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Big Ten power rankings: Wisconsin clings to top spot after Michigan State takes down Purdue

The top six teams in the AP poll each lost on Saturday, signaling that the unpredictability of college basketball is alive and well. And after No. 8 Purdue lost at Michigan State, Wisconsin took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Selection Sunday is two weeks away, and there are plenty of Big Ten teams vying for tournament eligibility and seeding. Here’s how I see the conference layout in this week’s power rankings. (Stats through Feb. 27).

1) Wisconsin (23-5, 14-4)

Best win: 74-69 at No. 8 Purdue

Worst loss: 73-65 vs. Rutgers

Recent standout: Johnny Davis (19 pts, 8 reb at Rutgers)

AP Poll:

NET: 21

KenPom: 27

SOS: 15

Quad 1 record: 7-3

NCAA Tournament outlook: 3 seed (Bracket Matrix)

The Badgers snuck away with a one-point win at Minnesota in a game where Johnny Davis shot an uncharacteristic 3-for-9. Steven Crowl was one point away from his season-high of 21 points, and Wisconsin won the rebounding battle 38-19.

Wisconsin concluded its road trip by avenging its previous loss to Rutgers with a five-point win at Jersey Mike’s Arena behind a balanced effort featuring four double-digit scorers. With four consecutive wins and a little help from Michigan State and No. 23 Ohio State, Wisconsin is now alone at the top of the Big Ten Standings. 

2) Purdue (24-5, 13-5)

Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 11 Villanova (neutral site)

Worst loss: 82-58 at Michigan

Recent standout: Zach Edey (career-high 25 pts at Michigan State)

AP Poll:

NET: 12

KenPom: 13

SOS: 35

Quad 1 record: 7-4

NCAA Tournament outlook: 2 seed (Bracket Matrix)

Purdue’s only game of the week produced one of the Big Ten’s most exciting finishes, but the Boilermakers left East Lansing with their second loss in five games. Trevion Williams tied the game with 30 seconds to go, but Tyson Walker buried a step-back 3 in Williams’ face to win the game. 

Purdue possesses the most efficient offensive attack in the country, but it ranks 105th in defensive efficiency. The Boilermakers entered the season as the favorite to win the Big Ten, but will need to win at No. 10 Wisconsin on Tuesday for goal to come true. 

3) Illinois (20-8, 13-5)

Best win: 80-67 vs. No. 10 Wisconsin

Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland

Recent standout: Alfonso Plummer (26 pts, 6-9 3pt FG at Michigan)

AP Poll:

NET: 14

KenPom: 16

SOS: 19

Quad 1 record: 5-5

NCAA Tournament outlook: 4 seed (Bracket Matrix)

Brad Underwood was ejected late in the second half of Illinois' home matchup with Ohio State. And when Kofi Cockburn fouled out with four minutes to go, things started to spiral out of control. The Illini defense was shredded by Malaki Branham and E.J. Liddell who combined for 52 points in an 86-83 Ohio State win.

But Cockburn and the Illini responded in a big way with a 93-85 road win to spoil Michigan's chance at a résumé-boosting win. Alfonso Plummer scored 23 points in the first half, Cockburn went for 27 points and seven rebounds and Trent Frazier came through in the clutch yet again with a step-back 3 to take a seven-point lead with under a minute. The Illini have what it takes to make a deep run in March. 

4) Iowa (20-8, 10-7)

Best win: 75-62 at No. 23 Ohio State

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

Recent standout: Tony Perkins (20 pts, 8-10 FG at Nebraska)

AP Poll:

NET: 18

KenPom: 15

SOS: 54

Quad 1 record: 1-5

NCAA Tournament outlook: 7 seed (Bracket Matrix)

Iowa seems to be the forgotten team in the Big Ten, but it’s now in the AP poll for the second week in a row after defeating Michigan State and Nebraska. It was the Keegan Murray Show again on Tuesday as the potential Big Ten Player of the Year poured in 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting as Iowa dominated Michigan State 86-60.

The Hawkeyes led by just a point at Nebraska on Friday, but found production from the whole lineup as six players finished with double digits in Iowa’s 10-point win. Iowa was upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, but have the shooting and star power to be a second weekend team this season. 

5) Ohio State (18-8, 11-6)

Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 4 Duke

Worst loss: 75-60 at Maryland

Recent standout: Malaki Branham (31 pts at Illinois)

AP Poll:

NET: 20

KenPom: 23

SOS: 18

Quad 1 record: 5-5

NCAA Tournament outlook: 5 seed (Bracket Matrix)

While Iowa might be the forgotten team in the Big Ten, Ohio State is the hardest team to figure out. On Thursday, Malaki Branham opened the eyes of NBA scouts with a 31-point performance in Ohio State’s 86-83 win at No. 20 Illinois. The Buckeyes hit 6-of-12 3-point attempts and looked like they finally turned the corner.

But that progress went to waste when Ohio State collapsed down the stretch in a 15-point loss at Maryland. Branham shot 1-for-6 from 3, and E.J. Liddell scored his fewest points since Jan. 6 at Indiana. With three home games left, Ohio State will still finish in the top five of the Big Ten, but who knows what to expect out of the Buckeyes in the NCAA tournament. 

6) Michigan State (19-9, 10-7)

Best win: 86-74 at No. 10 Wisconsin

Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern

Recent standout: Tyson Walker (game-winning 3pt FG vs. No. 8 Purdue)

AP Poll:

NET: 33

KenPom: 34

SOS: 16

Quad 1 record: 4-6

NCAA Tournament outlook: 7 seed (Bracket Matrix)

Michigan State’s offense looked lost for 40 minutes on Tuesday at Iowa in a 26-point loss. The Spartans shot 35 percent from the field and turned the ball over 12 times. All five starters were held to single digits and leading scorer Gabe Brown was 0-for-7.

But the Spartans redeemed themselves with a 68-65 home win over Purdue as Tyson Walker stepped back and splashed a three with a second to go. Michigan State has lost five of its last seven games, and the Spartans clearly lack a star offensive force, but don’t count out Tom Izzo in March. 

7) Michigan (15-12, 9-8)

Best win: 82-58 vs. No. 8 Purdue

Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota

Recent standout: DeVante Jones (25 pts, 10 ast vs. Illinois)

AP Poll:

NET: 37

KenPom: 38

SOS: 9

Quad 1 record: 4-8

NCAA Tournament outlook: 11 seed (Bracket Matrix)

In a crucial battle of bubble teams, Michigan took down Rutgers 71-62 in Ann Arbor on Wednesday. Freshman Caleb Houstan led the way with 21 points on 5-for-9 3-point shooting as the Wolverines won without freshman starter Moussa Diabate.

But Michigan squandered an opportunity to sure up its tournament chances when it lost by eight points at home to Illinois. DeVante Jones scored a season-high 25 points, but Trent Frazier got the last laugh with another clutch 3. Michigan is squarely on the bubble, but has plenty of chances for big wins with Michigan State, No. 24 Iowa and No. 23 Ohio State left on the schedule. 

8) Indiana (18-10, 9-9)

Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 8 Purdue

Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan

Recent standout: Xavier Johnson (48 pts, 14 ast last two games)

AP Poll:

NET: 44

KenPom: 42

SOS: 47

Quad 1 record: 3-6

NCAA Tournament outlook: 12 seed (Bracket Matrix)

Indiana ended its five-game losing streak with a pair of necessary wins this week. Xavier Johnson scored 24 points and dished out six assists while not missing a shot from the field against Maryland. In a quiet game from Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson picked his teammate up with 19 points and nine rebounds. 

The Hoosiers then traveled to Minnesota where their offense looked as good as ever for 33 minutes, leading 70-48. But Indiana got too comfortable, Minnesota went crazy, hitting 8-of-11 3-point attempts in the final 7 minutes and all of a sudden it was a game. Indiana escaped with a five-point win and simply needs to forget about that closing stretch. The Hoosiers will host Rutgers on Wednesday, representing a chance to solidify their NCAA tournament hopes. 

9) Rutgers (16-12, 10-8)

Best win: 73-65 at No. 10 Wisconsin

Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette

Recent standout: Cliff Omoruyi (26 pts, 13 reb last two games)

AP Poll:

NET: 83

KenPom: 76

SOS: 32

Quad 1 record: 5-5

NCAA Tournament outlook: First team out (Bracket Matrix)

Rutgers went from the hottest team in the Big Ten to perhaps the coldest in just a week. After defeating ranked teams in four consecutive games, the Scarlet Knights have lost three straight and are in danger of missing the tournament. 

Rutgers started its week with a nine-point loss at Michigan where it shot a woeful 16 percent from beyond the arc. Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. nearly willed Rutgers to a win over No. 10 Wisconsin on Saturday, but no one could slow down Johnny Davis in the final minutes. Rutgers will at least need to win at Indiana and at home against Penn State to receive a tournament bid. 

10) Maryland (14-15, 6-12)

Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 20 Illinois

Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason

Recent standout: Fatts Russell (27 pts, 6-10 3pt FG vs. No. 23 Ohio State)

AP Poll:

NET: 90

KenPom: 82

SOS: 24

Quad 1 record: 2-8

NCAA Tournament outlook: Must win Big Ten tournament

In a battle filled with strong point guard play, Maryland hung with Indiana for a portion of the game, but couldn’t slow down Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson. Fatts Russell dropped 23 points on 9-for-21 shooting, but his four turnovers stopped any hopes of an upset. 

Russell continued his strong play with 27 points in Maryland’s 15-point win over Ohio State on Sunday. Eric Ayala came close to a season-high in points, and the Terrapins scored 18 points off Ohio State turnovers. Maryland has fallen short of preseason expectations but have shown they’re no pushover. 

11) Northwestern (13-14, 6-12)

Best win: 64-62 at Michigan State

Worst loss: 77-60 at Minnesota

Recent standout: Pete Nance (20 pts, 5 reb vs. Nebraska)

AP Poll:

NET: 80

KenPom: 73

SOS: 30

Quad 1 record: 1-9

NCAA Tournament outlook: Must win Big Ten tournament

Northwestern handled business at Welsh Ryan Arena in a 77-65 win over Nebraska. Pete Nance, Chase Audige and Boo Buie all chipped in 15 or more points, and the Wildcats shot 40 percent from 3.

Northwestern then blew a six-point halftime lead at Penn State by giving up 45 second-half points. Nance and Audige both finished in double digits again, but it was an inefficient effort as the duo combined to shoot 8-for-26 from the field. 

12) Minnesota (13-14, 4-14)

Best win: 75-65 at Michigan

Worst loss: 78-65 at Nebraska

Recent standout: Payton Willis (28 pts, 7 ast, 7-14 3pt FG vs. Indiana)

AP Poll:

NET: 104

KenPom: 104

SOS: 26

Quad 1 record: 2-10

NCAA Tournament outlook: Must win Big Ten tournament

Minnesota played a back-and-forth game with No. 10 Wisconsin on Wednesday, but came up just short in a 68-67 loss. Jamison Battle led Minnesota with 17 points as the Golden Gophers connected on 8-of-19 shots from 3. 

In its third consecutive home game, Minnesota was run out of the gym against Indiana, trailing 70-48 with seven minutes to go. But Payton Willis went unconscious down the stretch as Minnesota made it a three-point game with less than a minute. Willis’ 7-for-14 night from 3 almost led to the biggest Big Ten comeback of the season, but again, Minnesota fell short. 

13) Nebraska (8-21, 2-16)

Best win: 93-70 at Penn State

Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois

Recent standout: Bryce McGowens (25 pts, 6 reb at Penn State)

AP Poll:

NET: 164

KenPom: 155

SOS: 34

Quad 1 record: 0-10

NCAA Tournament outlook: Must win Big Ten tournament

The Cornhuskers are still probably the worst team in the Big Ten, but I’ll bump them up a spot after their second win in Big Ten play. It was never really a game in Nebraska’s 93-70 win at Penn State on Sunday as Bryce McGowens poured in 25 points and each Nebraska starter finished in double digits. 

Earlier in the week, Nebraska lost by 10 points at Iowa after trailing by one point at half. McGowens struggled from the field, but Alonzo Verge Jr.’s 18 points and seven assists kept the Cornhuskers competitive. 

14) Penn State (12-14, 7-11)

Best win: 62-58 vs. Michigan State

Worst loss: 93-70 vs. Nebraska

Recent standout: John Harrar (11 pts, 20 reb vs. Northwestern)

AP Poll:

NET: 94

KenPom: 95

SOS: 29

Quad 1 record: 1-8

NCAA Tournament outlook: Must win Big Ten tournament

Penn State outscored Northwestern 45-32 in the second half of Friday’s contest behind 15 points from Dallion Johnson. Five Nittany Lions scored in double figures, and John Harrar snatched a season-high 20 rebounds.

But perhaps the worst loss of the Big Ten season came on Sunday when Penn State was blown out on its home court by Nebraska. In a 93-70 loss, the Nittany Lions were outrebounded by 12 and looked bored on defense, allowing Nebraska to shoot 65 percent from 3. 

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