For the Big Ten championship tournament, Drew Claussen and I have decided to make our picks day by day. First, our running totals:
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 4-1-1 (.750)
Drew: 77-53-19 (.581)
Paula: 79-51-19 (.594)
Big Ten championship tournament
This year, the Big Ten tournament is played March 17 through March 19 in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The quarterfinals Thursday feature the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 6 seed in the 4:00 p.m. game and the No. 4 seed vs. the No. 5 seed at 7:30 p.m. As we know, No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 Michigan each have a first-round bye. Minnesota plays the winner of the Michigan State-Ohio State game late Friday. Michigan plays the winner of the Wisconsin-Penn State game early Friday.
To advance to the NCAA tournament, every team in the field needs the autobid that comes with the playoff championship except for Michigan.
The Big Ten Network is carrying the entire tournament. Drew and I will have our semifinal picks early Friday morning.
No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Penn State
Drew: Penn State has lost three in a row to close out the regular season, and one of those defeats came against the Badgers. Will that happen again on Thursday? Probably not. With the season on the line for both teams, I think the Nittany Lions will be able to conjure up a better performance and mercifully end Wisconsin’s second consecutive nightmare season.
Paula: Every one of the four teams playing in the quarterfinals can advance to the semifinals. Of the four, however, Wisconsin is the team least likely to be able to sustain the level of play necessary to reach the title game. Last weekend, the Badgers split on the road against Minnesota, and Wisconsin is 2-6-2 in its last 10 games. Penn State dropped two on the road to Michigan to end the regular season last weekend, outscored 13-2 in two games; the Nittany Lions are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. My favorite note of the weekend so far: Wisconsin is undefeated in its last eight games in the Xcel Energy Center. Those are odds I don’t want to chance the first night.
Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-2.
Paula’s pick: Wisconsin 4-3.
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Drew: If last weekend was any indication, and it should be, this game should be Thursday’s highlight. Ohio State is similar to Michigan in that it can score a lot of goals but can also give up a lot of goals. So my key to the game is Jake Hildebrand; if he and the Spartans’ defense can frustrate the Buckeyes’ offense, MSU can win the game. I don’t think the Spartans will fare well if the game turns into a goal fest.
Paula: Of the four teams playing in the quarterfinals, I think Ohio State is the team that has the best shot of advancing to a title game Saturday — if goaltender Christian Frey plays big. He can, and the Buckeyes’ defense can play big in front of him, but consistency has been an issue with Ohio State. These two teams played in East Lansing last weekend, with Ohio State winning 6-5 in overtime Friday and the teams tying, 1-1 Saturday. The Spartans are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games; the Buckeyes are 5-3-2 in their last 10 but are undefeated in their last seven games (5-0-2).
Drew’s pick: Ohio State 5-2.
Paula’s pick: Ohio State 4-3.