There’s some clear separation at the top of the Big Ten. Purdue and Michigan State seem like the top two, while Ohio State can prove they belong as well in the coming weeks. Nebraska continues to climb, while Penn State and Northwestern are slowly making their way back into relevancy. And on the flip side, Indiana and Maryland start to drop further and further as they continue to lose games down the stretch.
Here’s how things shake up in this week’s Big Ten Power Rankings…
14. Iowa (12-13, 3-9)
Last Week: 94-80 WIN vs Minnesota; 82-58 LOSS at Penn State
I’ve been very hard on Iowa all season. While Rutgers and Illinois have struggled, they’ve been competitive, rarely ever blown out. Iowa however has been blown out frequently. In fact, seven of its nine Big Ten losses have come by double digits, including a 16-point loss at Rutgers. They have some talent and could make some noise next year, but it’s hard to be high on this team when they just simply don’t give the necessary effort game in and game out.
Previous Ranking: T11
13. Rutgers (12-13, 2-10)
Last Week: 91-60 LOSS at Illinois; 78-76 LOSS vs Purdue
Rutgers was hit with the two-day turnaround against Illinois, while the Illini had plenty of time to rest and prepare for Rutgers. The result: an ugly blowout that had Rutgers down as many as 41 at one point. To the Scarlet Knight’s credit, they responded well Saturday when Purdue came to town. Corey Sanders put up 31, but it wasn’t quite enough. The Big Ten’s bottom level is really bad this year, but there is hope for some of these bottom dwellers in years to come. Rutgers now has another two-day turnaround when they play Indiana on Monday.
Previous Ranking: T11
T10. Illinois (12-12, 2-9)
Last Week: 91-60 WIN vs Rutgers; 75-67 LOSS at Ohio State
Illinois and Indiana are two very similar teams (with the same record). These are two teams that fight hard, have new coaches trying to implement new styles, but just don’t have the talent to win the big games. Illinois was the beneficiary of the poor Big Ten scheduling when they got Rutgers on short rest. But their performance at Ohio State was impressive, and a lot like Indiana, fought hard with a top team in the conference but couldn’t close the deal. There is a lot of promise for the future of Illinois basketball.
Previous Ranking: T11
T10. Wisconsin (10-15, 3-9)
Last Week: 74-63 LOSS vs Nebraska; 60-52 LOSS vs Northwestern; 68-63 LOSS at Maryland
The Kohl Center had been one of the toughest places to play in the country. Before this season, Wisconsin was 274-41 (.870) in the Kohl Center. They are just 9-5 at home this season, including a pair of embarrassing losses in December to Ohio State (83-58) and in-state rival Marquette (82-63). The Badgers have now lost five straight and eight of their last nine. However bad it is in Madison, props to Ethan Happ, who is averaging 17.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. However, he doesn’t have much help and Wisconsin has shown that this season.
Previous Ranking: 11
T10. Minnesota (14-11, 3-9)
Last Week: 94-80 LOSS at Iowa; 76-73 (OT) LOSS at Michigan
Minnesota is the hardest team in the Big Ten to figure out. Yes, they’ve lost five straight and eight of their last nine just like Wisconsin, but they’re in most of their games lately. Sandwiched in that stretch of nine games was a lone win, which was at Penn State, a borderline tournament team. They just went to Michigan and took them to overtime before losing by three. Yet they lost to Iowa by 14. Jordan Murphy (17.7 ppg) and Nate Mason (15.4 ppg) can only do so much for this team.
Previous Ranking: 10
T7. Northwestern (14-10, 5-6)
Last Week: 58-47 LOSS at Michigan; 60-52 WIN at Wisconsin
The Wildcats have quietly turned things around a little bit this season. They’re still not to the level that they were projected to be, but after losing four of five to start Big Ten play in 2018, they have won three of their last four, including road wins at Minnesota and Wisconsin. While those two teams aren’t good, it’s still a road win nonetheless. Bryant McIntosh moved to seventh on the Big Ten career assists list. Northwestern will have opportunities to make some noise this month with Michigan and Michigan State coming to town. Every other game is very winnable for the Cats.
Previous Ranking: 9
T7. Maryland (16-9, 5-7)
Last Week: 75-67 LOSS at Purdue; 68-63 WIN vs Wisconsin
While they competed pretty well with Purdue in West Lafayette, it wasn’t nearly enough. Then they struggled with Wisconsin at home, but a late surge pushed them past the Badgers. Before the Wisconsin game, this team had lost five of its last six, and even with the recent win, are pretty much done for the NCAA Tournament. They would have to steal some road wins at Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern and beat Michigan at home if they want any shot at dancing come March.
Previous Ranking: T6
T7. Indiana (12-12, 5-7)
Last Week: 71-56 LOSS at Ohio State; 63-60 LOSS vs Michigan State
Not that Indiana should have won both these games, but one would have been helpful. However, Ohio State wasn’t very realistic with the two-day turnaround and Michigan State isn’t realistic with the size discrepancy (even though IU outrebounded MSU 53-29). The Hoosiers have played the most Top 25 teams of any team in the Big Ten (7), but are just 1-6 against them (overtime win over Notre Dame). Their 1-7 road record is also concerning, and it will be put to the test down the stretch with games at Rutgers, Iowa and Nebraska.
Previous Ranking: T6
6. Penn State (16-9, 6-6)
Last Week: 76-68 LOSS at Michigan State; 82-58 WIN vs Iowa
Penn State did what they were supposed to this week. They had a double-digit lead at Michigan State, but beating two top-tier teams on the road was too good to be true. Then they demolished Iowa over the weekend. The Nittany Lions are slowly creeping back into the discussion for the tournament. However, with their best non-conference win being against a Pitt team that is winless in conference, they will need to get to work down the stretch. They will have opportunities later, but this week features two must wins vs Maryland and at Illinois.
Previous Ranking: T6
T4. Nebraska (17-8, 8-4)
Last Week: 74-63 WIN at Wisconsin
A whole week off for Nebraska after their road win at Wisconsin Monday night. Mock brackets are starting to include the Cornhuskers in the tournament, or at least right on the edge. Like I’ve been saying, Nebraska has a really good chance at winning out, and may just have to in order to make the tournament. They’re also in contention for the double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament in a few weeks. Also, James Palmer Jr. went for 28 points and 8 rebounds at Wisconsin. It may be time to put him in the Big Ten POY race.
Previous Ranking: 5
T4. Michigan (19-6, 8-4)
Last Week: 92-88 LOSS at Purdue
I will never count out a John Beilein team in March, but this is February, and while they won twice this week, neither was pretty. With both games in their home arena, Michigan struggled to score against Northwestern and struggled to put away Minnesota, letting them send it to overtime where Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman saved the day for Michigan. Four of their last six are on the road, including both games this coming week, so we will learn more about the Wolverines as they head away from Ann Arbor.
Previous Ranking: 4
3. Ohio State (20-5, 11-1)
Last Week: 71-56 WIN vs Indiana; 75-67 WIN vs Illinois
Ohio State won twice this week, so why did they move down? Well, first off, Michigan State has looked good, and even when they haven’t, they still win and that’s scary. And second off, Ohio State has looked sluggish the past few outings and I’m starting to doubt them a little bit more. But the week is here. The game is here. They can prove me and all the other doubters wrong even by just competing with Purdue Wednesday night in West Lafayette. A good sign for OSU, Keita Bates-Diop went for a career-high 35 points and 13 rebounds against Illinois after scoring just 13 against Indiana.
Previous Ranking: 2
2. Michigan State (22-3, 10-2)
Last Week: 76-68 WIN vs Penn State; 63-60 WIN at Indiana
I’ve never seen a winning coach as upset and disappointed with his team as Tom Izzo was after their win at Indiana, a game in which they were outrebounded by 24, including a 25-3 discrepancy on the offensive glass. However, he said if there is a silver lining, it’s that his team played that poorly and still made plays to win. The Spartans have now won six straight, but with Purdue waiting for them Saturday, they are going to have to get better, because the product they put out at Assembly Hall this past weekend won’t cut it against Purdue.
Previous Ranking: 3
1. Purdue (23-2, 12-0)
Last Week: 75-67 WIN vs Maryland; 78-76 WIN at Rutgers
What was seen as possible an easy week for Purdue was much tougher than many anticipated. Maryland hung around with them at Mackey Arena, and then Rutgers gave Purdue all they could handle at The RAC. However, Purdue got their wins, but a concerning stat was that Isaac Haas was just two-for-five from the field for seven points and four rebounds at Rutgers. As they head into their biggest week of the season with Ohio State and Michigan State on the schedule, Haas will have to be more involved. The Big Ten can be won this week if the Boilers win. Oh, and by the way, they’ve won 19 straight and still haven’t lost on the continental United States.
Previous Ranking: 1