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B1G Ten Hockey Tournament: Thursday Primer

I’ve hear rumors that there might be some goings-on in the basketball world today. Well, I don’t know anything about that. What I know is this: the B1G Ten Hockey Tournament commences this afternoon! I love March!

This is not a dance.
This is not a dance.

Check back for today’s hockey game thread later this afternoon, unless of course you’re distracted by the men’s hoops team playing in the NCAA tournament because you have no excuse to not spend your day watching B1G Ten Hockey. To keep you in your seat until the puck drops at 2 PM, here are your game previews for today’s action.

#3 Michigan vs. #6 Penn State: 2PM Central Time

Michigan 201.7 141.2 2.95 2.75
Penn State 35.1 114.0 2.10 3.75
Advantage Michigan (Wins 85.2% of games) Michigan Michigan Michigan

In the season series between these two teams, Penn State managed to pull off a 50/50 split against a team that is far superior on paper. As you can see from the KRACH stats above, Michigan should win at least eight out of ten matchups between these two squads. On paper, Michigan is better in both team scoring and team defense, and not by a small margin. I have three hypotheses on why Penn State has had such considerable success against Michigan.

Hypotheses 1- Penn State matches up well against this Michigan roster.

I reject this hypothesis outright. Penn state does not match up well against any roster, unless you’re talking about Army or Robert Morris.

Michigan has five players with ten goals or more. Penn State has one (Eric Scheid).

Michigan has talented young goaltenders who each have a save percentage north of 90%. Penn State has none. Michigan has defenders who can skate and generate offense (three defensemen with ten assists or more). Penn state has one (Luke Juha).

In the personnel category, this game is a large mismatch in Michigan’s favor.

Hypothesis 2- Statistics are a bunch of hooey.

No. Because science.

Hypothesis 3- Michigan is a young, undisciplined squad that plays down to their opponent’s quality, occasionally.

I think we have a winner. As the only hypothesis that isn’t immediately disprovable, it’s a close to truth as we have. Michigan plays good games and Michigan plays poor games. In their first meeting of the year, Michigan scored seven goals one route to an easy win. The next night, Penn State shut them out and won 4-0. Two weeks later, Penn State scored five goals and pulled out a Friday win before getting pounded 5-2 the next night.

The moral of my story is this: this game is Michigan’s to win or lose. If the Wolverine’s play a disciplined game, they should have no problem keeping the Penn State forwards on the perimeter of the offensive zone, lofting long desperation shots on net. Penn State does not have the skill to penetrate and score consistently.

On the other end, Penn State is pretty poor at keeping the puck out its own net, so even a pedestrian effort on offense should result in a Michigan win.

The two factors in this game that could benefit Penn State are the lack of familiarity with the arena (for both teams) and the 2PM start. I believe anything unusual benefits the lesser team, and those two factors qualify, in this instance.

The winner of this game advances to the semi-finals against Wisconsin and another 2 PM start on Friday.

#4 Ohio State vs. #5 Michigan State

Ohio State 132.0 110.6 2.65 2.75
Michigan State 80.8 114.2 2.10 2.95
Advantage OSU (Wins 62.0% of games) MSU OSU OSU

The evening game is all about contrast. Ohio State’s strength is their barn-storming offensive style; Michigan State’s greatest strength is their defensive line, which allows the fewest yards per rush of any unit in the conference their goaltender, Jake Hildebrand, and their team’s commitment to blocking shots. This matchup could result in a lot of puck-shaped bruises on the Spartan side.

I’m having a hard time deciding who will come out on top in this game. The KRACH smart money says OSU wins 60% of contests between these two teams, but my gut tells me that game will be decided by one goal, meaning it could go either way. Let’s go in-depth on some of the numbers in the table above.

Believe it or not, Ohio State played the weakest non-conference schedule of any team in the B1G Ten this year. That’s right, Penn State and Michigan State both played tougher schedules than the Buckeyes. This leads me to believe that the gaudy scoring totals that the Buckeye forwards have accumulated this year might not have been so gaudy had they played against real competition outside the conference.

A quick glance at their team scoring summary demonstrates what I mean. OSU’s goals per game average is 2.65 in conference play. Their combined conference/non-conference average is 3.21, meaning their non-conference GPG average was actual 4.0. This also means that they scored more goals in their 14 non-conference games (56) than they did in 20 conference contests (53). Remember, their non-conference strength of schedule was the worst in the B1G Ten. Maybe this offense isn’t all that it’s billed to be.

So, now we’re looking at a game between OSU’s not-so-stellar offense against Michigan State’s grinding style of play. I honestly see no clear advantage here, so this game comes to down to the classic hockey deciding factor: goaltending.

Matt Thompkins and Christian Frey have done a nice job for the Buckeyes, but Jake Hildebrand has the ability to take games over and shut down even the talented teams. In fact, he held Minnesota to eight goals over the course of four games this season. He gives the Spartans the edge in this game, despite most of the statistics showing an OSU advantage.

I’m predicting a 3-2 OT win in this game, but I’m not going to pick a winner. I guess we’ll let the players determine the outcome.

Whoever wins this game had better hope that the predicted OT period is short, because they’re going to need fresh legs for the rest of the weekend. The winner faces off against B1G Ten Champion Minnesota in the night game, puck drop at 7PM Central Time.

What do you think, sportsfans? Let me know who you think will advance and why in the comments. Just know that any #ooooooooning will be met with extreme sarcasm.