The Big Ten tournament poses a bit of a different challenge for five of the six teams competing in St. Paul—it’s the first postseason foray for Penn State. The remaining teams are accustomed to easing into the league playoffs with a best-of-three series. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly easing into the postseason, but it wasn’t a one-and-done like the B1G tourney. There was a little margin for error, room for one flat performance. Not this time.
Thurs., March 20 | Quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.: (5) Michigan State vs. (4) Ohio State; (6) Penn State vs. (3) Michigan.
Fri., March 21 | Semifinals at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.: Penn State or Michigan vs. (2) Wisconsin; Michigan State or Ohio State vs. (1) Minnesota.
Sat., March 22 | Finals at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
In the NCAAs: Minnesota, Wisconsin.
Probably in: None.
Need help: Michigan.
Keep an eye on: Michigan. Yeah, all six teams are playing for the league’s postseason title, but Michigan has the most to gain (or lose) this weekend in St. Paul. Barring wholesale upsets in other league tournaments, the Wolverines should qualify for the NCAA tournament with just one win. Therein lies the rub—Michigan and Penn State, the Wolverines’ opening-round opponent, split their regular-season series. Michigan has a tendency this season to play to the level of its opponent; how will they respond against the Nittany Lions?
The pick: Minnesota. It’s hard to envision this tournament not boiling down to a Minnesota-Wisconsin final—the Gophers and Badgers have been the class of the Big Ten from the start. The season series between the two was a draw at two wins apiece with each team defending its home ice, so they’re quite evenly matched. That said, Minnesota’s just a little deeper offensively and just a little better in goal.