Monday, February 13, 2017

Pohl Talk: Minnesota's comeback win likely doomed Ohio State's at-large NCAA chances

The weekly USCHO polls came out Monday, which see Minnesota's men's and women's team sit fifth and fourth, respectively. (Full disclosure: I don't have a vote.) The Gopher men hold its fifth spot after a road split at Ohio State which saw the Buckeyes come back to win 5-4 Friday before Minnesota did the same Saturday in a 6-5 victory.

The Gopher women, meanwhile, move back up into fourth after a dominating weekend sweep against North Dakota. Minnesota won 4-2 and 6-2, with the latter game featuring five goals from the team's second line and Sarah Potomak's 100th career point. That's important given the Gophers, third in the Pairwise, will be tested hosting WCHA regular season champ and #1 Wisconsin in the final week of the regular season.

On the men's side? Another weekend brings Minnesota closer to an at-large berth at the expense of Ohio State's season.


(If you need a refresher or a guide to understand the Pairwise rankings, I wrote an explainer last week.)

The biggest change from last week is that the Gophers ended the weekend fifth in the Pairwise, which is the difference between a first seed at a regional and a second seed. Harvard's wins over Northeastern and Union flipped the comparison with Minnesota.

By moving to a second seed it erases the question of whether the committee would send the lowest number one seed, and one from the Upper Midwest, to a Fargo regional hosted by North Dakota, instead of UMD to protect the #1 overall seed. Sliding down a seed opens up several options. However, those are more for a bracketologist and continue to be in flux on a week to week basis.

(2/14 Update: As an example as to how volatile the Pairwise can be, Minnesota moved back to fourth after Harvard defeated BU in the Beanpot championship.)

That said, splitting with Ohio State rather being swept kept the Gophers from dropping any more comparisons and falling to seventh.

It also hurt the Buckeyes. Big time. Playing Minnesota last weekend was a chance to get into the at-large bid conversation and Big Ten title race. Despite splitting, OSU still moved up to 15th at the end of the weekend.

Holding on to win Saturday and sweeping the Gophers would have put Ohio State 11th. Thanks to Penn State sweeping Wisconsin the Buckeyes could have four points out of first place in the Big Ten. With six of OSU's final eight games against Michigan and Michigan State, four points can be made up with the other teams beating up on one another.

Instead, the six point swing (teams get 3 for regulation win, 2 for a shootout win, and 1 for a shootout loss) is reminiscent of last season where Minnesota doesn't win the regular season title without 2 OT wins against Ohio State. The Buckeyes stay in fourth, but the distance is 10 points back from Minnesota and 7 from a first-round bye.

Being in 15th isn't bad this time of year. Unfortunately for Ohio State, Saturday might be example of a missed opportunity. There's not too much room to move up with so many games against the two Michigan schools. It also leaves little room for error. As mentioned in last week's example, OSU had room for a couple slip ups down the stretch. Saturday was one.

The same can be said for the Badgers, which makes the series between the two on the final weekend more interesting. Between Wisconsin losing and Ohio State not getting the sweep, it's a lot less likely for the Big Ten can get a third team in without one winning the conference tournament and automatic bid.


What does Minnesota have to do to clinch an at-large berth?


According to Jim Dahl's College Hockey Ranked, the Gophers need to win at least three of the last eight regular season games to clinch an at-large NCAA bid. Minnesota has four games remaining against Michigan and Michigan State, who occupy the bottom two spots in the Big Ten.

Obviously the Gophers, who play at Penn State and host Wisconsin the next two weeks, would have to get a couple wins against those teams to keep pace for a Big Ten regular season championship.


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