In 2014, Ohio State and Wisconsin met in the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Unlike in the football championship game that the Buckeyes won 59-0, Wisconsin took the game and NCAA tournament bid with a 5-4 overtime win over the Bucks. Can OSU rebound this year and take the title?
Probably not, but the Buckeyes do come in rolling, having won five out of six over the likes of Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Bucks have in fact registered wins over every Big Ten team aside from Michigan State, who they would avoid until the final.
The entire tournament bracket can be found here and, as you can see, the Buckeyes lead off the tournament at 4:30pm against Penn State on the Big Ten Network. In their last two meetings, the Buckeyes took down the Nittany Lions by identical scores of 5-3 in Columbus. That would seem to bode well for our hot Bucks, but once you look a little deeper into the stats, you see just how lucky Ohio State was in those two games.
In the first game of the series, on February 27, Ohio State was outshot 49-35. That really isn't too terrible, considering Penn State was down on the scoreboard for a majority of that game. In the second one, it was all Buckeyes as they outshot Penn State 44-27, including a 16-5 margin in the third. Now it would seem that the Buckeyes were the better team in those games, or at least equal when you look at the shot totals and the ultimate score. But Penn State is something else entirely in terms of advanced stats.
Penn State is fifth nationally and first in the Big Ten in shot differential per game at +6.78. Ohio State is 33rd at -.06. Ohio State is just a middling team in that regard, just as their overall record this season would suggest, but Penn State, especially for such a new program, looks to be world beaters in possession. For whatever reason, it didn't translate in those two games at Ohio State as the only game they had an advantage in was likely due to them being down big in the third.
For that reason, I'm picking Penn State to win the game this afternoon over the Buckeyes. Unless Christian Frey turns into 2014 Christian Frey again and puts up a .930 save percentage in the tournament this year, it doesn't look good for the Buckeyes. They were the consensus fifth best team in the conference this year and despite the recent hot streak, I just don't think they can beat the stats and Penn State's possession once again.
As for overall Big Ten Tournament predictions, I like Minnesota overall, which is no surprise, as they locked up the conference regular season title and are the #1 seed in the conference tournament. They come in at ninth in the country in shot differential per game at +6.33, a negligible difference from Penn State but have the superior goalie. Adam Wilcox of Minnesota and P.J. Musico of Penn State both have .909 save percentages this year, but Wilcox has been on a role in conference as of late, having put up nothing less than a .913 in conference play. Matthew Skoff of PSU has an even lower percentage than Musico at .907. Sophomore Eamon McAdam may be the wild card for Penn State, as he has a .911 on the year but did not fare particularly well in his two conference starts as he had a save percentage of .905 or below in both outings.
So I like Minnesota to defeat Penn State in the second round of the tournament. On the other side of the bracket, Michigan over Wisconsin seems to be the biggest mismatch of the tournament. Wisconsin was only 2-15-3-2 in conference this year despite last season's championship while Michigan was 20-12-8 this year in conference. Michigan was 14th in shot differential per game at +5 per game while Wisconsin was 56th out of 60 at -11.06 per game. Yeah, that team up north should take care of business.
That sets us up for a rivalry game between Michigan and Michigan State in the semi-finals of the tournament in Detroit at the Joe. The tournament was made for just this game. Michigan State was 20-11-7-2 in conference and edged out the Wolverines by a point to take the two seed and the bye. The two teams split their series this year with two wins apiece. I just don't see the Spartans being able to keep up though despite their positive results this year. They surprised everyone this year but seem to be doing it with smoke and mirrors. They're actually lower than Ohio State in possession, coming in at 34th nationally at -.18 per game in shot differential. Jake Hildebrand has been the difference with his .930 save percentage this year, but eventually you'd have to think that possession would catch up with them. If Hildebrand falters in even the slightest, it could be a Wolverines slaughter. The problem is that both of Michigan's goalies, Steve Racine and Zach Nagelvoort have been bad this year. Racine only put up a .901 save percentage and Nagelvoort barely did better at .906. If they can even put up any kind of decent number, again it should be a Wolverine win despite what Hildebrand does. I'm picking the Wolverines but tentatively as I don't trust their goaltending at all, no matter which one starts.
Then in the final, since Adam Wilcox has been so good lately and in conference especially, I'm predicting an easy Minnesota win. Minnesota has the best goal differential in the conference, the best overall record and most talent. Unless one of the Wolverines' goalies wakes up, I just think this is going to be a fairly easy affair for Minnesota. The goaltending in general in the conference has been mediocre this year aside from Hildebrand, but with Wilcox looking like himself again lately and the high possession numbers, I think the Golden Gophers are going to take the conference crown.