Big Ten Hockey returns for the 2015-16 season after another non-conference season leaving a lot to be desired. We have two teams that look to be in the hunt for the NCAA tournament: Michigan and Minne....wait, what?....no...surely you can't be serious...Penn State.
Michigan looks to be the cream of the B1G crop this year, as was predicted by the media pre-season, while Penn state is firmly behind them. We have a trio of teams in the muddy middle: Wisconsin (Hey, look who's starting to remember how to hockey!), MSU (Uhhhh what happened to only giving up 2 goals a game, at least you found some offense?), and Minnesota (Just because you won the B1G Tourney last year doesn't mean you need to nosedive like Wisco did...). OSU has a lot of ground to make up. Scheduling is much improved this year with most teams in the teens to mid-twenties. Penn State is in the mid-forties but I'll give them a pass since they are only in year 4 of D-1 play.
The B1G is likely the 4th best conference out of 6 this year. If the teams can't do well during holiday tournaments it is likely staring at another year of one team in the NCAA Tournament. Here are my big questions for the conference season:
- Will someone not named Minnesota win the Conference? The Gophers have won 4 straight conference titles including the first 2 B1G titles, but are struggling to find any rhythm on offense. The reigning champs are vulnerable and will need to right the ship quickly if they want to push their streak to 5.
- Can Michigan show the consistency that it lacked last year? If they do, the Wolverines will win their first B1G title.
- Does Penn State finally have enough depth and experience to avoid a late season swoon? If yes, they will clinch a first-round bye and have a chance at the title. If not, they will need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAAs.
- Can MSU figure out how to consistently score goals before breaking Hildebrand's back? MSU's has found some offense at the expense of defense but is still being out scored. If they can't, Tom Anastos' seat will be scorching hot
- Can Wisconsin win more than one conference game? Yes they can and should. This team is much improved from last year, but they probably don't finish in the top 2.
- Will OSU avoid the basement? Early KRACH ratings say no, but any of the three above them could implode.
KRACH rankings are now available but the top teams have ratings in the low thousands so I'm not putting too much weight into them yet. Usually, the top teams are between 400 and 600 at the end of the year. If the Tourney started today, only Michigan would be in. While not as bad as last year, the poor non-con showing likely means another 1-bid year unless Michigan and Penn State dominate in conference and one of the other 4 wins the conference tourney. KRACH and Pairwise rankings are below:
Using those ratings gives the following expected points gained for each team:
We have our first weekend of games today and tomorrow. The Nittany Lions host the Spartans, the Wolverines host the Badgers, and the Gophers host the Buckeyes. I think MSU and PSU split, Michigan sweeps and the Gophers sweep. KRACH Projected point totals are below:
BONUS NON B1G HOCKEY INFORMATION ON OMAHA BECAUSE NEBRASKA
-by Jesse Collins
Hi everyone. So, our friendly neighborhood insertname said I could do a quick tail to this article so that we could include Omaha information for our Nebraska contingent. To this point, the Omaha Mavericks have been way better than anyone could imagine, even coming off of a Frozen Four trip last year. Sitting at 11-2-1, UNO is currently ranked sixth in both the USCHO and USA Today polls. Their current KRACH ranking is seventh. If you would have offered that to even the most optimistic Mavs fan at the beginning of the season, they would have taken that in a heartbeat.
Omaha has an incredible front line this season and even though they think it is absolutely hilarious to get outshot 2-1 and still win game after game, this has been a team that loves to take your best shot and then make you pay in transition. Basically, they're the Iowa of College Hockey so far. Anyhow, the NCHC might be a bastardization of a conference, but it's also one that goes 4, 6, 7, 9, 17 in the rankings, so it's kind of doing alright. I'd expect this to be a long year still, but I can't complain about how well UNO has done to start the year.
All that said - and because obviously my aim in writing is to troll someone - can we all agree that UNO could probably join the Big Ten tomorrow, have to scramble to learn tendencies, miss a few flights, start at zero points, and still win the conference going away. Sure, they're pretty good, but come on Big Ten Hockey. Get your act together.