What a week in the Big Ten. Last week I felt like there was some clarity starting to form, but this week took all of that clarity away. Illinois got its first conference win over IU, while the Hoosiers went 1-2 in an important week for them. Amidst all the allegations and issues in East Lansing, the Spartans are playing great basketball. The Buckeyes suffered their first loss in conference play off an incredible shot from Tony Carr. And of course, Purdue is still rolling.
Here is how I see the Big Ten stacking up right now…
T11. Illinois (11-11, 1-8)
Last Week: 87-74 LOSS vs Michigan State; 73-71 WIN vs Indiana
It was bound to happen. This Illinois team, while heavily overwhelmed by the talent of other teams in the Big Ten, fights hard and competes to the very end. They were finally able to get a conference win Wednesday over Indiana. Freshman guard Trent Frazier and junior forward Leron Black are solid players and Brad Underwood has a team that never quits. None of these four teams at the bottom of the conference deserve to be above or below each other, so that’s why they’re all tied for 11th.
Previous Ranking: 14
T11. Iowa (11-12, 2-8)
Last Week: 85-67 WIN vs Wisconsin; 98-84 LOSS at Nebraska
Iowa doesn’t make any sense to me. I think they have talent to win games, you saw that against Wisconsin (although the Badgers are not themselves this year). However, they just can’t win the big games or beat anyone that they shouldn’t. Again, all these bottom four teams have beaten up on each other so they are all at tied.
Previous Ranking: 13
T11. Rutgers (12-11, 2-8)
Last Week: 60-54 LOSS vs Nebraska; 60-43 LOSS at Penn State
Really tough loss for Rutgers against Nebraska. Neither team could make a shot for a good portion of that game, but Nebraska, the team in line for a tournament berth, ended up prevailing. But I’ve said it every week when I talk about Rutgers in this, they are moving in the right direction. Corey Sanders is helping the Scarlett Knights lay a foundation to build off of in the coming years.
Previous Ranking: 12
T11. Wisconsin (10-12, 3-6)
Last Week: 85-67 LOSS at Iowa; 76-61 LOSS at Michigan State
This has been one of the most disappointing Wisconsin teams in probably 20 years, considering they’ve been in the top four of the Big Ten for the last 17 seasons. They have Ethan Happ and he has no help, it’s as simple as that. Injuries and lack of talent have killed this team, and this wasn’t a fun week to be a Badger fan, being blown out twice, once by one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.
Previous Ranking: 11
10. Minnesota (14-9, 3-7)
Last Week: 77-69 LOSS vs Northwestern
It’s been a disappointing year for Minnesota fans. The expectations were high after last year’s surprising season and returning basically everyone. However, the losing Amir Coffey for a portion of the season due to injury and being without Reggie Lynch because of off the court issues, have killed this team more than we could have imagined. While they were struggling before the losses, they’ve gotten worse since, capped off this week by a loss to a struggling Northwestern team.
Previous Ranking: 10
9. Northwestern (13-9, 4-5)
Last Week: 77-69 WIN at Minnesota
We continue on the “most disappointing teams” list with Northwestern. Another team with high expectations and with everyone returning that has just fallen flat on its face. Senior guard Bryant McIntosh has been hurt at times, but that hasn’t been enough to mask the poor play all-around from this Northwestern team. Unless they have something special stored up for February, Northwestern will begin a new tournament drought this year.
Previous Ranking: 9
T6. Penn State (15-8, 5-5)
Last Week: 82-79 WIN at Ohio State; 60-43 WIN vs Rutgers
We are now to the group tied at sixth place, another group that I don’t feel can be separated. All three of these teams have competed with the best teams in the conference, including the Penn State win over Ohio State. I think Penn State has the best chance to make the tournament, especially with a big road win in Columbus this week. It won’t be easy though, with road games at Michigan State, Purdue and Nebraska and home games against Ohio State and Michigan.
Previous Ranking: 8
T6. Maryland (15-8, 4-6)
Last Week: 71-68 LOSS at Indiana; 74-68 LOSS vs Michigan State
This was a tough week for Maryland. They could have made some big strides toward a tournament berth with a good road win or a big upset at home. They competed well in both, but ultimately fell short twice. They still have RPI opportunities at Purdue, Nebraska and Penn State and a home game against Michigan. So all is not lost yet for the Terrapins, but they will need some February magic.
Previous Ranking: 7
T6. Indiana (12-10, 5-5)
Last Week: 71-68 WIN vs Maryland; 73-71 LOSS at Illinois; 74-67 LOSS vs Purdue
Really disappointing week for the Hoosiers. Most people thought they would go 2-1 with a loss to Purdue. The Maryland game was a big win for IU, but the letdown in Champaign was shocking and falling short vs Purdue was heartbreaking. The loss at Illinois was IU’s fourth RPI 137+ loss this season, and could have been the nail in the coffin for the NCAA tournament. However, they have beaten both Maryland and Penn State this year, so I kept them tied at sixth.
Previous Ranking: 6
5. Nebraska (16-8, 7-4)
Last Week: 64-59 LOSS at Ohio State; 60-54 WIN at Rutgers; 98-84 WIN vs Iowa
I like Nebraska. They played tough in Columbus, but showed at Rutgers that they could win ugly. That’s important for a potential NCAA tournament team. They can also score, as they showed against Iowa. James Palmer Jr. had another huge week for the Cornhuskers and could lead Nebraska to the tournament. Nebraska only has one game this week, at Wisconsin. They also don’t have any of the top teams left finishing with Wisconsin, Minnesota, Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana and Penn State. Realistic chance to go undefeated or at least just one loss the remainder of the season for Nebraska.
Previous Ranking: 5
4. Michigan (17-6, 6-4)
Last Week: 92-88 LOSS at Purdue
This week actually increased my opinion on Michigan. They were neck and neck with Purdue each step of the way and shot lights out on the road. They scored 88 and lost. While the defense probably needs some work, I wouldn’t bet against John Beilein teams in February and March. Jordan Poole's sharp shooting off the bench is such a hidden weapon that most people don’t account for.
Previous Ranking: 4
3. Michigan State (20-3, 8-2)
Last Week: 87-74 WIN at Illinois; 76-61 WIN vs Wisconsin; 74-68 WIN at Maryland
It hasn’t been a good week for Michigan State, plain and simple. However, the basketball team did play well, taking care of the mediocre opponents sent their way this week with two road wins. They are starting to look more like the No. 1 ranked team we saw earlier this season. Let's hope all the controversy surrounding Tom Izzo, the program and the university off the court doesn't effect the team’s performance on the court.
Previous Ranking: 3
2. Ohio State (18-5, 9-1)
Last Week: 64-59 WIN vs Nebraska; 82-79 LOSS vs Penn State
Yes, they lost to Penn State at home. Yes, they now have a blemish on their once perfect Big Ten record. However, they don’t move in my rankings. I’m not going to move them down just because of one loss and I don’t like all the uncertainty going on in East Lansing right now. Keita Bates-Diop is still clutch and they lost because Tony Carr banked in a half-court shot at the buzzer. They are still good and that game at Purdue in a week is still a must watch.
Previous Ranking: 2
1. Purdue (21-2, 10-0)
Last Week: 92-88 WIN vs Michigan; 74-67 WIN at Indiana
Purdue proved yet again this week they are heads and toes above everyone else in the Big Ten. Yes, both games were close, but they won. They proved they can face adversity, both at home and on the road, and still find a way to win. This is one of the most talented Purdue teams they’ve ever had in West Lafayette. They can shoot the long ball, and they can dominate teams inside with Haas and Haarms. Their reputation in March is still cause for some doubt until they can prove they truly can win big games in March.
Previous Ranking: 1