By: Bo Bowen
The Big Ten has been a bit of a conundrum this year. The usual top tier programs such as Michigan State and Indiana have underperformed. Some surprising upstarts such as Northwestern and Minnesota are making serious pushes in the standings. With only seven weeks until the Big Ten conference tournament, here are this week’s Big Ten power rankings.
Editor’s Note: These rankings were filed on Monday, so a few notes have been made in italics to reflect Tuesday’s results.
1. #17 Wisconsin (17-3 Overall, 6-1 Big Ten) Wisconsin is one of the few teams in the Big Ten that has separated itself from the rest of the pack. Their three losses have all come against ranked teams. In addition, the team is allowing only the 9th most points per game to opponents this season in the country. Such stingy defense has been able to propel the badgers to the upper tier of the Big Ten. (The Badger defense was certainly on display Tuesday, forcing 17 turnovers in an 82-55 blowout win over Penn State.)
2. #25 Maryland (18-2 Overall, 6-1 Big Ten) Maryland, unlike Wisconsin, has one really ugly loss (14-pint home loss to Pitt), which drops the Terps below the Badgers in this week’s rankings. Led in scoring by junior guard Melo Trimble, Maryland has amassed only one loss in conference play. The rest of their schedule includes some daunting road games, however, in Minnesota, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. The Terps will likely be tested on the road in the coming weeks. (It wasn’t pretty, but the Terps got the job done against Rutgers on Tuesday to improve to 18-2. Last year’s highly regarded Maryland squad started 17-3, so this year’s version continues to fly under the radar.)
3. #21 Purdue (17-4 Overall, 6-2 Big Ten) Purdue’s only out of conference losses came to Villanova and Louisville, two very good programs this year. Caleb Swanigan has emerged as a star on this very talented team. The Boilermakers have 7 of 11 of their remaining games on the road, including two games against upstart Northwestern. (The Boilers took care of business in their first road test, handling pesky Michigan State behind 25 and 17 from Swanigan…a huge matchup against Maryland looms on February 4.)
4. Northwestern (16-4 Overall, 5-2 Big Ten) Chris Collins’ Wildcats have been the surprise team in the Big Ten this year. The Wildcats have multiple scoring options on the offensive side of the ball, such as Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, and Bryant McIntosh. Northwestern is seeking its first NCAA tournament bid ever, and looks to continue their hot play down the stretch.
5. Indiana (14-6 Overall, 4-3 Big Ten) The Hoosiers have underperformed this year in the face of high preseason expectations. Ugly losses to Fort Wayne and Nebraska hurt the Hoosiers in this week’s rankings. There is a silver lining for Indiana, however. The team is 14th in rebounds per game nationally as well as 19th in points per game. (We’ll see how good the Hoosiers are up close when the visit Evanston on Sunday night. This team certainly has the talent, but their depth will be tested after OG Anunoby’s injury.)
6. Michigan State (12-9 Overall, 4-4 Big Ten): The Spartans have underperformed this year. Despite some preseason hype, they have only been able to muster a 12-9 record this season. Michigan State has lost to some quality opponents, however. Including out-of-conference losses to Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, and Baylor. Despite a mediocre record, these Spartans could get hot and make a push in Big Ten play. (Add another quality loss to the Spartans’ ledger, after the green and white dropped a home tilt to Purdue. Miles Bridges continues to impress and scored 33 of Sparty’s 73 points against the Boilermakers.)
7. Minnesota (3-4 Overall, 15-5 Big Ten): Minnesota has been on a 3-game skid lately including bad losses to Michigan State and Penn State. The Gophers were widely considered a potential dark horse contender for the Big Ten title prior to their recent losing streak. After big road wins at #21 Purdue and Northwestern, the Golden Gophers have struggled as of late and will slide in the rankings.
8. Michigan (13-7 Overall, 3-4 Big Ten): The Wolverines have also underperformed this season. A bad 16-point loss to Illinois as well as losses against South Carolina (in which Michigan scored only 46 points) and Virginia Tech at home are blemishes on the resume of a proud college basketball program.
9. Penn State (11-10 Overall, 3-5 Big Ten): Penn State has only had one bad loss in conference in a 25-point rout at #21 Purdue. They do have impressive wins over Minnesota and Michigan State, however. The Nittany Lions will need to bolster their resume in the upcoming weeks if they want to climb up the Big Ten ladder. (Penn State missed a chance for a resume-boosting win in their blowout loss to Wisconsin. The Lions have more big tests looming, however, including a trip to Indiana next week.)
10. Iowa (11-9 Overall, 3-4 Big Ten): Iowa had an ugly 35-point loss at Northwestern this week. One of their only saving graces in conference play is a win over #21 Purdue at home. The Hawkeyes will need to bolster their in-conference record to combat a bad 4-game losing streak they had in out-of conference play earlier in the season.
11. Ohio State (12-8 Overall, 2-5 Big Ten): The Buckeyes feature a talented roster that has not yet realized its full potential. A four game losing streak to open conference play hurts their standing, but wins over Michigan State and Nebraska and a close loss to Northwestern in a scrappy game Sunday prove the Buckeyes have enough talent to hang with teams.
12. Illinois (12-8 Overall, 2-5 Big Ten): The Fighting Illini are currently on a 3-game losing streak. Their overall resumé is very bland with no significant out of conference wins and a losing record in conference. Illinois will have to fight through a difficult remaining schedule if they want to gain any traction within the Big Ten.
13. Nebraska (9-10 Overall, 3-4 Big Ten): The Huskers feature a better conference record than both Ohio State and Illinois, but have a losing record overall at this point in the season. Nebraska is a streaky team currently on a 4-game slide, including losses to Ohio State, Michigan, and Rutgers. They will have another daunting 3 games with Northwestern, Purdue, and Michigan State coming up.
14. Rutgers (12-9 Overall, 1-7 Big Ten): Rutgers just snapped a 7-game losing streak with a gritty 65-64 win over Nebraska. The Scarlet Knights have fallen from grace after an 11-1 start to begin the season. Rutgers has a very difficult schedule remaining and will likely struggle down the stretch against better Big Ten teams. One silver lining for Rutgers, they are currently 4th in the country in rebounding per game, led by Deshawn Freeman with 8.6 boards per contest. (According to Ken Pomeroy, Rutgers played the ninth-easiest non-conference schedule of the 351 division 1 basketball teams. Perhaps that soft slate left the Scarlet Knights unprepared for conference play.)