The regular season concluded this weekend without a whole lot of drama atop the standings. Michigan State took care of their opponents and won the conference outright. Ohio State and Indiana played an instant classic Friday night. Nebraska, OSU and Purdue all got back on track with solid weeks and will get the double-bye alongside Michigan State.
Here are my final rankings for the Big Ten…
14. Rutgers (13-18, 3-15)
Last Week: 79-52 LOSS at Ohio State; 75-62 LOSS vs Illinois
Previous Ranking: T11
At times, the season seemed to have its promising moments for Rutgers. They beat Seton Hall, who was ranked at the time. However, they then lost their next two to Stony Brook and Hartford. That was a trend for Rutgers. They would win a good game, the lose the next few. All in all, the reason they are last is two losses to Illinois and a loss to Minnesota. That was against a good, healthy Minnesota team, however. They will have a chance to change that this week with a first round matchup with the Gophers.
T11. Minnesota (15-16, 4-14)
Last Week: 73-63 LOSS at Wisconsin; 86-82 WIN vs Iowa; 84-60 LOSS at Purdue
Previous Ranking: 14
T11. Iowa (13-18, 4-14)
Last Week: 86-82 LOSS at Minnesota; 77-70 WIN vs Northwestern
Previous Ranking: T11
T11. Illinois (14-17, 4-14)
Last Week: 81-61 LOSS at Michigan State; 93-86 LOSS vs Purdue; 75-62 WIN at Rutgers
Previous Ranking: T11
These three teams all come in with similar weeks. They all won a game against one of the bottom five teams in the conference this week, as Northwestern has now joined this group at the bottom. Minnesota’s lack of defense will be an issue in the tournament, but the matchup of Illinois and Iowa will be interesting.
Illinois and Iowa matched up early in the Big Ten season, a game that Iowa won 104-97 in overtime after the Illini had, at one point, a 20-point lead. The offense won that game. Will this game be different? It’s one of the top offensive teams in the country (Iowa) against one of the top defensive teams in terms of the pressure they put on you each and every play (Illinois). The winner will battle with Michigan, meaning it could be a short trip for both teams no matter who wins the first round game.
10. Northwestern (15-16, 6-12)
Last Week: 71-64 LOSS vs Maryland; 70-64 LOSS vs Wisconsin; 77-70 LOSS at Iowa
This was not the season Northwestern fans had in mind. The Wildcats began the season ranked #19 in the country coming off their first tournament appearance in school history. That hype quickly took a hit with early losses to Creighton, Texas Tech (by 36) and Georgia Tech. Then they had a chance to turn the season around at Oklahoma, but they lost by 26 and the season just never got going again for the Wildcats.
Bryant McIntosh celebrated his senior night this past week. This season he averaged 12 PPG and 5.1 APG. His 335 points this season are the lowest of his career in a single season. Over his four-year Northwestern career, McIntosh averaged 13.1 PPG and 5.4 APG. I say all this to honor a fantastic player and one of the main reasons Northwestern was able to get to their first-ever tournament a year ago.
Previous Ranking: T8
9. Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11)
Last Week: 73-63 WIN vs Minnesota; 70-64 WIN at Northwestern; 68-63 LOSS vs Michigan State
Wisconsin finished their season strong. You saw the development of a lot of young talent around their star-junior Ethan Happ. The big man averaged 17.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG this season. He had to be patient with his young team. They started to come along the past two weeks. Brad Davison emerged, averaging 12.1 PPG and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc.
The Badgers average 67 PPG. Of those, 65.8 will be returning next season, unless Ethan Happ were to decide to leave early, which is unlikely. They will return Davison along with D’Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl and Khalil Iverson. It wasn’t a great season in Madison, but this team could make some noise not only next season, but this week in New York City. They will take on Maryland in the first round, with Michigan State waiting in the quarterfinals.
Previous Ranking: 10
8. Maryland (19-12, 8-10)
Last Week: 71-64 WIN at Northwestern; 85-61 LOSS vs Michigan
Saturday was not how Maryland wanted to send their seniors out. This season wasn’t how any of the Terrapins envisioned it going. The loss of Justin Jackson after 11 games certainly hurt their season, but they were unable to rally with the players they had and fell short of the NCAA tournament. That doesn’t mean the future is bleak in College Park.
Anthony Cowan (15.7 PPG), Kevin Huerter (14.6 PPG) and Bruno Fernando (10.2 PPG) will all return next season, along with a hopefully healthy Justin Jackson. With Cowan and Huerter, this team could still shock some people this week at Madison Square Garden. They will take on Wisconsin in the second round.
Previous Ranking: T8
T6. Indiana (16-14, 9-9)
Last Week: 66-57 LOSS at Nebraska; 80-78 (2OT) LOSS vs Ohio State
Previous Ranking: 7
T6. Penn State (19-12, 9-9)
Last Week: 72-63 LOSS vs Michigan; 76-64 LOSS at Nebraska
Previous Ranking: T5
I don’t think anything tells you how bad the Big Ten has been this year better than seeing that only 5 teams have winning records in conference. Right now, the ACC has 8 teams .500 or better. The Big East has 6, the Pac-12 has 7 and the SEC has 6. The dropoff from Nebraska (13-5) to IU and Penn State (9-9) is incredible. Not to say that the Hoosiers and Nittany Lions aren’t competitive, it’s just an incredible jump from the 5th and 6th teams in the conference.
Both teams lost at Nebraska this week, as well as against a top-20 team at home. However, IU’s 74-70 win over Penn State back in January is the reason the Hoosiers grabbed the 6-seed. What’s interesting about Penn State’s draw is that if they can get past Northwestern, who they split with, they will take on Ohio State, who they upset in both games this season. The interesting part about IU’s draw is that if they can get by the winner of Minnesota/Rutgers, they will take on their rival Purdue in the quarterfinals.
If these two teams get into the NIT, they could be two of the most dangerous teams in the field.
5. Nebraska (22-9, 13-5)
Last Week: 66-57 WIN vs Indiana; 76-64 WIN vs Penn State
Nebraska got back on track on this week with some quality wins over the next two teams below them in the standings. While they were both at home, Nebraska controlled both games and got back their momentum heading into the tournament. They won eight of their last nine games to finish the season and snag the 4-seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Nebraska was the only Big Ten team to finish their home season undefeated. They upset teams like Minnesota (when they were ranked and healthy) and Michigan at home. Because of that win over Michigan, the Huskers are now sitting pretty, receiving the double-bye and will wait until Friday to start their tournament play. They may need a couple of wins to get into the tournament. James Palmer (17.4 PPG), had two games under his average this week, and Nebraska still won both their games. That’s big for the Huskers moving forward.
Previous Ranking: T5
4. Michigan (23-7, 13-5)
Last Week: 72-63 WIN at Penn State; 85-61 WIN at Maryland
Michigan won five in a row to finish the season after their loss at Northwestern. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman put up 28 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Michigan’s 24-point win at Maryland. Duncan Robinson had 19 points on three-of-six 3-point shooting at Penn State. We know that Mo Wagner (14.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) is going to put up consistent numbers. Charles Matthews has also been huge for Michigan after his transfer from Kentucky (13 PPG, 5.4 RPG).
The play of Abdur-Rahkman (12.3 PPG, 3.4 APG) and Robinson (9.3 PPG, 39% 3PT%) are going to be huge for Michigan going forward. If they can consistently put up these numbers in March, John Beilein and company could make another deep run in the tournament. Michigan will take on the winner of Iowa and Illinois in the second round.
Previous Ranking: 4
3. Ohio State (23-7, 15-3)
Last Week: 79-52 WIN vs Rutgers; 80-78 (2OT) WIN at Indiana
Like Nebraska, Ohio State flipped the switch this week, starting in the second half of the Rutgers game and continuing on the road at IU. Every big shot that IU made, every run that IU made, every time the crowd got into it, Ohio State had an answer. The final answer was a deep three by C.J. Jackson to win a double-overtime thriller, 80-78.
Keita Bates-Diop, the leader in most people’s minds for Big Ten Player of the Year, put up 24 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks against IU. All five starters scored in double figures for the Buckeyes, the first time this had happened since their home loss vs Penn State. The Buckeyes may not have as much talent as Purdue or Michigan State, but when they play well as a team, they are hard to beat. They were a perfect 2-0 against Purdue and Michigan State in the regular season.
Previous Ranking: 3
2. Purdue (26-5, 15-3)
Last Week: 93-86 WIN at Illinois; 84-60 WIN vs Minnesota
Purdue also turned things around this week against two of the bottom-tier teams in the conference. Vince Edwards was still out against Illinois. That was enough to inspire Carson Edwards to go score 40 points and lead Purdue to the victory.
Dakota Mathias scored 25 points on nine-of-11 shooting, seven-of-nine from the 3-point line. Purdue is going to be really hard to beat if they are getting scoring barrages from guys like Mathias, who has been playing really well recently. Mathias also had 18 points at Illinois and vs Penn State. He’s averaging 20 PPG in this three game win streak to finish the season. We aren’t even talking about Isaac Haas.
This team is dangerous when Dakota Mathias is playing well.
Previous Ranking: 2
1. Michigan State (28-3, 16-2)
Last Week: 81-61 WIN vs Illinois; 68-64 WIN at Wisconsin
The Spartans continue to sprint to the finish. Winners of 12 straight, the Spartans are playing some of the best basketball in the country. Amidst the Nassar circumstances and now the Bridges issue with the FBI scandal, this team has still looked really good on the court. They are in line for a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, but they may need to win the Big Ten tournament to assure that.
Cassius Winston’s 20 points on six-of-six 3-pointers were enough to help the Spartans win at Wisconsin Sunday. Guys like Winston and Langford are key to getting the Spartans over the hump, and getting Bridges, Ward and Jackson the help they need. The Spartans will wait for the winner of Wisconsin and Maryland in the quarterfinals Friday.
Previous Ranking: 1