Minnesota's split last weekend with Michigan may have kept them in the driver's seat for a third consecutive Big Ten title, but it also put a big dent in the chances for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. As the end of the season draws near, we'll try to give Gophers fans some idea of who they should be rooting for heading into the weekend. Before we get to that though, some important information about where Minnesota stands.
Here's the Top 20 in the current PairWise Rankings:
If we go by straight PairWise rankings, Minnesota is currently in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid. Unfortunately, there are two current conference leaders (i.e. likely bid stealers) lurking below the 16 team cutoff. The sneaky tournament hope killing culprits? Robert Morris (who leads the Atlantic Hockey Conference) and Minnesota State - Mankato (who leads the WCHA). It's possible that neither school will take the conference tourney auto-bid and that the representative from the WCHA or AHC might be in the Top 16 of the PW. Okay, maybe not from the AHC but you get the idea. We need to plan for two big steals right now.
As a result, Minnesota needs to stay in the Top 16 while also having 2 teams above the Gophers fall out. According to the always excellent Jim Dahl at College Hockey Ranked, the two teams most ripe for a fall are (unsurprisingly) the two tied at #14 in the PW. It's time to get out hate on for Penn State and Minnesota-Duluth everyone!
A word of caution...life on the bubble makes for strange and uncomfortable rooting interests. I will not hold it against anyone if they cannot stomach some of the choices they have to make. Unsure what I mean? Well...
Who to root for this weekend (and why)
Wisconsin over #14 Penn State
I know, I know. It makes me feel icky too. It's better if you don't think about it. So what does this weekend look like for Penn State if they start losing games?
#14 Penn State, idle last weekend but on the list of potential big drops two weeks ago, is in familiar territory — win 2 to stay in place, or be prepared to fall. A 10 spot drop to #24 is possible.
Look, I still find rooting for Wisconsin distasteful despite the benefits this weekend so I've chosen to focus on a silver lining. Sweeping Penn State should assure that Mike Eaves is back next season.
#18 Miami (OH) split #14 UMD
This one is actually not that easy. Normally I'd say UMD can rot, but I Miami sweep is liable to jump them up quite a bit in the Pairwise. Where would a split leave both Miami and UMD?
#15 Minnesota-Duluth, which jumped 10 spots (as predicted) with an impressive pair of wins last weekend, doesn’t have much upside potential but stands to give back its ground if it doesn’t keep up its winning streak. An 11 spot drop to #26 is possible.
Northern Michigan over #16 Michigan Tech
Tech is currently tied with the Gophers for 16th, so we need them to start tanking a bit. Especially because of Tech wins could really jump them up the rankings:
#18 Miami split with #14 UMD
As noted above, we need both teams to get hurt.
Union over #19 Cornell
Ugh, go Union.
Bemidji State over #21 Mankato
A sweep would allow the Purple Cows to make a decent move up to the tail end of the top 16.
What about the Gophers?
As noted before, the Gophers really need to win out. Unfortunately, given the strength of the teams left on their schedule Minnesota really only maintains their current ranking by winning. For instance, a sweep of MSU this weekend is only predicted to keep the Gophers in 16th (pending the outcome of teams above them of course):
A handful of teams can’t quite make it into position for an at-large bid (which we’re currently calling #14 and better), but can come out of the weekend in the teens, preserving hope for an at-large bid with additional conference tournament success. Those include:
#19 Robert Morris
Yea, a sweep is kind of important. Let's get it done Gophers!