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Big Ten power rankings: Purdue ends Rutgers' hot streak, Sparty loses four of five

This week in the Big Ten started with a surprise as Penn State knocked off Michigan State in Happy Valley to ignite the Spartans’ skid of four losses in their past five games. On the same night, Johnny Davis proved his frontrunner status for Big Ten Player of the Year with 30 points in a come-from-behind win for Wisconsin at Assembly Hall.

Three weeks from now we’ll have a full NCAA Tournament bracket to dissect, but the Big Ten title race is still far from over. And as teams battle to finish on the right side of the bubble, here’s my perspective on the Big Ten in this week’s power rankings. (Stats through Feb. 20)

1) Wisconsin (21-5, 12-4)

Best win: 74-69 at No. 4 Purdue

Worst loss: 73-65 vs. Rutgers

Recent standout: Johnny Davis (55 pts last two games)

AP Poll: 13

NET: 20

KenPom: 25 

SOS: 12

Quad 1 record: 7-4

After a home loss to Rutgers last week, Wisconsin picked up a pair of solid wins to stay neck and neck with Purdue and Illinois for the Big Ten title. Despite trailing for most of the second half at Indiana, Wisconsin stuck with the game plan that no team has been able to stop – give the ball to Johnny Davis.

Davis hit tough shot after tough shot on his way to a 30-point, 12-rebound night at Assembly Hall. The Badgers handled business in Madison with a 14-point win over Michigan behind 25 points from Davis, who would be my pick for Big Ten Player of the Year if the season ended today. Wisconsin's 13 wins over quadrant one and two opponents is the most of any Big Ten team. 

2) Purdue (24-4, 13-4)

Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 8 Villanova (neutral site)

Worst loss: 82-58 at Michigan

Recent standout: Jaden Ivey (25 pts vs. Rutgers)

AP Poll: 4

NET: 9

KenPom: 13

SOS: 33

Quad 1 record: 7-3

Purdue staved off a late comeback at Northwestern on Thursday thanks to a balanced attack of six players scoring seven or more points. The Boilermakers avenged Ron Harper Jr.'s game-winning buzzer beater from Dec. 9 when Rutgers arrived in West Lafayette for a 12-point loss. Jaden Ivey led the way with 25 points and one of the most electrifying dunks of the Big Ten season.

Purdue is clinging to a half-game lead over Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten, but let's not forget that Wisconsin won at Mackey Arena in the teams' only matchup so far this season. The Boilermakers will get their shot at revenge on March 1 in Madison, which is shaping up to be the most important Big Ten game of the season.

3) Illinois (19-7, 12-4)

Best win: 80-67 vs. No. 13 Wisconsin

Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland

Recent standout: Kofi Cockburn (27 pts, 9 reb at Michigan State)

AP Poll: 15

NET: 14

KenPom: 15

SOS: 20

Quad 1 record: 5-4

Illinois’ offense was stifled by an incredible defensive performance from Rutgers at Jersey Mike’s Arena. Big man Kofi Cockburn still managed 20 points and 10 rebounds, but starters Alfonso Plummer, Jacob Grandison and Damonte Williams combined for just nine points in a 70-59 loss.

The Illini returned to their winning ways on Saturday thanks to a contested 3-point dagger from Trent Frazier in the final minute. And after a rough game against Rutgers, Grandison played his best game of the season, totaling 24 points, five assists and five rebounds. Illinois beat Wisconsin on Feb. 2, but two losses to Purdue could hurt its chances at a Big Ten title.  

4) Rutgers (16-10, 10-6)

Best win: 73-65 at No. 13 Wisconsin

Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette

Recent standout: Cliff Omoruyi (15 pts, 13 reb vs. No. 15 Illinois)

AP Poll: 2nd in receiving votes

NET: 80

KenPom: 73

SOS: 35

Quad 1 record: 6-3

Rutgers won its fourth consecutive game over a top-25 opponent when it manhandled Illinois in a 70-59 win. The Scarlet Knights locked in on defense to hold Illinois to 24 first half points in a game where the Illini guards struggled to find any open looks. Rutgers' run of defeating Michigan State, No. 22 Ohio State, No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 15 Illinois has to be the most impressive four-game streak in the Big Ten this season.

But that run was put to rest when Rutgers traveled to Mackey Arena to face a Purdue team hungry for revenge. Caleb McConnell and Paul Mulcahy dealt with foul trouble all game, and Rutgers hit just 5-of-15 3-point attempts. It was an 84-72 loss to No. 4 Purdue, but one that doesn't discourage Rutgers' NCAA tournament hopes as much as its ugly early-season losses.

5) Iowa (18-8, 8-7)

Best win: 75-62 at No. 22 Ohio State 

Worst loss: 90-86 at Penn State (2OT)

Recent standout: Keegan Murray (24 pts, 5 reb at No. 22 Ohio State)

AP Poll: 25

NET: 19

KenPom: 16

SOS: 47

Quad 1 record: 1-5

Iowa’s three-game win streak was snapped when it crumbled in the second half at home against Michigan on Thursday. Despite leading at halftime, Iowa allowed an 18-7 run in the opening 12 minutes of the second half and couldn’t contain Moussa Diabate, who scored a career-high 28 points. 

But the Hawkeyes responded to adversity in a big way when they picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday – a 13-point win at No. 22 Ohio State. Iowa’s defense played tough on the perimeter, forcing Ohio State to shoot 2-for-11 from 3, and Keegan Murray was his usual self, scoring 24 points and snatching five rebounds. 

6) Ohio State (16-7, 9-5)

Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 7 Duke

Worst loss: 75-62 vs. Iowa

Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (16 pts, 10 reb vs. Minnesota)

AP Poll: 22

NET: 18

KenPom: 22

SOS: 24

Quad 1 record: 4-6

Ohio State made quick work on Minnesota in a 70-45 home victory on Tuesday. Five Buckeyes scored at least nine points, and E.J. Liddell led the way with his sixth double-double of the season. But perhaps this win let Ohio State get too comfortable as the Buckeyes allowed an 11-point lead to slip away at home, leading to a 13-point loss to Iowa.

Ohio State made just two 3-point shots on Saturday in a loss that could have eliminated the Buckeyes from the Big Ten title race. Ohio State's last win over a team projected to make the NCAA tournament came on Dec. 11 against No. 13 Wisconsin. 

7) Michigan State (18-8, 9-6)

Best win: 86-74 at No. 13 Wisconsin

Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern

Recent standout: Tyson Walker (26 pts, 5 ast vs. No. 15 Illinois)

AP Poll: 1st in receiving votes

NET: 28

KenPom: 27

SOS: 26

Quad 1 record: 3-5

Michigan State played one of its worst offensive games of the season on Tuesday in a 62-58 loss at Penn State as Gabe Brown and Max Christie combined to shoot 1-for-9 from 3. The Spartans’ struggles continued on Saturday as a 12-point halftime deficit against Illinois was too much to overcome despite a late comeback. 

Tom Izzo-coached teams tend to hit their stride right before the NCAA Tournament, but things are trending in the opposite direction for the Spartans right now. Michigan State has now lost four of its past five games and still has to play on the road at No. 25 Iowa, Michigan and No. 22 Ohio State and also host No. 4 Purdue. 

8) Michigan (14-11, 8-7)

Best win: 82-58 vs. No. 4 Purdue

Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota

Recent standout: Moussa Diabate (28 pts, 8 reb at Iowa)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 34

KenPom: 32

SOS: 4

Quad 1 record: 3-7

Michigan’s NCAA Tournament hopes were boosted early in the week when it won on the road against Iowa. Moussa Diabate poured in a career-high 28 points to give Michigan its fourth road win in conference play. 

But any positivity surrounding the Wolverines was marred on Sunday as Juwan Howard struck a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head during the postgame handshake line following Michigan’s 14-point loss at Wisconsin. Howard might receive a multi-game suspension for his actions, which Michigan cannot afford as it makes one final push for an NCAA Tournament bid. 

9) Indiana (16-9, 7-8)

Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 4 Purdue

Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan

Recent standout: Trayce Jackson-Davis (30 pts, 8 reb, 6 ast vs. No. 13 Wisconsin)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 43

KenPom: 45

SOS: 49

Quad 1 record: 2-5

Indiana’s offensive struggles in the closing minutes continued on Tuesday as the Hoosiers blew a five-point lead in the final four minutes against Wisconsin. Indiana looked lost as its offense fell stagnant and its defense had no answer for Johnny Davis’ 30 points. Trayce Jackson-Davis played one of his best games of the season with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but Xavier Johnson connected on just three of 16 attempts. 

Indiana has now lost four games in a row and is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, a feeling that has become far too familiar for Indiana over the past five seasons. Five games left in the regular season show there’s still time for Indiana to stop its February collapse, but the Hoosiers have to find a way to execute down the stretch. 

10) Penn State (11-12, 6-9)

Best win: 62-58 vs. Michigan State

Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass

Recent standout: John Harrar (26 pts, 26 reb last two games)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 83

KenPom: 81

SOS: 19

Quad 1 record: 2-8

Micah Shrewsberry picked up his first signature win as the head coach of Penn State in a 62-58 win over Michigan State on Tuesday. The Nittany Lions trailed by 11 points with 15 minutes left in the second half, but Seth Lundy and John Harrar wouldn’t let Penn State give up.

Lundy and Harrar combined for 33 points and 21 rebounds and led a defensive effort that allowed just one Michigan State starter to score double digits. The Nittany Lions stayed hot in their 21-point win over Minnesota behind another double-double from Harrar. 

11) Maryland (12-14, 4-11)

Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 15 Illinois

Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason

Recent standout: Fatts Russell (23 pts, 5 reb at Nebraska)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 95

KenPom: 89

SOS: 25

Quad 1 record: 2-8

Maryland picked up a 16-point win at Nebraska in its only game of the week. Six Terrapins finished in double digits as Fatts Russell led the way with 23 points. Eric Ayala returned to the lineup after missing Maryland’s road trip to Purdue but scored just three points.

Maryland has no chance of making the NCAA Tournament at this point of the season, but the recent strong play of freshman Julian Reese (19 pts in past two games) and sophomore Ian Martinez (26 pts in past three games) provides some potential hope for the future. 

12) Minnesota (13-12, 4-12)

Best win: 75-65 at Michigan

Worst loss: 78-65 at Nebraska

Recent standout: Jamison Battle (21 pts, 14 reb, 5 ast vs. Northwestern)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 101

KenPom: 104

SOS: 22

Quad 1 record: 2-10

Minnesota played three games in five days this week and came away with a 1-2 record. The Golden Gophers led Ohio State by two points at halftime, but were outscored 47-20 in the second half. 

Minnesota continued its road trip on Thursday but was held below 50 points for a second consecutive game in a 21-point loss to Penn State. And if it’s any consolation, the Golden Gophers ended their week with a 77-60 home win over Northwestern behind 24 points from Luke Loewe and 21 points, 14 rebounds and five assists from Jamison Battle. 

13) Northwestern (12-13, 5-11)

Best win: 64-62 at Michigan State

Worst loss: 77-60 at Minnesota

Recent standout: Pete Nance (18 pts at Minnesota)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 76

KenPom: 68

SOS: 23

Quad 1 record: 1-10

Northwestern hung with Purdue for the majority of the game on Thursday, but came up short in a 70-64 loss in Evanston. The Wildcats struggled to contain Zach Edey down low and were outrebounded by 11 in the loss. 

Northwestern then traveled to Minnesota where it lost by 17 points despite 34 combined points from Pete Nance and Boo Buie. Northwestern will miss the tournament yet again and any hype around Chris Collins is lost. 

14) Nebraska (7-19, 1-14)

Best win: 78-65 vs. Minnesota

Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois

Recent standout: Bryce McGowens (25 pts vs. Maryland)

AP Poll: Unranked

NET: 187

KenPom: 184

SOS: 34

Quad 1 record: 0-9

After picking up its first conference win of the season against Minnesota last week, Nebraska lost back-to-back games by double digits. In its only game of the week, Nebraska lost by 16 points on its home court to Maryland.

With four road games left on its schedule, it’s looking like Nebraska will finish conference play with one win. 

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