The Big Ten title race is heating up as Illinois sits atop the conference with a 10-2 record, followed by four teams with just three conference losses. And potentially the most crucial Big Ten matchup of the season awaits on Tuesday when the Illini travel to West Lafayette, looking to avenge their double-overtime loss to the Boilermakers on Jan. 17.
Five Big Ten teams remained in this week’s top 25 with a slew of contenders looking to shore up their résumés as the NCAA Tournament quickly approaches. Here’s my perspective on the conference layout in this week’s Big Ten power rankings. (Stats through Feb. 6)
1) Illinois (17-5, 10-2)
Best win: 80-67 vs. No. 14 Wisconsin
Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland
Recent standout: Trent Frazier (23 pts at Indiana)
AP Poll: 13
Quad 1 record: 5-3
Kofi Cockburn made his case for Big Ten and National Player of the Year when he scored 37 points on 16-for-19 shooting with 12 rebounds in Illinois' 13-point win over Wisconsin. The Illini shot 50 percent from the free-throw line, but a 21-6 assist-to-turnover ratio powered them to a nine-point advantage in the second half.
Cockburn didn’t have the same monstrous game at Indiana, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds, but his defense on Trayce Jackson-Davis resulted in a 17-point road win for the Illini. Trent Frazier poured in 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and his veteran presence has Illinois on its hottest streak of the season. Illinois defeated two teams who have beaten Purdue in one week, but in order to keep the top spot in next week's rankings the Illini will have to win at Mackey Arena on Tuesday.
2) Purdue (20-3, 9-3)
Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 15 Villanova (neutral site)
Worst loss: 70-68 at Rutgers
Recent standout: Jaden Ivey (23 pts, 7 ast, 6 reb vs. Michigan)
AP Poll: 3
Quad 1 record: 6-2
Purdue played well enough to keep the top spot in my rankings, but Illinois had the more impressive week. The Boilermakers took care of business at Minnesota with four players racking up 14 or more points. In a game where both teams shot 50 percent from 3, it was Purdue’s 39-23 rebounding advantage that was the difference.
Michigan gave Purdue its best shot in West Lafayette, but Jaden Ivey’s five points in the final three minutes kept the Boilermakers on top. Purdue couldn’t stop Hunter Dickinson from scoring and Jaden Ivey was 0-for-6 from 3, but a 32-22 rebounding advantage led to Purdue’s conference-high 20th win of the season.
3) Wisconsin (18-4, 9-3)
Best win: 74-69 at No. 3 Purdue
Worst loss: 86-74 vs. No. 17 Michigan State
Recent standout: Steven Crowl (13 pts, 5 ast, 4 reb vs. Penn State)
AP Poll: 14
Quad 1 record: 7-4
Wisconsin allowed Kofi Cockburn to score on two of the first three possessions of the game, and he had no plans of stopping. The Badgers actually outrebounded Illinois, but shot just 12 percent from beyond the arc and gave up 37 points to Cockburn alone in a 13-point loss.
The Badgers returned to Madison in what turned out to be one of the most ugly games of the Big Ten season. After leading Penn State 18-13 at halftime, Wisconsin allowed 36 second-half points and eked away with a 51-49 win. It was by far Johnny Davis’ worst game of the season – scoring four points on 2-for-13 shooting – but he has to forget this performance as a critical road game at Michigan State awaits on Tuesday.
4) Ohio State (14-5, 7-3)
Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 7 Duke
Worst loss: 71-68 vs. Florida (neutral site)
Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (24 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast vs. Maryland)
AP Poll: 16
Quad 1 record: 3-5
Inclement weather postponed Ohio State's home matchup with Iowa, so the Buckeyes shifted their focus to Maryland. With a week of rest, Ohio State led comfortably throughout the game en route to a 15-point win that could have been larger.
Despite allowing 25 points and six rebounds to Maryland’s Donta Scott, Ohio State’s frontcourt of E.J. Liddell and Zed Key combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds. The Buckeyes impressed at every level on Sunday and are beginning to look like the team that beat Duke and Wisconsin earlier this season.
5) Michigan State (17-5, 8-3)
Best win: 86-74 at No. 14 Wisconsin
Worst loss: 84-63 at Rutgers
Recent standout: Malik Hall (16 pts, 4 reb at Maryland)
AP Poll: 17
Quad 1 record: 4-3
It looked like Michigan State had turned the corner when it won at Wisconsin on Jan. 21, but since then the Spartans are 2-2 and it could have been worse. Michigan State led by 15 points in the second half at Maryland, but allowed an 11-0 run was nearly enough for Maryland to pull off the upset.
After escaping with a 65-63 win over the Terrapins, Michigan State continued its road trip to Rutgers where a quick 5-0 start turned into a wire-to-wire win for Rutgers. Michigan State lost by 21 points in a game where it shot 45 percent from 3 and 100 percent from the line, but allowed Rutgers to score 19 points off turnovers and shoot 61 percent from the field. The Spartans still have a shot at the Big Ten title, but the Rutgers loss could be a long-term killer.
6) Indiana (16-6, 7-5)
Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 3 Purdue
Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan
Recent standout: Race Thompson (13 pts, 6 reb vs. Illinois)
AP Poll: 10th in receiving votes
Quad 1 record: 2-3
After a full week preparing to host Illinois, Indiana was off to an eerily similar start to its win over Purdue. Despite Trayce Jackson-Davis picking up two early fouls, the Hoosiers led by two points at halftime thanks to 14 combined first-half points from Parker Stewart and Tamar Bates.
But Indiana came out slow in the second half and Jackson-Davis was frustrated by Kofi Cockburn all afternoon. Trent Frazier and the Illini caught fire from deep, outscoring Indiana by 19 points in the second half. Indiana hasn’t played well for the full 40 minutes in many games this year and has a tough stretch ahead with road games against Northwestern and Michigan State before hosting Wisconsin on Feb. 15.
7) Iowa (15-7, 5-6)
Best win: 83-74 vs. Indiana
Worst loss: 90-86 at Penn State (2OT)
Recent standout: Keegan Murray (24 pts, 15 reb)
AP Poll: 11th in receiving votes
Quad 1 record: 1-5
Keegan Murray made an incredible effort to tip in Jordan Bohannon’s airball at the buzzer to force overtime, but the Hawkeyes suffered a crushing defeat on their home court in double overtime against Penn State. Iowa returned home and was trailing by four at halftime, but Murray and Patrick McCaffery found their stroke and led Iowa to a 12-point win over Minnesota.
With his father and head coach Fran McCaffery out with COVID-19, Patrick scored a season-high 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting. The Hawkeyes scored 21 points off nine Minnesota turnovers and pushed the pace in the second half to secure the win. As Iowa makes a push for the NCAA Tournament, it will face a favorable schedule that features only two ranked teams plus two games against Nebraska.
8) Rutgers (13-9, 7-5)
Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 3 Purdue
Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette
Recent standout: Paul Mulcahy (46 pts, 19 ast last two games)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 3-3
Rutgers stormed back from an 18-point halftime deficit at Northwestern only to lose by one point in overtime. Paul Mulcahy more than doubled his season-high scoring total when he shot 10-for-13, leading to 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Cliff Omoruyi and Ron Harper Jr. combined for 38 points and 13 rebounds, but the other eight Scarlet Knights who took the court mustered just nine total points.
Rutgers responded in a big way when it hosted Michigan State, leaving Jersey Mike’s Arena with a résumé-boosting 21-point win. Rutgers outrebounded Michigan State by 11, and six Scarlet Knights scored in double figures. Two terrible losses to Lafayette and UMass limit Rutgers’ ceiling, but an NCAA Tournament bid is still very possible.
9) Michigan (11-9, 5-5)
Best win: 80-62 at Indiana
Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota
Recent standout: Hunter Dickinson (54 pts last two games)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 1-5
Nebraska's Bryce McGowens shredded the Michigan defense for 24 points, but the veteran Wolverines Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks and DeVanté Jones took control of the game. Despite trailing by seven points at halftime and connecting on two 3-point attempts all game, Michigan dominated the glass in its 85-79 victory over Nebraska.
But the Wolverines couldn’t ride the momentum of four wins in five games when they arrived at Mackey Arena. Michigan was within striking distance all afternoon, but allowed 16 points off turnovers as Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams protected their home court with 42 combined points. Time is running out, but six games against ranked opponents represent a chance for Michigan to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
10) Penn State (9-10, 4-7)
Best win: 61-58 vs. Indiana
Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass
Recent standout: John Harrar (21 pts, 19 reb last two games)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 2-8
Penn State was a couple rebounds shy of five players totaling a double-double in its 90-86 win in double overtime at Iowa. The Nittany Lions outrebounded Iowa by 10, leading to their highest-scoring game of the season.
But quite the opposite was true when Penn State scored 13 points in the first half at Wisconsin, laying bricks throughout Madison all afternoon. The Nittany Lions came back and nearly stole one of the biggest upsets of the season, but Tyler Wahl’s late bucket meant a 51-49 Wisconsin victory. Penn State has won back-to-back games just twice this season.
11) Northwestern (11-10, 4-8)
Best win: 64-62 at No. 17 Michigan State
Worst loss: 94-87 vs. Maryland (2OT)
Recent standout: Boo Buie (27 pts, 6-11 3-pt FG)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 1-8
Northwestern squandered an 18-point lead at halftime in a must-win game against Rutgers, but escaped with a one-point victory in overtime thanks to clutch free-throw shooting from Boo Buie. Four Wildcats scored in double figures with Buie leading the way with 18.
Buie stayed hot when Northwestern traveled to Nebraska, scoring a season-high 27 points in the Wildcats’ blowout victory. After four consecutive losses, Northwestern rebounded this week to win two games in a row for the first time since wins over NJIT and Illinois-Springfield in December.
12) Maryland (11-12, 3-9)
Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 13 Illinois
Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason
Recent standout: Donta Scott (25 pts, 6 reb at Ohio State)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 3-6
Maryland overcame a 10-point halftime deficit only to lose by two points against Michigan State. The Terrapins are 12th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting, and their long-range struggles continued on Tuesday when they shot 23 percent.
Maryland scored the first points of the game at Ohio State, but trailed the remaining 38 in a 15-point loss to the Buckeyes. Donta Scott impressed with 25 points, but couldn’t contain E.J. Liddell and Zed Key, who combined for 38 points and 18 rebounds.
13) Minnesota (11-9, 2-9)
Best win: 81-76 at Mississippi State
Worst loss: 81-71 vs. Iowa
Recent standout: Luke Loewe (19 pts, 4-5 3-pt FG)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 2-9
Minnesota lost its third and fourth consecutive games this week when it was uncompetitive at home against Purdue and on the road at Iowa. The Golden Gophers played Purdue even in the second half, but dug themselves at 15-point hole before halftime.
Luke Loewe tied his season-high points with 19 at Iowa, but turnovers made Minnesota crumble down the stretch. All of Minnesota’s losses have come against quadrant one opponents this season, which has to be frustrating for Minnesota fans. With just two games against ranked teams left, the Golden Gophers should end Ben Johnson’s first season as head coach on a high note.
14) Nebraska (6-17, 0-12)
Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston State
Worst loss: 87-63 vs. Northwestern
Recent standout: Bryce McGowens (34 pts, 9 reb last two games)
AP Poll: Unranked
Quad 1 record: 0-8
Nebraska has had a couple opportunities at its first conference win over the last few weeks, and that was true when it traveled to Michigan. Bryce McGowens’ 24-points had Nebraska leading at halftime, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t keep Michigan off the glass in the second half.
If Nebraska doesn’t beat either Minnesota or Maryland at home over the next two weeks, it will likely be an 0-20 season for Nebraska in conference play. Fred Hoiberg had plenty of postseason success at Iowa State, but just being competitive on a nightly basis has been rare for his teams at Nebraska.