Following this weekend’s series split with Wisconsin, Penn State finds themselves in pretty much the exact same spot they were in at this point last week. Five games behind the Badgers for the second seed in the Big Ten, Penn State will need a miracle to attain a first round bye. First, Penn State will need to sweep Michigan in Ann Arbor this weekend, a task they should be able to perform. Secondly, they would need Ohio State to also sweep Wisconsin, in order to make up the five points they are currently down. Barring a massive slip up this weekend, the team should be able to retain the third place ranking in the B1G, in which case they will compete against Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Dropping Friday night’s game to the Badgers made it significantly harder for the Nittany Lions to make the tournament. What could have catapulted them into a first round bye has now left them stagnant in third place. Meaning that, the team will meet with Michigan State in the first round. If they are able to beat the Spartans, Penn State will have their fifth meeting with Wisconsin this season. Having won, three of four games against Wisconsin this season, one might like Penn State’s chances. The Nittany Lions stopped a five game skid by sweeping the Badgers in early February. Even at their lowest point in the season, Penn State still seemed to know how to beat Wisconsin. Last weekend’s series split showed that the two teams are on relatively even footing. Tony Granato’s Wisconsin squad is most likely Penn State’s biggest hurdle in making the NCAA tournament.
Making it to the B1G Championship is necessary for the Lions to make the NCAA Tournament. To be honest, that might not even be enough. The team has had some pretty lackluster play as of late, and that might hurt them. They may need to secure the Big Ten’s automatic birth in order to make the tournament. However, this may not be the case as Penn State is ranked 9th in RPI. RPI, much like college basketball’s BPI, is a fundamental measurement in team strength for college hockey. A high ranking shows that Penn State is, despite recent failures, still a very good team. The Nittany Lions can prove that the RPI is not wrong by, at least, making the B1G Championship Game.
In the end, the last time the Nittany Lions faced the Badgers in a must-win game, this happened. So, all in all, I feel confident that Penn State hockey will make the Big Ten Championship game. At that point, its all up to the NCAA to decide whether or not the Nittany Lions are worthy of their first NCAA tournament bid.