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Big Ten power rankings: Purdue edges Ohio State, Michigan State for top spot despite loss at buzzer to Rutgers

The story of the week in the Big Ten was Ron Harper Jr.’s half-court buzzer beater to take down Purdue, which had just claimed its first No. 1 ranking in school history. But this upset wasn’t the only intriguing storyline as Minnesota claimed a double-digit win at Michigan, and E.J. Liddell made his case for Big Ten Player of the Year in an 18-point win over Wisconsin. 

After the opening weeks of conference play, here’s how I see things shake out in the Big Ten in this week’s power rankings. (Stats per, CBS Sports and through Dec. 12)

1) Purdue (9-1, 1-1)

Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 9 Villanova (neutral site)

Worst loss: 70-68 at Rutgers

Recent standout: Trevion Williams (22 pts, 12 reb, 9 ast vs. NC State)

AP poll: 3

NET: 6

KenPom: 4

SOS: 127

Quad 1 record: 2-0

Purdue’s past three games -- Iowa, Rutgers and NC State -- have all come down to the wire, but great teams find a way to win. Ron Harper Jr. handed Purdue its first loss of the season with a buzzer beater from half court, and the Boilermakers overcame a double-digit second half deficit against NC State in Brooklyn to avoid back-to-back losses as the No. 1 team in the nation. Head coach Matt Painter said on Sunday that Purdue has great depth, but figuring out the right rotations has been a challenge lately. 

2) Ohio State (8-2, 2-0)

Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 2 Duke

Worst loss: 71-65 at Xavier

Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (28 pts, 9 reb, 4 ast vs. Wisconsin)

AP poll: 15

NET: 20

KenPom: 15

SOS: 19

Quad 1 record: 3-1

I strongly considered Ohio State for the top spot in this week’s power rankings after it dominated Wisconsin. It’s hard to find someone off to a better start in all of college basketball than E.J. Liddell (20.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3 bpg), who scored all over the floor against Wisconsin. It’s important to note Ohio State is playing without Justice Sueing, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 31 starts last season.

3) Michigan State (9-2, 2-0)

Best win: 64-60 vs. No. 20 UConn (neutral site)

Worst loss: 87-74 vs. No. 7 Kansas (neutral site)

Recent standout: Marcus Bingham Jr. (12 pts, 13 reb vs. Penn State)

AP poll: 12

NET: 13

KenPom: 18

SOS: 5

Quad 1 record: 3-2

Michigan State looks different than past Izzo squads, but don’t let that diminish just how good the 2021 Spartans can be. Seven players scored at least seven points against Penn State, and while there’s been no singular leading force, Michigan State can beat teams in a variety of ways. Marcus Bingham Jr. is second in the Big Ten in blocks, Tyson Walker leads the conference in assists and the Spartans are third in 3-point percentage. 

4) Wisconsin (8-2, 1-1)

Best win: 65-63 vs. No. 14 Houston (neutral site)

Worst loss: 63-58 vs. Providence

Recent standout: Johnny Davis (23 pts vs. Indiana, 24 pts vs. Ohio State)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 26

KenPom: 29

SOS: 21

Quad 1 record: 2-1

Wisconsin overcame a 22-point deficit at home against Indiana to win its Big Ten opener. Johnny Davis (20.9 ppg) is making his case to be an All-American and completes a strong backcourt with Brad Davison (14.8 ppg). But the big question for the Badgers is whether their frontcourt can hold up against the Big Ten’s best, and if Tyler Wahl, Steven Crowl or Chucky Hepburn can emerge as a consistent third scoring option. 

5) Illinois (7-3, 2-0)

Best win: 87-83 at Iowa

Worst loss: 71-51 vs. Cincinnati, (neutral site)

Recent standout: Trent Frazier (18 pts, 8 reb at Iowa, 27 pts vs. Arizona)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 32

KenPom: 19

SOS: 46

Quad 1 record: 1-3

Illinois came just short in picking up a résumé-boosting win at home against No. 11 Arizona, losing by four points. The trio of Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer and Kofi Cockburn balances perimeter defense, 3-point shooting and dominant paint play as well as any team in the conference, but depth is an issue -- only four players scored against Arizona. Illinois is still playing without Andre Curbelo, who could give the Illini a major boost when Big Ten play is in full swing.

6) Indiana (8-2, 1-1)

Best win: 76-74 vs. St. John’s

Worst loss: 64-59 at Wisconsin

Recent standout: Race Thompson (12 pts, 9 reb at Wisconsin, 14 pts, 7 reb vs. Merrimack)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 43

KenPom: 26

SOS: 285

Quad 1 record: 0-1

Indiana was equally impressive in gaining a 17-point halftime lead as it was terrible in blowing that lead in the second half at Wisconsin. The Hoosiers had every chance of winning road games against Syracuse and Wisconsin, but an inability to close out games has kept Indiana from reaching its full potential. Through 10 games, Indiana is third in the Big Ten in offensive field goal percentage at 48.3, and opponents are shooting a league-worst 35.4 percent from the field against Indiana.  

7) Minnesota (8-1, 1-1)

Best win: 75-65 at Michigan

Worst loss: 75-67 vs. No. 12 Michigan State

Recent standout: Jamison Battle (27 pts, 7 reb at Michigan)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 35

KenPom: 69

SOS: 94

Quad 1 record: 2-1

The biggest criticism of last week’s rankings was Minnesota above Michigan, but the Golden Gophers proved their worth with a 10-point win in Ann Arbor. Minnesota dropped a home contest with Michigan State earlier in the week, but Jamison Battle (18.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) looks like one of the best transfers in the Big Ten. First-year head coach Ben Johnson and the Golden Gophers are the surprise team of the Big Ten so far. 

8) Rutgers (5-5, 1-1)

Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 3 Purdue

Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette

Recent standout: Ron Harper Jr. (Game-winning buzzer beater vs. Purdue)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 162

KenPom: 100

SOS: 27

Quad 1 record: 1-3

I owe Rutgers an apology after ranking them No. 14 last week. After losing four out of five games, the Scarlet Knights rallied to take down the former No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers without starting point guard Geo Baker. Rutgers followed that up with a 14-point loss at No. 16 Seton Hall, which kept them from skyrocketing up the rankings. It may have taken some time -- and a few terrible losses that could haunt Rutgers on Selection Sunday -- but head coach Steve Pikiell is starting to make things click. 

9) Iowa (7-3, 0-2)

Best win: 75-74 at Virginia 

Worst loss: 73-53 at No. 11 Iowa State

Recent standout: Keegan Murray (19 pts vs. Illinois)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 33

KenPom: 30

SOS: 77

Quad 1 record: 0-2

After a 7-0 start, Iowa dropped three consecutive games to No. 3 Purdue, Illinois and No. 11 Iowa State. Keegan Murray (22.2 ppg) was held to single-digit scoring for the first time all season against Iowa State. With the departure of Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, the Hawkeyes are struggling to contend in the paint. Iowa is in the bottom four in both offensive and defensive rebounding among Big Ten teams. 

10) Michigan (6-4, 1-1)

Best win: 72-58 vs. San Diego State

Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota 

Recent standout: Hunter Dickinson (15 pts, 12 reb vs. Nebraska, 19 pts, 10 reb vs. Minnesota)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 50

KenPom: 20

SOS: 43

Quad 1 record: 0-3

Michigan routed Nebraska by 35 points on the road, but couldn’t defend its home court in a 10-point loss to Minnesota. The Wolverines are shooting 33 percent from 3, which is good for ninth in the Big Ten. Michigan brought in the Big Ten’s top recruiting class to complement Hunter Dickinson, but 13.5 turnovers per game is slowing the Wolverines down. There’s plenty of time for head coach Juwan Howard to turn things around, but Michigan has been the Big Ten’s biggest disappointment this season. 

11) Northwestern (7-2, 1-0)

Best win: 67-61 at Maryland

Worst loss: 77-72 at Providence

Recent standout: Chase Audige (14 pts vs. Maryland, 11 pts, 6 reb vs. NJIT)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 42

KenPom: 38

SOS: 213

Quad 1 record: 0-2

Northwestern only played one game this week -- a 70-52 home win over NJIT -- so there’s not much recent evaluation to go from. The Wildcats are second in turnover margin and third in points per game in the Big Ten. Northwestern got a boost when Chase Audige returned from injury last week. 

12) Maryland (6-4, 0-1)

Best win: 70-68 vs. Florida 

Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason

Recent standout: Fatts Russell (11 pts, 5 ast, 4 reb vs. Northwestern, 19 pts vs. Florida)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 137

KenPom: 52

SOS: 227

Quad 1 record: 0-0

After losing three straight games, Maryland picked up a crucial win over Florida on Dec. 12 thanks to 19 points from both Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala. Maryland has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament, but with multiple transfers and an interim head coach, it could take some time for the Terrapins to find their identity. 

13) Penn State (5-5, 0-2)

Best win: 60-45 vs. Oregon State (neutral site)

Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass

Recent standout: Seth Lundy (10 pts, 6 reb vs. Wagner, 18 pts, 7 reb vs. Michigan State)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 113

KenPom: 84

SOS: 38

Quad 1 record: 0-3

After a 20-point win over Wagner, Penn State lost by 16 points at Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have four scorers averaging double digits, but none higher than Seth Lundy at 14.7 points per game. Illinois is the only team with lower turnover margin than Penn State’s -3.6 rate per game, and shooting just 33 percent from 3 puts Penn State 13th in points per game in the Big Ten. 

14) Nebraska (5-6, 0-2)

Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston

Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois

Recent standout: Derrick Walker (10 pts, 10 reb, 4 ast vs. Auburn)

AP poll: Unranked

NET: 221

KenPom: 128

SOS: 142

Quad 1 record: 0-2

Nebraska has lost four consecutive games and the two most recent -- at home against Michigan and at a neutral site versus No. 13 Auburn -- were by over 30 points. Bryce McGowens (16.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) looks like one of the Big Ten’s best freshman, but year three under Fred Hoiberg doesn’t appear any more promising than the first two. 

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