College basketball is home to the most thrilling upsets in sports, and last week in the Big Ten was a perfect example. Rutgers won three consecutive games over ranked opponents for the first time in program history, Nebraska claimed its first conference win and the Big Ten’s top five teams each lost.
After a week filled with the unpredictable, it feels like no one deserves the top spot in the Big Ten. With Selection Sunday less than a month away, here’s how I see the layout of the Big Ten. (Stats through Feb. 13)
1) Wisconsin (19-5, 10-4)
Best win: 74-69 at No. 5 Purdue
Worst loss: 73-65 vs. Rutgers
Recent standout: Tyler Wahl (23 pts, 9-14 FG vs. Rutgers)
AP Poll: 15
Quad 1 record: 8-4
Wisconsin started the week strong by avenging its loss to Michigan State with an eight-point win in East Lansing. It was a signature game for Johnny Davis, who scored 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting. The Badgers didn’t get much production from their bench, but team defense was a strength as four Spartan starters were held to single digits.
All momentum from a big road win was put to rest when Wisconsin lost on its home court to a scorching hot Rutgers team. Davis was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc, and meanwhile, Rutgers connected on 7-of-12 attempts from 3. Wisconsin is 13th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage, but will need to hit from deep at Assembly Hall on Tuesday.
2) Rutgers (15-9, 9-5)
Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 5 Purdue
Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette
Recent standout: Ron Harper Jr. (21 pts, 6 reb at No. 15 Wisconsin)
AP Poll: 9th in receiving votes
Quad 1 record: 5-3
I wanted to rank Rutgers No. 1 in this week’s rankings, but couldn’t quite do it. With three consecutive wins against ranked opponents, Rutgers is the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights won home games against No. 19 Michigan State and No. 18 Ohio State before knocking off No. 15 Wisconsin on the road behind 21 points from Ron Harper Jr.
But even with wins in four of the last five games, the Scarlet Knights are still no lock for the NCAA Tournament. Early-season losses to DePaul, Lafayette, UMass and Penn State leave a huge blemish on Rutgers’ résumé, but it’s all about getting hot at the right time in college basketball.
3) Purdue (22-4, 11-4)
Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 10 Villanova (neutral site)
Worst loss: 82-58 at Michigan
Recent standout: Sasha Stefanovic (17 pts, 5-9 3pt FG vs. Maryland)
AP Poll: 5
Quad 1 record: 7-3
Purdue escaped a gauntlet of five games in 12 days with a 4-1 record, but it wasn’t always pretty. The Boilermakers looked like the best team in the Big Ten when it used a dominant second half to defeat Illinois by 16 points in West Lafayette. Jaden Ivey made his case for National Player of the Year, scoring 26 points and igniting Purdue’s run in the second half.
But the Purdue looked like a completely different team when it was outplayed for 40 minutes at Michigan in a 24-point loss. The Boilermakers were tired as Michigan outrebounded them by 10 and scored 22 combined points off turnovers and fast breaks. Luckily, Purdue was able to narrowly avoid disaster as it snuck away with one-point win at home against Maryland after trailing by double digits in the second half.
4) Illinois (18-6, 11-3)
Best win: 80-67 vs. No. 15 Wisconsin
Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland
Recent standout: R.J. Melendez (14 pts, 6 reb vs. Northwestern)
AP Poll: 12
Quad 1 record: 5-4
Illinois’ chances at a Big Ten title took a shot when the Illini squandered a two-point halftime lead at Purdue. The Illini were outscored by 18 points in the second half and had no answer for Jaden Ivey driving to the basket. Trent Frazier was held to two points and went down with a scary injury in the second half, but eventually returned to the game.
Illinois bounced back with an expected win over Northwestern, led by 19 points from both Kofi Cockburn and Alfonso Plummer. Again, Frazier wasn’t his normal self – shooting 2-for-7 from the field – but Illinois has benefitted from the recent emergence of R.J. Melendez who scored 22 combined points in the last two games off the bench. Illinois is still at the top of the Big Ten with just three conference losses, two of which have come against Purdue.
5) Ohio State (15-6, 8-4)
Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 9 Duke
Worst loss: 71-68 vs. Florida (neutral site)
Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (28 pts, 5 reb, 3 blk at Michigan)
AP Poll: 18
Quad 1 record: 4-5
Ohio State feels like the most overlooked team in the Big Ten this year, but it’s quietly starting to play better basketball. In one of the most back-and-forth games of the season, Ohio State lost by two points on the road against Rutgers. E.J. Liddell and breakout freshman Malaki Branham combined for 35 points, but Ohio State’s limited bench production and Rutgers’ 17 fast break points made the difference.
The Buckeyes finished their road trip with an 11-point victory at Michigan on Saturday behind 28 points from Liddell. Cedric Russell played a key role off the bench, scoring 12 points and playing a season-high 24 minutes. Ohio State has played fewer games than anyone in the Big Ten, but is still in the mix for the regular season title.
6) Michigan State (18-6, 9-4)
Best win: 86-74 at No. 15 Wisconsin
Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern
Recent standout: Malik Hall (18 pts, 6 reb vs. Indiana)
AP Poll: 19
Quad 1 record: 4-4
Tom Izzo was lost searching for the solution to contain Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis in an eight-point loss on Tuesday in East Lansing. Marcus Bingham Jr. and Malik Hall were the only Spartans in double digits, as the remaining four starters shot 8-for-26 from the field.
But Michigan State found its groove in a 15-point win over Indiana on Saturday, led by the backcourt duo of A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker and the versatility of Malik Hall. Hoggard and Walker combined for 29 points, while Hall was too quick for Indiana’s forwards to contain and too strong for smaller defenders in an 18-point effort. Don’t sleep on the deep and versatile Spartans in March.
7) Michigan (13-10, 7-6)
Best win: 82-58 vs. No. 5 Purdue
Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota
Recent standout: Hunter Dickinson (22 pts, 9 reb vs. Purdue)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 2-6
Michigan picked up its biggest win of the season when it blew out Purdue from start to finish in a 24-point win. Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks and Caleb Houstan combined to shoot 12-for-16 from 3, and all five Michigan starters finished with double digits. The Wolverines dominated the glass, but were perhaps most impressive in holding Purdue’s Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, Mason Gillis and Isaiah Thompson to eight combined points.
But after a quick Thursday-to-Saturday turnaround, Michigan put up a dud in an 11-point loss to Ohio State, scoring just 57 points. Despite hot shooting against Purdue, Michigan connected on just 4-of-17 attempts from 3 and couldn’t stop E.J. Liddell. Michigan has a solid chance at qualifying for the NCAA tournament, but consistency is a big issue in Ann Arbor.
8) Iowa (17-7, 7-6)
Best win: 83-74 vs. Indiana
Worst loss: 90-86 at Penn State (2OT)
Recent standout: Keegan Murray (37 pts, 6 reb vs. Nebraska)
AP Poll: 6th in receiving votes
Quad 1 record: 0-5
Iowa is one of the more confusing teams in the Big Ten. It took care of business in blowout wins over Maryland and Nebraska this week, combining for 208 points across both games. The Hawkeyes have now won seven of their last 10 games, but have any of the wins been that impressive?
During that run, Iowa has defeated Maryland (twice), Indiana, Minnesota (twice), Penn State, and Nebraska. According to NET rankings and KenPom efficiency numbers, Iowa’s 83-74 home win over Indiana is its best win of the season. The Hawkeyes are rising up the computer rankings, but they lack impressive wins needed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
9) Northwestern (12-11, 5-9)
Best win: 64-62 at No. 19 Michigan State
Worst loss: 94-87 vs. Maryland (2OT)
Recent standout: Boo Buie (18 pts vs. Indiana)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 1-9
Northwestern took advantage of a shorthanded Indiana squad to win what might have been the ugliest Big Ten game of the season. Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field and below 25 percent from 3, creating a matchup that no one deserved to watch.
The Wildcats then traveled to Illinois and outscored the Illini by seven points in the second half, but came up short. Boo Buie was 0-for-5 from 3, but Ty Berry stepped up to drill 4-of-6 long-range attempts. In the end, though, Kofi Cockburn was too much to handle inside. Northwestern has won three of its last four games, but still has close to no chance at making the NCAA Tournament.
10) Indiana (16-8, 7-7)
Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 5 Purdue
Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan
Recent standout: Race Thompson (13 pts, 14 reb at No. 19 Michigan State)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 2-5
Mike Woodson set the tone for how his program will be run when he suspended five players before Indiana’s crucial road trip to Northwestern, resulting in an eight-point loss on Tuesday. Trey Galloway tried to will the Hoosiers to victory with 13 points, but he fouled out with under three minutes left. In a game where Indiana needed its All-American most, Trayce Jackson-Davis was 4-for-13 from the field.
Indiana stayed on the road where it was within striking distance of Michigan State for most of the game but crumbled down the stretch. The Hoosiers have now lost a season-high three consecutive games as they inch closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble. A home game with Wisconsin on Tuesday is as ‘must-win’ as it gets.
11) Maryland (11-14, 3-11)
Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 12 Illinois
Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason
Recent standout: Fatts Russell (24 pts, 9 reb at Purdue)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 3-8
Maryland had one of the more confusing weeks of any team in the Big Ten. The Terrapins allowed 110 points on their home court to Iowa and simply looked uninterested in competing. Maryland still managed to shoot 14-for-26 from three, but allowed Iowa to connect on 19-of-34 3-point attempts.
One may have predicted Maryland to allow another 110 points when it traveled to Purdue, but the Terrapins were one shot away from pulling off the upset in a 62-61 loss. Maryland forced 15 turnovers and pushed the pace for 18 fast break points, but Jaden Ivey converted a clutch and-one to take the lead in the closing seconds. That’s now five straight losses for Maryland.
12) Nebraska (7-18, 1-13)
Best win: 78-65 vs. Minnesota
Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois
Recent standout: Alonzo Verge (22 pts, 4 ast vs. Minnesota)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 0-9
A big congratulations to Nebraska for winning its first Big Ten game of the season. Many said it couldn’t be done, but the Cornhuskers led from start to finish in a 13-point home win over Minnesota. Alonzo Verge Jr. poured in 22 points and was complemented by 16 points from potential Big Ten Freshman of the Year Bryce McGowens.
But the fun was over when Nebraska traveled to Iowa City and allowed 98 points in a 23-point loss. This time, Verge Jr. and McGowens combined for just 16 points as the Cornhuskers suffered from 15 turnovers. Nebraska could have a chance at another conference win when it hosts Maryland on Friday.
13) Minnesota (12-10, 3-10)
Best win: 75-65 at Michigan
Worst loss: 78-65 at Nebraska
Recent standout: Payton Willis (18 pts, 10 ast, 6 reb vs. Penn State)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 2-9
Minnesota fell victim to Nebraska’s first conference win in one of the most embarrassing Big Ten losses of the season. The Golden Gophers turned the ball over 17 times and allowed 21 fast break points in a game they never led.
Minnesota rebounded with a six-point home victory over Penn State thanks to balanced scoring throughout the starting lineup. Payton Willis totaled a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists, and the Gophers were led by 22 points from Eric Curry. Minnesota has lost nine of its last 11 games.
14) Penn State (9-12, 4-9)
Best win: 90-86 vs. Iowa (2OT)
Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass
Recent standout: Seth Lundy (16 pts, 4-5 3pt FG)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 2-8
Penn State lost to the team that lost to Nebraska, so the Nittany Lions earn the last spot in this week’s rankings. The week started with a one-point loss at home to Michigan thanks to 19 points and 15 rebounds from Hunter Dickinson.
The Nittany Lions then traveled to Minnesota – who was coming off a loss to Nebraska – and were outscored by six points in the final three minutes of the game. Despite shooting 53 percent from 3 and outrebounding Minnesota by 15, Penn State’s offensive execution down the stretch was atrocious.