the Buckeyes. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 and is the early game on BTN. Saturday’s game starts at 3:00 p.m. and is carried by ESPNU.

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

Ferris State at Michigan

Drew: The Bulldogs will come into Ann Arbor on a little bit of a roll, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. That being said, I can’t pick against Michigan and the way the Wolverines are scoring. Anything can happen, but I think Michigan will put on a show for its home fans after playing its last six contests on the road.

Paula: This game is a belated Valentine to me. Every reporter has a soft spot in his or her heart for certain teams and programs, and it’s no secret that Ferris State is one of the former CCHA teams that makes me smile. Back in the CCHA days, I always admired the way that Bob Daniels and his coaches competed — and often succeeded — against the Big Ten schools in the league. The Bulldogs and Wolverines are no strangers; Michigan leads this all-time series 68-30-7, but Ferris State took the last meeting, a 4-3 win in Big Rapids Oct. 4, 2014. The teams tied 2-2 the last time they met in Ann Arbor (Dec. 11, 2013). Tonight’s 7:30 p.m. start is, sadly, untelevised.

Drew’s pick: Michigan 5-2.
Paula’s pick: Michigan 4-2.