Hey! We made it! It’s the Big Ten Tournament! Yippee!
I don’t completely understand why, but the Big Ten regular season schedule felt like a slough to me this year. I enjoy the nonconference play in the first half because I enjoy the sheer amount of inter-league play we get to see in the Big Ten. And I really enjoy the start of B1G hockey in late November and early December. Maybe it’s watching the same six teams beat up on each other for nine straight weeks in the second half that sometimes seems like such a drag. Whatever the reason, the arrival of the Big Ten tournament brings a bit of relief this season.
Additionally, I’m also a real fan of conference championship tournaments. My anticipation of this weekend of play — all across Division I hockey — nearly rivals my anticipation of the Frozen Four. In that regard, especially, I’m delighted to be heading to Joe Louis Arena in a few hours to cover the Big Ten Tournament.
Before I head out, though, here’s a look at where Drew Claussen and I landed at the end of the regular season with our picks and our Big Ten Tournament predictions.
Drew: 2-3-1 (.417)
Paula: 2-3-1 (.417)
Final regular season
Drew: 82-50-15 (.609)
Paula: 82-50-15 (.609)
It’s a draw and we both finished above .500. Given the way the season went, I’d call that a win all the way around.
I actually called someone from the Big Ten for clarification of the seeding this morning because I could not wrap my head around it; the tournament does not re-seed after the quarterfinal round. So there’s that.
This is the last-ever college hockey to be played in Detroit’s historic Joe Louis Arena. The Big Ten Network is carrying every game.
No. 6 Michigan State vs. No 3 Ohio State, 4:30 p.m.
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 4 Penn State, 8:00 p.m.
Michigan State/Ohio State vs. No. 2 Wisconsin, 4:30 p.m.
Michigan/Penn State vs. No. 1 Minnesota, 8:00 p.m.
Championship game, semifinal winners, 8:00 p.m.
I’m not going to get very in depth on the games, but here’s my prediction. I do not recommend taking it to Vegas. I say Ohio State takes down Michigan State and Michigan upsets Penn State on Thursday. On Friday I’ll take the Buckeyes over Wisconsin and Minnesota over Michigan. In a close game, I’ll take Minnesota over Ohio State on Saturday.
Another question will be how many people actually show up to watch these games. Having the two closest schools as the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds is not a good sign for attendance. If both Michigan schools do bow out on Thursday night it could be a very quiet weekend in Detroit.
I am in complete agreement with Drew in how this will play out — and we didn’t consult each other in advance.
The Spartans (3-14-3-1 B1G) and Buckeyes (11-8-1-1) have played each other four times since Feb. 17, with Ohio State taking that series 3-1-0. Each team saw some road success last weekend, so each team enters this tournament with confidence. Ohio State swept Wisconsin, while Michigan State followed a loss to Minnesota with a tie and shootout extra point. The Buckeyes have the offensive edge, so I’m going with them Thursday.
The Wolverines (6-12-2-2) swept the Nittany Lions (10-9-1-0) at home last weekend. Michigan has also earned four of its total Big Ten wins in the last three weeks and has done so against Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State — having shut out both the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes. One of two things will happen in Thursday’s game: Either the Wolverines will continue to roll because they’ve finally found their team late in the season, or the Nittany Lions will have learned from their mistakes last weekend and will solve Michigan. I don’t know why, but I am betting on the former.
As for the semifinal games, I think the Buckeyes enter this tournament fairly hot, 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. That’s why I have them over Wisconsin. I’ve got Minnesota going all the way, though, because they’re the best, most consistent team in the field.
I think all of these games will be close — all 3-2 or 2-1 games — unless either team in the Michigan-Penn State game routs the other. My pick for the championship: Minnesota 4, Ohio 2 with an empty-net goal.
I will be tweeting (@paulacweston) from Joe Louis Arena for the entire tournament. Join me for what will undoubtedly be a great tourney and an emotional goodbye to JLA.