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Big Ten...Spring! Sports!! Spectacular!!!

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It’s been a year. Let’s give ourselves a little permission.

Cheat Sheet

  • Wrestling: B1G—March 6/7; NCAA—March 18-20
  • Women’s Hockey: CHA (PSU)—March 5/6; WCHA (UW, OSU, Minn)—March 6/7; NCAA—(March 15/16 (quarters), 19 (semis), 21 (championship)
  • Men’s Hockey: B1G—March 18-20 14-16; NCAA—March 26-28 (regionals), April 8 (semis), April 10 (championship)
  • Women’s Basketball: B1G—March 9-13; NCAA—March 21-24 (1st/2nd rounds), March 27-30 (Sweet 16/Elite 8), April 2 (semis), April 4 (championship
  • Men’s Basketball: B1G—March 10-14; NCAA—March 18-22 (First Four and 1st/2nd rounds), March 27-30 (Sweet 16/Elite 8), April 3 (semis), April 5 (championship)
  • Volleyball: NCAA—April 13/14 (1st/2nd rounds), April 17 (Sweet 16), April 19 (Elite 8), April 22 (semis), April 24 (finals)

It’s been a slog

Was it really only 6 years ago that we were all confronted with the visage of an obviously ill Fred Hoiberg tempting death at the 2020 B1G tournament? Okay, it’s almost obligatory to make some “longest year ever” comment at this point, so, now that it’s out of the way, I want you all to admit a couple of things: 1) Spring—and better weather—is near, and 2) So is mass vaccination. It’s sucked, but it’s getting better, and will be better more quickly, very soon.

I, like many of you, have been on team “This season shouldn’t have happened.” However, it has, and I have continued to follow college sports, post at OTE, etc., because not watching isn’t going to change the reality that it’s happening. And now, half a dozen sports—five of which get minimal coverage in the blogosphere (shit, now you all know I’m over 40)—are approaching their postseasons. In other words, the seasons have happened and a lot of youngsters—many of them real-deal student-athletes—are going to chase championships after a very trying season.

My message is simple: Watch! Throw yourself into a sport you don’t usually care about (or really, really care about already). Clip and save the cheat sheet above, and check out the capsule overviews below.

Mens’ Basketball

Okay, this IS a revenue sport, and gets plenty of coverage. Just realize that the calendar is a little different this year (see above). And realize that the B1G is the best conference in the country and, if Gonzaga isn’t up to par, has a helluva chance of notching it’s first national title since 2000.

Women’s Basketball

This will also be brief because the B1G has approximately a 1% chance of winning the title. However, five teams (#8 Maryland Terrapins, #10 Indiana Hoosiers, #12 Michigan Wolverines, #22 Ohio State Buckeyes, #24 Rutgers Scarlet Knights) are ranked in the AP Poll (and the Northwestern Wildcats are #25 in the Coaches Poll), and the B1G tournament should be a blast. Plus, you really need to see first-year sensation Caitlin Clark (Iowa Hawkeyes), who is averaging 25.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 7.0 apg with some great shooting numbers (46.3/38.1/83.2). Seriously, check it out on March 11 when the quarterfinals are going down. If your men’s team has a double-bye, they’re not playing, and if they don’t, you’re probably lamenting a disappointing season.

Wrestling

You may have noticed some wrestling coverage around here (props to Atinat, HWAHSQB, and WSR), so I won’t belabor this section either. However, if you don’t tune into some of BTN’s expanded coverage of the B1G championships this weekend (March 6/March 7), it’s your loss. The conference could approach producing half of the 80 wrestlers who earn All-American status and likely will produce OVER half of the 10 national champions. There may be multiple future Olympic and/or World gold medalists going. That may sound like an overstatement, but go ahead and bet against Spencer Lee (Iowa Hawkeyes), Gable Steveson (Minnesota Golden Gophers), or _____ (insert one of several Penn State Nittany Lions).

Even by typical B1G standards, the league is stacked this year. Whet your appetite this weekend, and keep the NCAA championships (March 18-20) in mind. That’s going to be an overstuffed weekend (MBB, WBB, B1G hockey), but check out the morning sessions and then just try to walk away.

Women’s Hockey

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (6) and Wisconsin Badgers (5) have combined to win 11 of the 19 titles handed out in women’s hockey thus far, and B1G schools (there is no B1G women’s hockey; see cheat sheet above) are well-positioned to add another to the total. Wisconsin is #1 in the Pairwise rankings (which are more important than polls at this point). In what has been a down year for Minnesota, they are at #8, which, if there are no upsets in the conference tournaments, could still mean an at-large bid to the eight team field. However, they probably need to knock off Wisconsin in the WCHA semis on Saturday. In the other semifinal, the #5 Ohio State Buckeyes will take on Minnesota-Duluth. A victory for the Buckeyes might punch their ticket. #6 Penn State won the CHA regular-season crown going away, and is primed to grab an auto bid this weekend.

The Patty Kazmaier Award goes to the nation’s outstanding player, and these four B1G schools have contributed exactly half of the 10 finalists, with UW placing two, including Daryl Watts, who already won the award in 2018, while playing for Boston College.

Honestly, you might have to work to find a way to watch these championships, and some of the NCAA tournament. However, at least one semifinal and the championship will be on ESPNU and it would be a huge surprise if at least one B1G school isn’t included.

Men’s Hockey

In recent years, non-P5 schools basically taken over college hockey. Other than a totally fluky run by the Providence Friars in 2015, the last P5 school to win a title was the Boston College Eagles in 2012, and the last B1G school was the Michigan State Spartans in 2007. At present, Minnesota is on the cusp of a 1-seed, Wisconsin is looking at a 3-seed, and Michigan is firmly on the bubble, but with the chance to improve their position (or crap out) this weekend with a series @Minnesota.

There are good squads out there, so odds are that the B1G go without a title again. However, Minnesota is definitely a worthy competitor as they rank 3rd in scoring, 2nd in goals allowed, and feature one of the best goalies in the country in Jack LaFontaine (a transfer from Michigan).

Wisconsin is probably the hottest team in the country as they’re on an 11-2-1 stretch after getting the full roster back following the Junior World Cup (which was won by the U.S.!). The Badgers have a trio of forwards who are Hobey Baker finalists: Cole Caufield, Dylan Holloway, and Linus Weissbach, who ranked 1, 2, and 5 in points per game among players who have played at least 10 games this year. Caufield—quite possibly the Hobey Baker favorite—leads the nation in both goals and points. As a team, UW is averaging nearly 4.5 gpg over their recent hot stretch, and their 30.86% success rate on the power play leads the nation.

Volleyball

Other than wrestling, and maybe women’s hockey, this is the sport where the B1G is likeliest to bring home a title. Currently six teams are ranked: #1 Wisconsin Badgers, #4 Nebraska Cornhuskers, #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers, #10 Penn State Nittany Lions, #11 Purdue Boilermakers, #19 Ohio State Buckeyes (and the Michigan Wolverines are receiving votes). Penn State (7) and Nebraska (5) are 2nd and 3rd all-time in titles won. Wisconsin (0-3 in the championship game) and Minnesota (six Final Four appearances) are national powers still seeking their first title.

There are too many great players to list them all, but feel free to familiarize yourself with the B1G stat leaders: https://bigten.org/stats.aspx?path=wvball&year=2020. If a B1G school does win it all, the MOP will likely be: Dana Rettke (reigning B1G Female Athlete of the Year), or Molly Hagerty if it’s UW; Lauren Stivrins or Lexi Sun if it’s Nebraska; Minnesota’s Stephanie Samedy or Regan Pittman, or Penn State’s Kaitlyn Hord or Abby Blossom (the first setter I mentioned, because setters often go overlooked; sorry, Sydney Hilley of UW).

What’s more, the NCAA has done a very good job of supporting volleyball (better than wrestling and hockey, to be sure) and it appears that every NCAA tournament match will be on a Disney-owned property, including some on ABC): https://www.sportsmediawatch.com/womens-ncaa-tournament-tv-schedule-2021-espn-abc/

Conclusion

There you have it. Every B1G school has something to look forward to over the next couple of months. Every school has at least one program that has Sweet 16 potential in a sport and/or an individual national title contender in wrestling.

The B1G is all but guaranteed a national title in wrestling, has about a 50% chance in women’s hockey and volleyball, and a reasonable (20-40%) chance in men’s hockey and men’s basketball.

Even if it’s just hate-watching and cheering for your rival to go down, the next two months are going to give you plenty of opportunities. Watch B1G teams in (mostly) non-revenue sports!