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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions In Thick Of Postseason Bid And Big Ten Title Hunt

by on February 15, 2017 2:00 PM

With eight games to go in the regular season Penn State hockey sits precariously between safely in the postseason conversation and the postseason bubble.

On the one hand, the Nittany Lions are No. 6 in the PairWise ranking, firmly entrenched in the Top 16 of the computer generated polling. A road sweep of Wisconsin jumped Penn State up from No. 11 where the Nittany Lions had fallen during a five-game winless streak.

But on the other hand, Penn State's final eight game stretch is hardly a walk in the park and a second late-season stumble would likely be the death knell for an at-large bid. Penn State hosts Minnesota and Wisconsin, but also travels to Michigan and Michigan State -- the top of the conference and the bottom of the conference, but all four capable of beating Penn State on the right night. Michigan State is improving and Michigan is hosting the Nittany Lions on senior night, likely erasing the emotions of Penn State's early sweep of the Wolverines.

Also not to be forgotten, a regular season Big Ten title.

Currently Penn State sits five points behind Minnesota and two behind Wisconsin. The result is a conference table that reads like this.

Minnesota: 27 points

Wisconsin: 24 points

Penn State: 22 points 

Ohio State: 17 points

Michigan: 10 points

Michigan State: 8 points

With eight games remaining there are 24 points up for grabs, with Penn State looking to make a six point jump over the span of those eight games, hoping that Minnesota and Wisconsin don't continue their fairly consistent winning pace. The Gophers need five wins to take home the title, Wisconsin can do it with seven. Penn State can with eight (winning-out) and it won't matter what the rest do.

The good news for the Nittany Lions is obviously that half of the remaining eight games comes against the two teams ahead of Penn State in the standings.

So who to root for?

If you're hoping that Penn State can take home its first ever conference title this season the next few weeks aren't exactly rocket science in a six team conference but it comes down to one thing: rooting for Michigan.

The Wolverines play Wisconsin this weekend and Minnesota two weeks after that. Penn State doesn't even need Michigan to sweep, it simply needs the Wolverines to get a split.

That's nice, boil all of this down for me:

In short Penn State is aiming for 40 points and hoping for a little bit of help from Michigan and Michigan State (who plays Minnesota in the final weekend of the season). While it would make things easier, Penn State doesn't have to sweep Minnesota to have a chance, but doing so would make things much more straightforward. All told, the Nittany Lions can probably afford to lose twice more in the final eight games and have a chance, any more than that and it will take some unlikely upsets from the bottom of the Big Ten to help Penn State out.

But the postseason?

The good news when it comes to keeping all of this straight is that is largely goes hand-in-hand. Penn State is in great shape as it stands today for making the NCAA tournament but the fewer losses the better when it comes to making things simple for the selection committee.

And as Gadowsky pointed out earlier this week, a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament --given to the top two teams in the standings-- means having to just win two games for an automatic bid as the conference tournament winner.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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