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The State of the Race: Midterm Review and Valentine's Preview

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A mid-season review of the conference race and previews for Valentine's Weekend.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

B1G Hockey: Mid Season Report

Now that we are halfway through the conference schedule, let’s take a look at the state of the race.

No team has been eliminated, but Wisconsin and Ohio State are awfully close.  Penn State and Michigan are the only teams to control their own destiny.  Minnesota can finish tied with Michigan at 48 points but would lose the tie breaker to overall wins.

Michigan

Michigan has jumped out to the early lead with 24 out of 30 points in the first half.  Michigan is the only squad that has seen every other conference foe.  Michigan took care of business at home (15/18) and on the road (9/12).  Michigan will play 4 at home and 6 on the road to close out the year.  Michigan is only 4-5-0 on the road and still needs to travel to Minnesota and Penn State so don’t look for them to earn another 24 points in the second half.

Penn State

Penn State has been one of the surprises of the season.  I fully expected another doormat year with a Michigan split because they seem to have the Wolverines number.  A season sweep of a dismal Wisconsin team has propelled Penn State into second.  Penn State has done well enough at home (13/18) and great on the road (9/12) to position themselves for a first round bye in the B1G tourney.  Penn State will be tested with two series against Minnesota and 1 more against Michigan in the second half so look for their record to be slightly worse.  Like Michigan, Penn State has 4 games at home—where they are 10-1-3!—and 6 on the road (4-3-0).  Penn State closes the season with Minnesota in a series that could decide who gets a first round bye in the BTT.  Penn State still controls its destiny as they can earn 6 points against Michigan.

Minnesota

The Gophers have been largely disappointing for their fans in the first half of the B1G season.  Not sweeping the Badgers in both series may come back to haunt the squad.  Minnesota fell asleep at the wheel in a Friday game against Michigan blowing a late lead and then losing in overtime.  That swing of 6 points will loom large at the end of the season either for the B1G crown or for seeding.  After a crazy weekend out east, Minnesota finds itself in control of its NCAA at-large destiny for the first time in about a month.  The good news for Minnesota is that 6 of its final ten games are at home where the Gophers have earned 10/12 points this season.  Minnesota’s recipe for success in the WCHA was sweep at home and split on the road.  Minnesota will need to take 7/12 points on the road to get to even away from Mariucci.  Combine that with a clean home slate and Minnesota would finish with 43 points, only 2 less than their 2014 campaign.  Minnesota is the first team that does not control its destiny for the outright B1G championship as Michigan can also finish with 48 points and would hold the tied break with more conference wins.

Michigan State

MSU was the best defensive team in conference play giving up 2.5 GAA.  That is good but not great number and points to how bad the B1G has been.  Michigan State has done reasonably well at home (11/15) but poorly on the road (5/15).  MSU is the only team that has an even split of home and road games.  MSU has not played WI yet so expect them to improve in the second half.  If they figure out how to put the puck in the net, this is a team that can make some noise.  I don’t see them winning the Conference, but they will play spoiler for somebody.

Ohio State

If it wasn’t for Wisconsin forgetting how to play hockey, more people would be talking about how bad this OSU team is.  They have lost 6 straight conference games and are 2-6-1 since the New Year’s break.  OSU has 7 games left at home but is only 2-7-0 in Columbus.  OSU will play WI 4 times to find out who belongs in the cellar.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been awful this year.  They salvaged 2 shootout victories against Minnesota in the first half for their only points.  They also celebrated these victories as if they were NCAA Championships…No other team has surrendered a conference point to the Badgers.  The good news for Wisconsin is that they have 8 games against MSU and OSU.  The better news is that the season is almost over.

How will Things Shake up?

Right now, this is Michigan’s conference to lose.  The average KRACH rating for all remaining opponents are below:

As you can see, Penn State and Minnesota have the hardest schedules remaining, followed by MSU and OSU.  Michigan and Wisconsin have the easiest but also play the most road games.

This weekend will tell us a lot about who will end up where.  Michigan heads up to Minnesota in a make or break series for the Gophers.  Penn State heads to East Lansing in a series that will establish the Nittany Lions as contenders and knock the Spartans out, or vault MSU right back into the conversation.  Wisconsin and OSU battle for the cellar.

Previews

Penn State @ Michigan State

Munn Ice Arena; East Lansing, MI
Friday @ 7et/6ct FSDetroit
Saturday @ 6et/5ct BTN

The Nittany Lions and Spartans wrap up their season series at Munn Ice arena Friday and Saturday.  MSU was able to win a shootout in Happy Valley earlier this season so they will need to earn at least 4 points this weekend to come out even or ahead.  KRACH project Penn State coming away with 3.9 points to MSU’s 2.1.  Penn State is a little better than .500 on the road and MSU at home.  I think MSU does better and takes 4 either via 2 shootout wins or a win and a shootout loss.  Don’t expect a lot of scoring as these are the two best defenses in the conference.  MSU 4 – 2 PSU

Wisconsin @ Ohio State

Value City Arena; Columbus, OH
Friday @ 6:30et/5:30ct BTN
Saturday @ 7et/6ct

This one is for all of the marbles! Who is the worst team in the B1G?  Can Wisconsin win a game? Can Ohio State stop its skid?  Thankfully, the Saturday tilt won’t be broadcast.  Pairwise says Wisconsin gets 1.9 points and OSU gets 4.1 I think these teams split.  WI 3 – 3 OSU

Michigan @ Minnesota

Mariucci Arena; Minneapolis, MN
Friday @ 9et/8ct BTN
Saturday @ 8et/7ct FSN+, FSD+, STO

This is the biggest series of the weekend, if not the season to date.  This weekend will make or break the Gophers season.  A sweep pushes them as the clear favorite to win the B1G conference and greatly improves their chances as an NCAA At-Large team.  A Michigan sweep all but knocks the Gophers out of the conference race and NCAA At-Large consideration.  KRACH says Michigan takes 3.3 and the Gophers take 2.7.  I think Michigan takes a while to warm up to the big sheet at Mariucci and the Gophers take Friday’s game.  If that happens, the crowd will be bonkers at Mariucci and the Gophers sweep.  The key for Michigan is to earn points on Friday.  Michigan has been a little under .500 on the road and the Gophers have been great at home so I’m going full Homersota again this week with a Gopher sweep creating a 3-way tie for first.  MN 6 – 0 MI

And for our Nebraska fans, UNO hosts Western Michigan for a pair at the Link in Omaha.  KRACH projects 4.4 pts for UNO and 1.6 for WMU.  This would likely be enough to hang onto 1st in the NCHC. Friday's game will be on NET1 (Nebraska Public TV).