Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 8-10

Defenseman Cam York was the captain of Team USA in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship (photo: Michigan Photography).
This week in the Big Ten, there are a couple of good, old-fashioned, long-standing rivalries to help distract us from the news of the world. In fact, all seven B1G teams plus guest Arizona State play this weekend. First, let’s take a look at how Drew Claussen and I are doing with picks — and I do hope you hear a little smugness in my voice.

Last week
Drew: 1-3-0 (.250)
Paula: 4-0-0 (1.000)

This season
Drew: 24-16-2 (.595)
Paula: 22-18-2 (.548)

Poor Drew was bitten by calling the Penn State-Michigan State split the wrong way. I finally crawled up above .500.

This week

We have four series and hockey Friday through Sunday — and a home-and-home series between the Spartans and Wolverines! All times are local.

Penn State at Ohio State
5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

In a split against the Spartans Sunday and Monday, the Nittany Lions scored just two goals. The 1-0 win was uncharacteristic and the two-goal weekend even more so. Penn State, known for its relentless offense, is averaging 2.90 goals per game — respectable, but not the game that PSU wants to play, and the bigger problem is that the Nittany Lions are allowing 3.90 goals per game as well. Still, Penn State has won four of its last five games, with the 5-1 loss Monday snapping a four-game win streak. The Buckeyes are in a similar predicament, scoring 2.10 goals per game and allowing 2.80. This series will be the first of the new year for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes last played Arizona State Dec. 17-18, a 4-4 tie and 3-2 loss. Ohio State leads this all-time series 16-12-3, but the Nittany Lions were 2-1-1 against the Buckeyes last season. Drew’s faith in the Buckeyes is enduring. I see a split — and I’ll likely be wrong.

Drew: Ohio State 3-1, 4-2
Paula: Penn State 3-2, Ohio State 3-2

Michigan State vs. No. 9 Michigan
7:00 p.m. Friday at Yost Ice Arena, 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Munn Ice Arena

As the Spartans and Wolverines meet for the first time this season, each team enters the weekend tied with eight points in the B1G standings. After holding Penn State to a goal in each game in last week’s split, Michigan State is tied for seventh nationally in defense, allowing just 2.0 goals per game. The Wolverines are playing their first games in a month, having lost to Minnesota at home Dec. 8-9. Three key players, defenseman Cam York and forwards Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson, will be rejoining Michigan after winning gold medals with Team USA in the World Juniors tournament. This rivalry goes back to the very first game the Spartans played in January 1922, a 5-1 Michigan win. Last season, the Wolverines went 4-2-0 against the Spartans, including back-to-back 3-0 wins in the curtailed Big Ten playoffs. I’m with Drew on this one. A home win in each building sounds about right.

Drew: Michigan 5-2, Michigan State 3-2
Paula: Michigan 3-2, Michigan State 3-2

No. 1 Minnesota at No. 12 Wisconsin
4:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

This is another storied rivalry that dates back to January 1922. In more recent history, though, the Golden Gophers were 3-0-1 against the Badgers last season, so there’s that. This series marks Wisconsin’s return to the ice for the first time since a road split against Ohio State Dec. 3-4. Wisconsin was scheduled to play Michigan State Dec. 8-9, but COVID-19 got in the way. Minnesota is undefeated this season, with an 8-0 record in B1G play and 10-0 overall after sweeping Arizona State Sunday and Monday. Wisconsin forward Cole Caufield and Minnesota defensemen Brock Faber, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe all return to their respective teams with shiny new gold medals won as members of Team USA in the World Juniors championship. Wisconsin’s Dylan Holloway earned a silver medal with Team Canada. Drew is predicting Minnesota’s first loss of the season, but I’m not calling against the Gophers until that happens.

Drew: Wisconsin 4-3, Minnesota 3-1
Paula: Minnesota 4-2, 3-2

Arizona State at No. 18 Notre Dame
6:30 p.m. Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Sunday

The Sun Devils travel to South Bend after losing two games to Minnesota Sunday and Monday while the Fighting Irish are playing their first games since Dec. 19-20, two overtime games against Michigan State that resulted in a tie with a shootout point and a loss. This is the second time that Arizona State and Notre Dame have met this season. In a split Dec. 3-4, the teams scored a combined total of 18 goals. Forward Landon Slaggert returns to South Bend with the gold medal he earned with Team USA, too. Drew and I agree on the outcome of this series.

Drew: Arizona State 4-3, Notre Dame 4-2
Paula: Arizona State 4-3, Notre Dame 4-3

Twitter us!

Follow Drew (@drewclaussen) and me (@paulacweston) on Twitter, please. In non-pandemic times, this is a weekend when I’d be catching two hockey games between two great rivals in two great rinks and urging you to join me — virtually — from Yost and Munn. Some day, we’ll have to do that again. In the meantime, mask up and stay safe.