Thursday, March 8, 2012

With NCAA Hopes In The Balance - The Spartans Battle Miami

For those that missed it, earlier in the week we took a brief look at Michigan State's at large hopes.

 The Munn Minute: Spartan Bubble Watch

It has become clear that if Michigan State wins this series, the ticket to the NCAA tournament will be punched for the first time since 2008. That's not bad for a team that finished second to last in the CCHA two of the last three seasons, under went a new coaching change, and those coaches put in an entirely different system.

The only thing standing in the way of Michigan State and that NCAA tournament birth is Miami. This is the same Miami team that swept Michigan State at Munn Ice Arena with a 2-1 overtime victory and a 4-0 victory in the second game of the series. The irony of the 2-1 overtime loss is if MSU managed to get to the shoot-out this series would be in East Lansing.

What gets lost in the 4-0 game was that it was only 1-0 going into the final period, but Miami dominated the final 20 minutes that started with an early goal in the 3rd period. The Spartans may not need to win the series, but the series victory (which hasn't happened since 2007) would all but clinch it. Michigan State may already have enough comparisons in their favor to survive a three game defeat. On the other hand, Miami looks to be sitting in a better position and could also survive a series defeat - certainly better than Michigan State.

What this means is both teams will be desperate for the victory this weekend, but Michigan State might have more reason to throw the kitchen sink around in Oxford.

Know Thy Opponent:

 Miami comes into the weekend with a 21-13-2 record which includes a 15-11-2 CCHA mark. This includes an 11-5-2 mark in Oxford. Miami has won six straight games, and they have won eight of their last nine games at home. The lone setback was a 2-1 defeat on January 27th against Northern Michigan.

Miami's Top Scorers:

Reilly Smith   26 goals, 38 points
Austin Czarnik 9 goals, 29 points
Jimmy Mullin  9 goals, 21 points
Alden Hirschfeld 9 goals, 21 points
Blake Coleman  11 goals, 19 points

Reilly Smith, a Dallas Stars draft pick, is competing with Torey Krug for CCHA Player of the Year Honors. Austin Czarnik, at one point, was a verbal commitment to Michigan State. Miami clearly has the "talent" edge in this series, and they have quite the size advantage, so the match-up does not seem to favor the Spartans.

In goal, Connor Knapp stands 6-6 as he went 13-6-0 on the year with a 1.53 GAA and a .939 save percentage. Knapp has caused Michigan State troubles during his career at Miami, and he was in goal for both games earlier this year at Munn. Cody Reichard is the other senior goaltender, but his numbers aren't quite as good posting a 8-7-2 record with a 2.51 GAA, and a .898 save percentage. It would surprise me a little bit if MSU saw Reichard at all this weekend given Knapp's success against MSU.

The Team Comparisons:

Michigan State Offense    3.03 Goals/Game (2nd CCHA)
Miami Offense     2.86 Goals/Game (T-4th CCHA)

Michigan State Defense   2.50 Goals/Game (5th CCHA)
Miami Defense   2.06 Goals/Game (1st CCHA)

Michigan State Power Play  16.9 %  (23 for 136, 7th CCHA)
Miami Power Play     14.4%   (21 for 146, 10th CCHA)

Michigan State Penalty Kill   88.5%   (123 for 139, 1st CCHA)
Miami Penalty Kill    85.6%  (155 for 181, 3rd CCHA)

Miami has outscored opponents in each period this season, but the final period (36-21) holds the biggest margin - which indicates Miami will get stronger as the game progresses. The Spartans biggest margin is in the second period (36-28). The one thing these numbers seem to point to is the special teams seem to be fairly even. Neither power play has looked overpowering this year, and both teams have done a good job on the penalty kill. That will make this a 5 on 5 series which means Michigan State needs to go to the net and muck it up to really have a chance at winning the series.

They cannot have a repeat performance of the first game in South Bend. Most people seem to think this is just a terrible match-up for Michigan State in just about every aspect. Miami is bigger, stronger, faster, more talented, on a roll, and at home. The one thing that Miami cannot underestimate though will be the heart and grit of the Spartans. It is those two factors alone that have made Michigan State a dangerous team. Health is also a concern, will Merrifield be able to be effective (or play) coming off of his injury? Can other guys step up the offensive end? Will this weekend come down to which POY candidate plays better?

So many different story lines this weekend in this series, and in the end, the most important thing - a NCAA & Joe Louis Arena bid will be the center focus. Two wins separates these two teams from both of those objectives. Two simple wins against another team that will make you work for everything you earn. It should be a lot of fun.

Anastos Honored (Sort of):

Head Coach Tom Anastos was one of three finalists named for the CCHA coach of the year award. Red Berenson and former Spartan Bob Daniels were the other two nominated for the award. Krug, as indicated above, is up for the CCHA Player of the Year award, as well as the best offensive defenseman (which you would assume he'd be a lock to win).  

TV & Radio This Weekend:

This series is not on TV this weekend, but you can access Miami's all-access feed (for a fee), or you can access the Spartan Sports Network in the links on the left. Friday's game is scheduled to start at 7:35 pm. Saturday's game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 pm along with Sunday's game (if needed).

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