The No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (22-11-3) are locked into a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. According to Pairwise — the statistical tool designed to approximate the process by which the selection committee decides — win or lose, Michigan will remain at No. 4 in the selection process and will be the top seed in the Manchester region.
But that does not render this game meaningless, it’s OHIO STATE! A team that has given Michigan fits this season and outscored the Wolverines by five goals across four games. The Buckeyes currently sit at No. 10 in the Pairwise rankings but could vault to No. 6 with another victory over the Wolverines.
Ohio State has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Wolverines this season. It has been opportunistic on special teams, physical at the net, and flies through the neutral zone to exploit over-aggressive defensemen. The Buckeyes have done a great job of limiting open ice against Michigan and subduing the plethora of speed and talent in maize and blue.
In order for the Wolverines to earn only their second victory of the season against Ohio State, they need to play disciplined and physical. I list discipline first because Michigan has been the most penalized team in the country and Ohio State thrives on power play opportunities to generate offense.
If Michigan can maintain discipline — speaking to you Adam Fantilli — and still play a physical style of hockey, chances will develop for this explosive team to take advantage.
Another big factor will be the presence of Luke Hughes. He was injured in the first game of the second series against the Buckeyes and missed the second game, resulting in a winless weekend. Across his two years at Michigan, the Wolverines have never won with Hughes out of the lineup.
The Wolverines regained some much-needed momentum last weekend against Wisconsin in the quarterfinals despite a lethargic effort. Michigan’s top line of Fantilli-Rutger McGroarty-Gavin Brindley was lethal and produced in the biggest moments.
If the Wolverines can slow down the Buckeyes in the neutral zone and win the battle of special teams, they will advance to face the winner of Minnesota-Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship.
For the second straight year, can Michigan conquer an opponent in the semifinals that has caused it problems all season to advance and face Minnesota at Mariucci with the Big Ten Tournament crown on the line?
WHEN: Saturday, March 11, 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
HOW TO WATCH: Big Ten Network
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network
Michigan State will travel to play Minnesota in the other semifinal game. The Spartans find themselves very much in a “win and you’re in” mindset against the Gophers. With a victory, Michigan State will jump from No. 16 in the Pairwise rankings to No. 12, all but assuring an NCAA selection.
The Gophers find themselves in similar waters as Michigan: win or lose, Minnesota will be the top team and the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.