After a shortened season with heightened anxiety, we’ve finally arrived at the Big Ten tournament. First, here’s how Drew Claussen and I finished up with the regular-season picks.
Drew: 4-4-0 (.500)
Paula: 8-0-0 (1.000)
Drew: 63-35-4 (.637)
Paula: 61-37-4 (.617)
A truly stunning comeback by yours truly after a rocky start to the season.
The Big Ten Tournament
In late January, the Big Ten announced that this year’s playoff tournament would be a single-elimination format held at Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena to minimize risks from COVID-19. In late February, the conference announced that the dates of the tournament would be moved to March 14-16, and that’s how we’ve arrived at this weekend’s play.
The second through seventh seeds play quarterfinal games Sunday, with regular-season champ Wisconsin having earned a first-round bye. All times are EDT and all games will be carried by the Big Ten Network.
Penn State vs. Notre Dame, noon
Michigan State vs. Minnesota, 4:00 p.m.
Ohio State vs. Michigan, 8:30 p.m.
Notre Dame/Penn State vs. Wisconsin, 4:30 p.m.
Michigan State/Minnesota vs. Ohio State/Michigan, 8:30 p.m.
Whoever survives, 8:00 p.m.
Some quick looks
Here’s a little info on each team, in order of seeding.
The Badgers head into the tournament with a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) after capturing their first regular-season conference championship since 2000, when Wisconsin last won the regular-season WCHA title and — shockingly — just the fourth regular-season title in Wisconsin program history. Because of the uneven schedules forced by COVID-19, the regular-season championship was determined by conference win percentage, with Wisconsin (.729) edging out Minnesota (.727). Wisconsin has the third-best scoring offense nationally, averaging 3.82 goals per game and the ninth-best scoring margin nationally. The Badgers won the Big Ten playoff championship in 2014.
With their fate in their own hands during the final weekend of regular-season play, the Golden Gophers came up just short, splitting their last series with Michigan. Minnesota plays Michigan State in the first round, and against the Spartans, the Gophers have a ridiculous all-time record of 124-5-16. Minnesota swept its four games against Michigan State this season, outscoring the Spartans 16-6 with the most recent series played Feb. 19-20. The Gophers have the fourth-best scoring offense in the country (3.81) and fifth-best defense (1.96) nationally. The Gophers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. Minnesota is 7-7 all time in the Big Ten tournament and won the playoff championship in 2015.
Michigan faces Ohio State in the quarterfinals, having gone 3-1-0 against the Buckeyes this season. Most recently, the teams played to a split in Columbus Feb. 19-20, a 3-2 win for Ohio State followed by the Wolverines’ 6-0 thumping in the rematch. Like the Badgers and Gophers, the Wolverines are among the top 10 teams nationally in scoring offense (3.54 goals per game, eighth), and like Minnesota, Michigan is in the top 10 nationally for scoring margin (also eighth). The Wolverines are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and enter the tournament after a loss to Minnesota. Michigan won the Big Ten tournament title in 2016.
Notre Dame (12-10-2)
The Fighting Irish enter the Big Ten tournament with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games and a five-game (4-0-1) current unbeaten streak, and they know that their performance this weekend is an audition for the national tournament. Notre Dame is on the bubble nationally — depending on who you ask, of course, as we really don’t know how the selection committee will figure it all out, but that’s another story altogether. The Irish play Penn State in the quarterfinals after sweeping the Nittany Lions just last weekend (March 5-6), winning by a collective score of 12-3, and Notre Dame went 3-1-0 against Penn State for the season. The Irish are 24th nationally for offense (2.89) and tied for 17th defensively (2.57). Technically speaking, the Fighting Irish are the defending Big Ten playoff champions, having won the last tournament played in 2019. They also captured the playoff title in 2018 at the end of their first season in the league.
Penn State (7-11-0)
Among all Big Ten teams, the Nittany Lions had the most unusual season. They missed competition for the entire month of February, first because of COVID-19 protocols that Michigan was following in the first weekend of the month, followed by three weeks of quarantine for Penn State hockey. Now in their first Big Ten playoff game, they face Notre Dame for the fifth consecutive game, as their regular-season series against the Fighting Irish bookended that month without games. The teams split a pair of overtimes losses Jan. 28-29 before the Irish swept the Nittany Lions in their return to play the first weekend in March. Penn State's offense is 28th nationally (2.80) with a defense that's 44th (3.70). The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten playoff championship in 2017 and they were the top seed in last year's tournament.
Ohio State (6-16-0)
The Buckeyes enter the Big Ten tournament with just two wins in their last eight games, but one of those wins was over their quarterfinal opponent, Michigan (Feb. 19). Ohio State is 44th nationally in scoring (2.05) and 45th defensively (3.73). In their last 10 games, the Buckeyes have been outscored 49-22 with two shutout losses, and with the exception of two games — including an eight-goal output against Arizona State in a single game — Ohio State has scored two or fewer goals in 11 of its last 13 contests. Ohio State is one of two Big Ten teams still looking for its first playoff championship.
Michigan State (5-16-1)
When the Spartans and Golden Gophers meet in Sunday’s quarterfinal game, Michigan State will be looking to snap a six-game losing streak — and the Spartans have scored two goals total in their last five games. Michigan State’s last win against a Big Ten opponent came Jan. 24, a 2-0 shutout of Ohio State. Given those stats, it’s hardly surprising that Michigan State is near the bottom of the nation offensively, second-from-last, averaging 1.50 goals per game. The Spartans’ defense, however, is 26th nationally (2.88). Michigan State is 1-9-0 in its last 10, and that doesn’t date back to the win against Ohio State. Like the Buckeyes, the Spartans have yet to win a Big Ten playoff championship.
It should surprise no one that Drew and I disagree about who will win the playoff championship game — or even who will advance to that game.
Drew’s tournament picks
Penn State 4-3 over Notre Dame
Minnesota 4-2 over Michigan State
Michigan 6-2 over Ohio State
Wisconsin 5-2 over Penn State
Michigan 4-3 over Minnesota
Michigan 4-3 over Wisconsin
Paula’s tournament picks
Notre Dame 4-3 over Penn State
Minnesota 5-1 over Michigan State
Michigan 5-2 over Ohio State
Wisconsin 4-2 over Notre Dame
Minnesota 3-2 over Michigan
Minnesota 3-2 over Wisconsin
Follow Drew (@drewclaussen) and me (@paulacweston) on Twitter for our takes on the B1G tournament. I will be covering the whole shebang for USCHO, but doing so virtually.