Moments after the Jet Blach bicycle crashed, just as the team was lapped by Phi Kappa Psi on lap 150, and just as his confidence hit zero, Trent Hohenstreiter remembered the booming voice of Courtney Bishop, his legendary Little 500 coach. Hohenstreiter thought back to the first speech Bishop delivered to him and two others before any of them decided to ride for Jet Blach. In his deep and assertive voice, Bishop promised them that if one of the three joined Jet Blach, they would become Little 500 champions. If two decided to ride, Bishop said they will be part of the best Jet Blach team in history. And if all three decided to ride, they’d be the best team the Little 500 had ever seen. The speech was enough to sell Hohenstreiter on anything. Now, with roughly 50 laps to go in the 2021 Little 500 race, Hohenstreiter mounted the bike and realized how close his team was to achieving the goal Bishop laid out. Hohenstreiter thought of the 11,000 miles he had logged over the past year. He remembered Bishop’s pre-race speech, driving home the idea that Jet Blach was the most prepared team in the race. With constant motivation from Bishop, Hohenstreiter and his teammates mounted a comeback that joined Jet Blach with the lead pack, putting their sprinter Rob Krahulik in a position to win. Krahulik avoided another crash on lap 197 and edged the competition in an all-out sprint to the finish to win the 70th running of the men’s Little 500. Bishop never doubted his team’s chances of winning the race in what he called his “Last Dance” as a cycling coach. “You have got to tell them right to the bitter end, ‘We’re going to win this thing,’” Bishop said. “‘We’re going to find a way.’” Bishop capped an epic Little 500 coaching career with his third first-place finish to go along with six second-place finishes and 15 top-five finishes as the coach of Team Major Taylor, Delta Tau Delta and Jet Blach. These accomplishments fall short to Cutters coach Jim Kirkham’s seven first-place finishes, but Bishop’s impact goes beyond the race track. For over 30 years, Bishop has reinvented the way the race is run and has broken racial barriers along the way. “Everything [Bishop] says, and it doesn’t really matter what it is,” Hohenstreiter said, “you’re going to listen, and you buy in.” * * * Courtney Bishop was born in 1966 in Great Britain and moved to Brooklyn, with his single mother and two brothers when he was five years old. “People today ask, ‘Hey, where’d the accent go?’” Bishop said. “And I tell them, ‘The last place on Earth you want to be a skinny Black kid with a British accent is probably Brooklyn.’” Bishop’s family eventually relocated to Albany, New York, where he would attend high school. They were the only African American family in the neighborhood, but Bishop’s mother Dulcie A. Bishop was adamant about raising her sons in a nice neighborhood, even if it meant having fewer material possessions. To pay for food, clothes and sports equipment, Bishop mowed lawns during the summer and started a paper route when he was 11 years old. But Bishop had to run his route: he didn’t own a bike and he wouldn’t finish in time if he walked. So he draped one bag of newspapers over his right shoulder and another over his left and just ran. He did this for six years, and by the time Bishop was a senior at Albany High School, he was delivering 200 newspapers before school every day. “I think that instilled in me just, ‘Hey, if you want something, you’re going to have to work and you’re going to have to get it, but you’re going to have to depend on yourself,’” Bishop said. By high school, what Bishop wanted was track and field, which may be a product of his paper route runs. Bishop’s specialty was the one- and two-mile races. As he would step to the line before a race, Bishop would often look to the side and see his opponents laughing. It was uncommon in 1980s Albany to see African Americans as distance runners, but Bishop used this disrespect to fuel his talent. He’d run 16 miles on some days in high school in pursuit of his dream. “When I’m interested and I’m trying,” Bishop said, “I just feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.” Bishop considered himself a “just OK” runner at Albany High School — his high school athletic claim to fame was becoming an all-state 800m and 4x400m runner. Bishop’s greatest value to one of the top high school track and field programs in New York was his guiding hand as a team captain. “I was the guy that kept all of the guys together,” Bishop said. Bishop turned down scholarship offers from Eastern Michigan, Michigan State and Williams College to run under famed Indiana track and field coach Sam Bell. He was rarely chosen to race at Indiana’s top meets, but knew his experiences at Indiana didn’t happen with other schools. “We’d think to ourselves, ‘We’d be the No. 1 guy at 95 percent of schools in the country. The guy,’” Bishop said. At times, Bishop considered transferring, but Indiana was a powerhouse program at the time, and Bishop wanted to surround himself with the best. His roommate Mark Deady made the 1988 Olympics and what was considered Indiana’s “A-minus team” broke the American record for the 4x800m relay. “Indiana in the ‘80s was Indiana,” Bishop said. “What I remember the most is what it took just to survive there every day.” * * * During Bishop’s time as a student at IU, the mornings of Little 500 races looked a bit different than they do today: Black students would head in one direction and white students in the other. The Black student picnic was held at the same time as the Little 500 race, but Bishop instead elected to attend the race in support of his fraternity and because of his interest in endurance sports. Bishop often received puzzled looks of “What are you doing?” from strangers when he arrived at Bill Armstrong Stadium. While Bishop is now regarded as one of the most impactful coaches in the race’s history, simply becoming involved with the race may have been his biggest obstacle. Bishop joined Acacia Fraternity in 1986, which has a rich cycling tradition that includes three first-place finishes and 23 top-five finishes in the Little 500. But from the spring of his freshman year in 1986 to his last spring in Bloomington in 1990, Acacia finished in second place twice and third place once. “Most of the time we’d come back like, ‘What happened?’” Bishop said. “We’d kill everyone in all of the series events, and we had just historic people riding for us. But we could never win.” Bishop knew he had the athletic pedigree to help his fraternity brothers break through, and his infatuation with the Little 500 was enough for him to contemplate quitting track and field altogether. Bishop finished out his collegiate career as a member of the Indiana track and field team and never had the experience of riding in the Little 500. Throughout his years as a fan of the race, Bishop realized he was surrounded by white people watching other white people circle the cinder track. There were few Black fans in the stands, and there were zero Black teams. “You couldn’t put up a bigger signal of what you are and are not allowed to do,” Bishop said. “So when I graduated, I wanted to change that.” * * * A lack of diversity at IU’s largest student event raised an important question for the Indiana University Student Foundation (IUSF): How do you attract Black fans to the race? For Bishop, the answer was simple — you need a team. So in 1992, Bishop formed Team Major Taylor, an all-minority cycling named in honor of Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, an African American cyclist who won the gold medal at the 1899 World Championships in Montreal. Bishop’s first team wasn’t comprised of lifelong cyclists. Team Major Taylor finished last in its first race, was lapped 30 times and disbanded after one year. But in 2002, after a 10-year layoff, Bishop was asked by Charlie Helms, Indiana University’s chancellor at the time, and Frank Motley, an associate dean of the Maurer School of Law, to try again. This new team was formed by what Bishop called “a giant phone tree.” Josh Weir was the only rider Bishop met in person, but Weir knew a rider in Los Angeles, who knew someone in Long Beach, who knew someone in Philadelphia, eventually stretching all the way to Trinidad and Tobago — where Bishop recruited Simeon Commissiong, who ended up being one of the great sprinters in Little 500 history. The early years of Team Major Taylor were arduous, even for a leader like Bishop. After all, he had no personal cycling experience. He didn’t own a bike until 2007 and sold it two months later. His desire to coach stemmed from his love for the Little 500 as a spectator and his goal to spread diversity in the race. So when nationally-ranked cyclists were told what to do by Bishop, who had no experience of his own, it sometimes resulted in conflict. The main rider Bishop butted heads with was Kenny Burgess, who rode for Team Major Taylor in 2003 and 2004. “[Bishop] is a strong-minded individual,” Burgess said. “Granted, he does listen, but at that point in time … he wanted to run things a certain way, and obviously we had different opinions.” Burgess grew up in South Central Los Angeles and attended Crenshaw High School, which encompassed a neighborhood devastated by the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Burgess said growing up in this area gave him a different perspective on life. Burgess and his friend Rahsaan Bahati, who also rode for Team Major Taylor, lost friends to gang violence and grew up knowing to stay guarded and aware of their surroundings when walking down the street. This implemented what Burgess called a bootstrap mentality, one that taught him to live with gumption. In one of Bishop’s first meetings with Team Major Taylor, before the 2002 season, he decided to discuss post-graduation plans with the team. Bishop funded some of Team Major Taylor through his mortgage firm and hoped his business knowledge could help members of the team. But early on in the meeting, Bishop sensed his message wasn’t connecting. “Everyone (was) just kind of looking at each other,” Bishop said. “Kenny, specifically, was like, ‘Hey man, none of us are going to live til we’re 25. What are you talking about?’” After losing friends to gang violence, discussing long-term goals and future aspirations wasn’t common in Burgess’ upbringing. Bishop said Burgess was essentially homeless in high school, so he wasn’t used to these types of conversations. Bahati introduced Burgess to a cycling coach when the two were in high school, and Burgess slept on the coach’s couch for a year and a half while training. Bishop said Burgess and other riders’ difficult upbringings created another goal aside from bringing diversity to the race and forming a strong team. From that point on, Bishop made it a point to keep his riders in school and graduate as many as humanly possible. “Even more than [riding in the Little 500],” Bishop said. “I am ecstatic about where all of them are in life.” * * * Simply creating Team Major Taylor was a challenge for Bishop, but the obstacles didn’t stop there. While other teams arrived at Bill Armstrong Stadium with their minds focused solely on the race, a police escort ensured Team Major Taylor’s safety on its way to the 2004 race. Burgess said that rural Indiana has a history of racism towards African Americans, and their team felt that through racial slurs and booing. “Those are things that I think about today,” Burgess said. “I’ve been called things at Indiana that I’ve never been called anywhere else in the world.” Burgess and his teammates channeled this adversity on the track. There’s no doubt it affected Burgess mentally, but Bishop and Team Major Taylor banded together. And as the team improved and became popular around campus, it gained a loyal following. In the 2004 race, Team Major Taylor held pole position. With Team Major Taylor positioned as the favorite to win the 2004 race, nearly 400 African American students filled a section of the bleachers at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Decked out in green, the fans were ready to witness history. “That’s when it hit me like, ‘Wow, that’s why we did this,’” Bishop said. For Burgess, so much of his life beforehand was based around competitive cycling. Usually, his mind was locked in on training, physical preparation and mental focus. But seeing growth in fan diversity made Burgess take a step back. “When you have a certain sector of students that are basically representing students of color,” Burgess said, “at that point, it became a lot bigger than just winning the race.” Bishop still considers Team Major Taylor’s performance in 2004 the best race ever run — even if it began with a slow start. Team Major Taylor was trailing the pack, so Bishop left Simeon Commissiong, who was considered the best sprinter in the 2004 Little 500, on the bike for longer than usual. Commissiong made up a half lap in the amount of time that made the coach in the adjacent pit shout, “What the fuck?” Team Major Taylor was back in contention, but Commissiong was gassed. For Bishop, it was time to change the game plan. “I look at these three guys Julio [German], Steve [Ballenger] and Kenny [Burgess] and I’m like ‘[Commissiong] is not going on the bike til the end,’” Bishop said. “They’re looking at me like, ‘Dude, that’s not possible.’” Bishop’s team was hanging tough, but German’s calf started cramping on lap 120. Commissiong began to plead his case to hop back on the bike. “Nope. Sit down,” Bishop told him. “What are we doing?” Burgess cried out. “We’re going to go back and forth with you and Steve until the end of the race,” Bishop told Burgess. “That’s not even possible,” Burgess replied. In Bishop’s head, he didn’t even believe that what he was telling his team was possible. But at that point, they had no choice. Bishop had to make them believe. After roughly 80 laps of alternating between two riders, Team Major Taylor was still in the lead pack. At that point, rumors around the pit were that Commissiong was hurt as the broadcast showed a trainer rubbing Commissiong’s hamstring. But with five laps remaining, Commissiong stood on the track and waited for an exchange. Bishop could see the immediate terror creep onto the opponents’ faces as they mouthed “Oh, shit.” “You’ve gotta think Commissiong is licking his chops,” Jack Edwards, the Little 500 play-by-play broadcaster said with two laps to go. “This is the way that Team Major Taylor wanted it to unfold.” But as Commissiong made the turn on the back stretch, his front tire tapped the bike next to him. Commissiong crashed to the ground, taking the Phi Gamma Delta and Briscoe teams with him. After riding a perfect race for more than 199 laps, it was over. Bishop paced the sidelines with both hands covering his face. Commissiong unclipped his helmet buckle in disgust and stood next to his teammates bent over and staring at the ground. Burgess took his bike and left the stadium. “I have won three times, but that was the one that got away,” Bishop said. “Even though we didn’t win, it was the best race ever run.” * * * This crushing defeat took a while for Bishop to process. After emotions cooled, Burgess remembers Bishop sitting Team Major Taylor down and giving a speech of positive reinforcement. “These are things that make you stronger as a team,” was a phrase from Bishop that Burgess remembers. While Team Major Taylor fell just short, Bishop’s goal of creating diversity in all aspects of the Little 500 remained an overwhelming success. An all-minority team was succeeding and spectators were more diverse than ever. “This whole thing came from the point of people telling you, ‘You’ll never field a team. There aren’t five Black cyclists in America. How are you going to put a team together?’ Three years before that, to now, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to win this thing,’” Bishop said. “It was like going from the highest high to the absolute lowest low.” Team Major Taylor’s appearance was different from any team in Little 500 history, and the way they raced was, too. Bishop created a race strategy from scratch that mimics the way a track and field runner would perform, not a cyclist. As a student, Bishop watched the Little 500 from the perspective of a track athlete. To him, the Little 500 looked like a string of riders all going as hard as they could. “I used to think to myself, ‘Man, if you were a runner you would never do that,’” Bishop said. In Bishop’s experience as a distance runner, conserving as much energy as possible throughout the course of a race has always been a widespread philosophy. Runners want to be toward the front of the pack, but they don’t want to be forcing the issue or pushing the pace. “When you get there and unveil it, it doesn’t look like anything anyone has ever seen before,” Bishop said. “It kind of looks ridiculous.” But it wouldn’t be wise to laugh at Bishop’s innovative approach to the race. In Team Major Taylor’s first appearance in the Little 500 since reforming the team in 2002, they qualified third and finished ninth. The following year, the team qualified second and finished second. That’s why Bishop deployed Commissiong late in 2004, and today, nearly every team mimics the strategy that Bishop taught his teams. Jordan Bailey, the Little 500 race director from 2012 to 2016 and former Black Key Bulls rider, said Little 500 footage from the 1970s and 1980s shows riders pedaling as fast as possible the entire race. But by the 1990s and early 2000s, the nature of the race started to change and slow down, and Bishop’s philosophy was certainly a factor. “I think there was a lot more strategy infused into it,” Bailey said. “Like, ‘We need to think about being strategic from a bike racing perspective’ versus trying to mimic the Indy 500 and just going full gas the whole time.” As Bishop implemented this strategy, momentum began to build for Team Major Taylor. Bailey compared Bishop to a college basketball coach who recruits players that fit his system. Bailey always knew Bishop’s teams would enter the race with top-notch fitness, likely contending towards the later stages of the race. While Bishop’s strategic mindset kept Team Major Taylor competitive nearly every year, Bailey said winning the Little 500 comes down to being able to inspire 18 to 22 year olds. And Bishop’s dialed-in, always-focused mindset on race day was the right formula. “For [Bishop] to come in and have those efforts of trying to diversify both the sport and then bring in an outlet for leadership,” Bailey said. “I think it was pretty tremendous.” * * * For Bishop, coaching in the Little 500 has been about more than just the championships he’s won. He reinvented race-day strategy, created a successful all-minority team, diversified the Little 500 fan base and saved lives. Moving forward, the Little 500 will be without one of its most impactful leaders. Bishop accepted a role as an assistant coach for distance runners on the University of Nebraska track and field teams. Bishop and Jet Blach wore Michael Jordan-inspired Last Dance t-shirts to their 2021 Little 500 championship race, but when asked if his Little 500 coaching career was officially over, Bishop didn’t close the door completely. “Someone once said, ‘Never say never,’” Bishop said. And although Bishop has moved on to coaching a different sport in a different state, he still holds onto lasting memories of the relationships built through coaching Team Major Taylor, Jet Blach and Delta Tau Delta. Just over two years ago, Bishop was at an event when his phone rang. It was Kenny Burgess, who Bishop hadn’t talked to in a number of years. Burgess invited Bishop to Nick’s English Hut to have a beer with him and his former Team Major Taylor teammates. It started as a long night of sharing old stories with pictures of past Little 500 races decorating the walls surrounding them. But when a couple guys got up to get another drink or go to the bathroom, Burgess pulled Bishop aside. “Hey, we’ve kind of butted heads over the years in the past,” Burgess said. “But you saved my life. I have no idea where I would have been if not for what you did.” In Bishop’s mind, he thought about what would have happened if he let Team Major Taylor die after its first race in 1992 when it was lapped 30 times. He couldn’t just send Kenny Burgess on a bus back to South Central Los Angeles. He couldn’t break the promises of building a successful team, expanding diversity, graduating riders and being a lifelong resource of support. He didn’t have a choice. So when Courtney Bishop reflects on his 30-year Little 500 coaching career, it’s about more than success on the cinders of Bill Armstrong Stadium. He’s fulfilled by watching once-unconfident kids turn into champions, especially in a sport as demanding as cycling. “All of a sudden they start getting success … and it’s like they’re completely different people,” Bishop said. “Now here comes that confidence, that belief that they can do things that they never in a million years thought they could do. It changes their lives.” Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 21, 2022 and edited on May 2, 2022.
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After a thrilling season of conference play, the NCAA Tournament is finally here. Iowa defeated Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament championship, and the Hawkeyes’ Keegan Murray was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. All three bubble teams – Michigan, Rutgers and Indiana – snuck into the tournament thanks to a semifinal run from the Hoosiers. The Big Ten received nine tournament invitations, three more than any other conference. And after a poor showing from the Big Ten in last year’s NCAA Tournament, plenty of teams will be hungry for revenge. Here’s how I view the Big Ten teams that qualified for the Big Dance in this week’s power rankings. (Stats through March 13). 1) Iowa (26-9, 12-8) NCAA Tournament seed: 5 Big Ten Tournament results: Champion. Defeated Northwestern, Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue Best win: 75-66 vs. Purdue (neutral site) Worst loss: 90-86 at Penn State (2OT) Recent standout: Keegan Murray (31 pts, 9 reb, 8-10 3pt FG vs. Indiana) AP poll: 16 NET: 14 Quad 1 record: 4-6 KenPom: 13 SOS: 45 There’s an argument for Iowa as the hottest team in all of college basketball after the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten Tournament championship run. Keegan Murray’s versatility and smooth play were at an all-time high, and Jordan Bohannon provided the magic required for any run in March. Iowa drew the Atlantic 10 tournament champion Richmond Spiders in the first round, but have the offensive firepower to make a deep run. 2) Purdue (27-7, 14-6) NCAA Tournament seed: 3 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Iowa in championship. Defeated Penn State and Michigan State Best win: 80-74 vs. Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: 82-58 at Michigan Recent standout: Jaden Ivey (20 pts, 6 ast vs. Iowa) AP poll: 10 NET: 13 Quad 1 record: 25 KenPom: 14 SOS: 8-6 Purdue committed 17 turnovers in the Big Ten championship against Iowa, and Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic combined to shoot 2-for-14 from 3. Purdue’s size limited Keegan Murray to some degree, but Iowa still outscored Purdue 10-4 in the final three minutes. Right now it feels like the early-season idea of Purdue supersedes how they’re currently playing, but the Boilermakers still have the depth and versatility for a Final Four run and Jaden Ivey is the kind of player who can take them there. 3) Indiana (20-13, 9-11) NCAA Tournament seed: 12 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Iowa in semifinals. Defeated Michigan and Illinois. Best win: 68-65 vs. Purdue Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan Recent standout: Trayce Jackson-Davis (31 pts, 10 reb vs. Iowa) AP poll: 16th in receiving votes NET: 38 Quad 1 record: 4-8 KenPom: 36 SOS: 38 Indiana started the Big Ten Tournament outside of the NCAA Tournament picture, but punched its ticket with wins over Michigan and Illinois. It took a Jordan Bohannon banked-in 3 at the buzzer to take down the Hoosiers in the semifinals, but Indiana gained significant self-belief and momentum at the perfect time. I was surprised to see Michigan seeded ahead of Indiana, but Trayce Jackson-Davis and Xavier Johnson are playing by far their best basketball of the season. 4) Illinois (22-9, 15-5) NCAA Tournament seed: 4 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Indiana in quarterfinals. Best win: 80-67 vs. Wisconsin Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland Recent standout: Kofi Cockburn (23 pts, 10 reb vs. Indiana) AP poll: 19 NET: 15 Quad 1 record: 6-6 KenPom: 17 SOS: 21 After securing a share of the regular-season Big Ten title by beating Iowa on March 6, the top-seeded llini were knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament in the quarterfinals by Indiana. Coleman Hawkins scored a season-high 18 points, but Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer combined to shoot 6-for-22 from the field. Illinois still has what it takes for a Final Four run because of the dominance of Kofi Cockburn, coupled with backcourt experience that not many other teams have. 5) Wisconsin (24-7, 15-5) NCAA Tournament seed: 3 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Michigan State in quarterfinals Best win: 74-69 at Purdue Worst loss: 74-73 vs. Nebraska Recent standout: Brad Davison (23 pts vs. Michigan State) AP poll: 14 NET: 24 Quad 1 record: 9-3 KenPom: 34 SOS: 18 Things are starting to fall apart for Wisconsin ever since it clinched a share of the Big Ten title on March 1 with a win over Purdue. The Badgers lost on their home court to Nebraska – the worst team in the Big Ten – and were eliminated in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament in a six-point loss to Michigan State. Johnny Davis is a bit banged up but not at risk of missing NCAA Tournament games. At this point it feels like a toss up between a deep run and an early exit in the Big Dance. 6) Michigan State (22-12, 11-9) NCAA Tournament seed: 7 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost in semifinals to Purdue. Defeated Maryland and Wisconsin. Best win: 86-74 at Wisconsin Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern Recent standout: Marcus Bingham Jr. (19 pts, 11 reb vs. Wisconsin) AP poll: 8th in receiving votes NET: 36 Quad 1 record: 5-9 KenPom: 40 SOS: 14 Michigan State picked up a pair of wins and some much needed momentum in the Big Ten Tournament. After losing five of seven games to close out the regular season, the Spartans defeated Maryland and Wisconsin before losing by five to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. It’s never smart to doubt Tom Izzo in March, but the Spartans will have to take down Duke in order to reach the Sweet 16. 7) Rutgers (18-13, 12-8) NCAA Tournament seed: 12 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Iowa in quarterfinals Best win: 70-68 vs. Purdue Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Recent standout: Geo Baker (23 pts vs. Iowa) AP poll: Unranked NET: 77 Quad 1 record: 6-6 KenPom: 74 SOS: 35 Rutgers ran into the red-hot Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, leading to an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance. The Scarlet Knights allowed 80-plus points for just the fourth time all year and shot 28 percent from 3. Rutgers snuck into the NCAA Tournament and will play Notre Dame in a First Four matchup. The Scarlet Knights’ stingy defense could lead to a couple wins in the NCAA Tournament, but they will need to shoot better from beyond the arc. 8) Ohio State (19-11, 12-8) NCAA Tournament seed: 7 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Penn State in second round. Best win: 71-66 vs. Duke Worst loss: 75-60 at Maryland Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (25 pts, 8 reb vs. Penn State) AP poll: 11th in receiving votes NET: 26 Quad 1 record: 5-5 KenPom: 32 SOS: 26 E.J. Liddell, Malaki Branham and Joey Brunk combined for 75 percent of Ohio State’s points in the Buckeyes’ quarterfinal loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. Kyle Young, Zed Key and Meechie Johnson Jr. are all banged up and could miss the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And the sport’s biggest Cinderella team of recent years, Loyola Chicago, awaits in the first round. E.J. Liddell could carry the Buckeyes to a win, but I’d be surprised to see Ohio State in the Sweet 16. 9) Michigan (17-14, 11-9) NCAA Tournament seed: 11 Big Ten Tournament results: Lost to Indiana in second round. Best win: 82-58 vs. Purdue Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota Recent standout: DeVante Jones (39 pts last two games) AP poll: Unranked NET: 34 Quad 1 record: 5-10 KenPom: 33 SOS: 7 In Juwan Howard’s first game back from suspension, Michigan blew a 17-point lead to Indiana in the second half of the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. After this loss it was a bit surprising to see Michigan receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but the Wolverines will play as an 11-seed against Colorado State in the first round. Hunter Dickinson can give any team problems in the post, but Michigan will need Caleb Houstan and Eli Brooks to knock down shots from long range.
Chucky Hepburn’s game-winning 3 to take down Purdue appeared to be the shot to give Wisconsin the standalone Big Ten regular season title. All the Badgers had to do was defeat last-place Nebraska at home, but because it’s March, the Cornhuskers spoiled Wisconsin’s senior night with a 74-73 upset. This opened the door for Illinois to claim a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown. Iowa’s Kris Murray missed an open look that would have won the game, but instead Illini fans stormed the court as their team claimed the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It was a season filled with buzzer beaters, physical play and plenty of star power, and now it’s time for postseason play. The Big Ten Tournament will start on March 9, which means it’s time to hand out some Big Ten regular season awards. (Stats through March 7)
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.
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.
College basketball is home to the most thrilling upsets in sports, and last week in the Big Ten was a perfect example. Rutgers won three consecutive games over ranked opponents for the first time in program history, Nebraska claimed its first conference win and the Big Ten’s top five teams each lost. After a week filled with the unpredictable, it feels like no one deserves the top spot in the Big Ten. With Selection Sunday less than a month away, here’s how I see the layout of the Big Ten. (Stats through Feb. 13) 1) Wisconsin (19-5, 10-4) Best win: 74-69 at No. 5 Purdue Worst loss: 73-65 vs. Rutgers Recent standout: Tyler Wahl (23 pts, 9-14 FG vs. Rutgers) AP Poll: 15 NET: 23 KenPom: 36 SOS: 12 Quad 1 record: 8-4 Wisconsin started the week strong by avenging its loss to Michigan State with an eight-point win in East Lansing. It was a signature game for Johnny Davis, who scored 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting. The Badgers didn’t get much production from their bench, but team defense was a strength as four Spartan starters were held to single digits. All momentum from a big road win was put to rest when Wisconsin lost on its home court to a scorching hot Rutgers team. Davis was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc, and meanwhile, Rutgers connected on 7-of-12 attempts from 3. Wisconsin is 13th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage, but will need to hit from deep at Assembly Hall on Tuesday. 2) Rutgers (15-9, 9-5) Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 5 Purdue Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Recent standout: Ron Harper Jr. (21 pts, 6 reb at No. 15 Wisconsin) AP Poll: 9th in receiving votes NET: 81 KenPom: 78 SOS: 47 Quad 1 record: 5-3 I wanted to rank Rutgers No. 1 in this week’s rankings, but couldn't quite do it. With three consecutive wins against ranked opponents, Rutgers is the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights won home games against No. 19 Michigan State and No. 18 Ohio State before knocking off No. 15 Wisconsin on the road behind 21 points from Ron Harper Jr. But even with wins in four of the last five games, the Scarlet Knights are still no lock for the NCAA Tournament. Early-season losses to DePaul, Lafayette, UMass and Penn State leave a huge blemish on Rutgers’ résumé, but it’s all about getting hot at the right time in college basketball. 3) Purdue (22-4, 11-4) Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 10 Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: 82-58 at Michigan Recent standout: Sasha Stefanovic (17 pts, 5-9 3pt FG vs. Maryland) AP Poll: 5 NET: 9 KenPom: 12 SOS: 31 Quad 1 record: 7-3 Purdue escaped a gauntlet of five games in 12 days with a 4-1 record, but it wasn’t always pretty. The Boilermakers looked like the best team in the Big Ten when it used a dominant second half to defeat Illinois by 16 points in West Lafayette. Jaden Ivey made his case for National Player of the Year, scoring 26 points and igniting Purdue’s run in the second half. But the Purdue looked like a completely different team when it was outplayed for 40 minutes at Michigan in a 24-point loss. The Boilermakers were tired as Michigan outrebounded them by 10 and scored 22 combined points off turnovers and fast breaks. Luckily, Purdue was able to narrowly avoid disaster as it snuck away with one-point win at home against Maryland after trailing by double digits in the second half. 4) Illinois (18-6, 11-3) Best win: 80-67 vs. No. 15 Wisconsin Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland Recent standout: R.J. Melendez (14 pts, 6 reb vs. Northwestern) AP Poll: 12 NET: 13 KenPom: 15 SOS: 22 Quad 1 record: 5-4 Illinois’ chances at a Big Ten title took a shot when the Illini squandered a two-point halftime lead at Purdue. The Illini were outscored by 18 points in the second half and had no answer for Jaden Ivey driving to the basket. Trent Frazier was held to two points and went down with a scary injury in the second half, but eventually returned to the game. Illinois bounced back with an expected win over Northwestern, led by 19 points from both Kofi Cockburn and Alfonso Plummer. Again, Frazier wasn’t his normal self – shooting 2-for-7 from the field – but Illinois has benefitted from the recent emergence of R.J. Melendez who scored 22 combined points in the last two games off the bench. Illinois is still at the top of the Big Ten with just three conference losses, two of which have come against Purdue. 5) Ohio State (15-6, 8-4) Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 9 Duke Worst loss: 71-68 vs. Florida (neutral site) Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (28 pts, 5 reb, 3 blk at Michigan) AP Poll: 18 NET: 17 KenPom: 21 SOS: 20 Quad 1 record: 4-5 Ohio State feels like the most overlooked team in the Big Ten this year, but it’s quietly starting to play better basketball. In one of the most back-and-forth games of the season, Ohio State lost by two points on the road against Rutgers. E.J. Liddell and breakout freshman Malaki Branham combined for 35 points, but Ohio State’s limited bench production and Rutgers’ 17 fast break points made the difference. The Buckeyes finished their road trip with an 11-point victory at Michigan on Saturday behind 28 points from Liddell. Cedric Russell played a key role off the bench, scoring 12 points and playing a season-high 24 minutes. Ohio State has played fewer games than anyone in the Big Ten, but is still in the mix for the regular season title. 6) Michigan State (18-6, 9-4) Best win: 86-74 at No. 15 Wisconsin Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern Recent standout: Malik Hall (18 pts, 6 reb vs. Indiana) AP Poll: 19 NET: 24 KenPom: 23 SOS: 24 Quad 1 record: 4-4 Tom Izzo was lost searching for the solution to contain Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis in an eight-point loss on Tuesday in East Lansing. Marcus Bingham Jr. and Malik Hall were the only Spartans in double digits, as the remaining four starters shot 8-for-26 from the field. But Michigan State found its groove in a 15-point win over Indiana on Saturday, led by the backcourt duo of A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker and the versatility of Malik Hall. Hoggard and Walker combined for 29 points, while Hall was too quick for Indiana’s forwards to contain and too strong for smaller defenders in an 18-point effort. Don’t sleep on the deep and versatile Spartans in March. 7) Michigan (13-10, 7-6) Best win: 82-58 vs. No. 5 Purdue Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota Recent standout: Hunter Dickinson (22 pts, 9 reb vs. Purdue) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 35 KenPom: 35 SOS: 16 Quad 1 record: 2-6 Michigan picked up its biggest win of the season when it blew out Purdue from start to finish in a 24-point win. Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks and Caleb Houstan combined to shoot 12-for-16 from 3, and all five Michigan starters finished with double digits. The Wolverines dominated the glass, but were perhaps most impressive in holding Purdue’s Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, Mason Gillis and Isaiah Thompson to eight combined points. But after a quick Thursday-to-Saturday turnaround, Michigan put up a dud in an 11-point loss to Ohio State, scoring just 57 points. Despite hot shooting against Purdue, Michigan connected on just 4-of-17 attempts from 3 and couldn't stop E.J. Liddell. Michigan has a solid chance at qualifying for the NCAA tournament, but consistency is a big issue in Ann Arbor. 8) Iowa (17-7, 7-6) Best win: 83-74 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 90-86 at Penn State (2OT) Recent standout: Keegan Murray (37 pts, 6 reb vs. Nebraska) AP Poll: 6th in receiving votes NET: 19 KenPom: 17 SOS: 61 Quad 1 record: 0-5 Iowa is one of the more confusing teams in the Big Ten. It took care of business in blowout wins over Maryland and Nebraska this week, combining for 208 points across both games. The Hawkeyes have now won seven of their last 10 games, but have any of the wins been that impressive? During that run, Iowa has defeated Maryland (twice), Indiana, Minnesota (twice), Penn State, and Nebraska. According to NET rankings and KenPom efficiency numbers, Iowa’s 83-74 home win over Indiana is its best win of the season. The Hawkeyes are rising up the computer rankings, but they lack impressive wins needed to reach the NCAA Tournament. 9) Northwestern (12-11, 5-9) Best win: 64-62 at No. 19 Michigan State Worst loss: 94-87 vs. Maryland (2OT) Recent standout: Boo Buie (18 pts vs. Indiana) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 65 KenPom: 60 SOS: 23 Quad 1 record: 1-9 Northwestern took advantage of a shorthanded Indiana squad to win what might have been the ugliest Big Ten game of the season. Both teams shot below 40 percent from the field and below 25 percent from 3, creating a matchup that no one deserved to watch. The Wildcats then traveled to Illinois and outscored the Illini by seven points in the second half, but came up short. Boo Buie was 0-for-5 from 3, but Ty Berry stepped up to drill 4-of-6 long-range attempts. In the end, though, Kofi Cockburn was too much to handle inside. Northwestern has won three of its last four games, but still has close to no chance at making the NCAA Tournament. 10) Indiana (16-8, 7-7) Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 5 Purdue Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan Recent standout: Race Thompson (13 pts, 14 reb at No. 19 Michigan State) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 41 KenPom: 42 SOS: 49 Quad 1 record: 2-5 Mike Woodson set the tone for how his program will be run when he suspended five players before Indiana’s crucial road trip to Northwestern, resulting in an eight-point loss on Tuesday. Trey Galloway tried to will the Hoosiers to victory with 13 points, but he fouled out with under three minutes left. In a game where Indiana needed its All-American most, Trayce Jackson-Davis was 4-for-13 from the field. Indiana stayed on the road where it was within striking distance of Michigan State for most of the game but crumbled down the stretch. The Hoosiers have now lost a season-high three consecutive games as they inch closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble. A home game with Wisconsin on Tuesday is as ‘must-win’ as it gets. 11) Maryland (11-14, 3-11) Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 12 Illinois Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason Recent standout: Fatts Russell (24 pts, 9 reb at Purdue) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 99 KenPom: 92 SOS: 17 Quad 1 record: 3-8 Maryland had one of the more confusing weeks of any team in the Big Ten. The Terrapins allowed 110 points on their home court to Iowa and simply looked uninterested in competing. Maryland still managed to shoot 14-for-26 from three, but allowed Iowa to connect on 19-of-34 3-point attempts. One may have predicted Maryland to allow another 110 points when it traveled to Purdue, but the Terrapins were one shot away from pulling off the upset in a 62-61 loss. Maryland forced 15 turnovers and pushed the pace for 18 fast break points, but Jaden Ivey converted a clutch and-one to take the lead in the closing seconds. That’s now five straight losses for Maryland. 12) Nebraska (7-18, 1-13) Best win: 78-65 vs. Minnesota Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois Recent standout: Alonzo Verge (22 pts, 4 ast vs. Minnesota) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 178 KenPom: 171 SOS: 30 Quad 1 record: 0-9 A big congratulations to Nebraska for winning its first Big Ten game of the season. Many said it couldn’t be done, but the Cornhuskers led from start to finish in a 13-point home win over Minnesota. Alonzo Verge Jr. poured in 22 points and was complemented by 16 points from potential Big Ten Freshman of the Year Bryce McGowens. But the fun was over when Nebraska traveled to Iowa City and allowed 98 points in a 23-point loss. This time, Verge Jr. and McGowens combined for just 16 points as the Cornhuskers suffered from 15 turnovers. Nebraska could have a chance at another conference win when it hosts Maryland on Friday. 13) Minnesota (12-10, 3-10) Best win: 75-65 at Michigan Worst loss: 78-65 at Nebraska Recent standout: Payton Willis (18 pts, 10 ast, 6 reb vs. Penn State) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 96 KenPom: 99 SOS: 26 Quad 1 record: 2-9 Minnesota fell victim to Nebraska’s first conference win in one of the most embarrassing Big Ten losses of the season. The Golden Gophers turned the ball over 17 times and allowed 21 fast break points in a game they never led. Minnesota rebounded with a six-point home victory over Penn State thanks to balanced scoring throughout the starting lineup. Payton Willis totaled a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists, and the Gophers were led by 22 points from Eric Curry. Minnesota has lost nine of its last 11 games. 14) Penn State (9-12, 4-9) Best win: 90-86 vs. Iowa (2OT) Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass Recent standout: Seth Lundy (16 pts, 4-5 3pt FG) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 93 KenPom: 88 SOS: 8 Quad 1 record: 2-8 Penn State lost to the team that lost to Nebraska, so the Nittany Lions earn the last spot in this week’s rankings. The week started with a one-point loss at home to Michigan thanks to 19 points and 15 rebounds from Hunter Dickinson. The Nittany Lions then traveled to Minnesota – who was coming off a loss to Nebraska – and were outscored by six points in the final three minutes of the game. Despite shooting 53 percent from 3 and outrebounding Minnesota by 15, Penn State’s offensive execution down the stretch was atrocious.
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 NET: 13 KenPom: 15 SOS: 23 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 NET: 5 KenPom: 5 SOS: 33 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 NET: 19 KenPom: 31 SOS: 7 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 NET: 17 KenPom: 20 SOS: 18 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 NET: 23 KenPom: 22 SOS: 24 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 NET: 33 KenPom: 35 SOS: 65 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 NET: 22 KenPom: 21 SOS: 42 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 NET: 99 KenPom: 88 SOS: 64 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 NET: 52 KenPom: 42 SOS: 22 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 NET: 90 KenPom: 81 SOS: 2 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 NET: 67 KenPom: 63 SOS: 28 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 NET: 101 KenPom: 94 SOS: 25 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 NET: 91 KenPom: 96 SOS: 15 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 NET: 198 KenPom: 183 SOS: 29 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.
Another week of Big Ten play came with more close games, upsets and star performances. Jaden Ivey sunk a game-winning 3-pointer just before the buzzer to propel Purdue over No. 16 Ohio State at Mackey Arena. Michigan State responded to a one-point loss at Illinois to dominate in-state rival Michigan at the Breslin Center and slow down the Wolverines’ push for the tournament. With nearly every team halfway through its conference schedule, here’s this week’s edition of Big Ten power rankings. (Stats through Jan. 30) 1) Purdue (18-3, 7-3) Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 12 Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: 70-68 at Rutgers Recent standout: Jaden Ivey (21 pts, game-winning 3pt FG vs. No. 16 Ohio State) AP Poll: 4 NET: 8 KenPom: 8 SOS: 31 Quad 1 record: 6-2 Purdue started its week with a wire-to-wire win at Iowa led by Isaiah Thompson’s season-high 18 points on 4-for-6 3-point shooting. It was a bit of an off night for the twin towers of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams, who combined for 18 points and 14 rebounds, but the Boilermakers went 13-for-22 from beyond the arc. Purdue then returned to Mackey Arena and led by as much as 20 points against Ohio State. E.J. Liddell tied the game with 24 seconds left, but Player of the Year candidate Jaden Ivey drilled a fadeaway 3-pointer just before the buzzer. This could be Matt Painter’s best chance at reaching the Final Four. 2) Wisconsin (17-3, 8-2) Best win: 74-69 at No. 4 Purdue Worst loss: 86-74 vs. No. 13 Michigan State Recent standout: Brad Davison (35 pts last two games) AP Poll: 11 NET: 21 KenPom: 26 SOS: 8 Quad 1 record: 7-3 Wisconsin accomplished the expected this week – winning at Nebraska and taking down Minnesota at the Kohl Center – but both games were a bit too close for comfort. Nebraska made a storming comeback to lose by eight, and Minnesota tied the game with just over two minutes remaining. And still, Wisconsin doesn’t have a bad loss on its schedule. The Badgers have fallen to No. 15 Providence on a neutral court, at No. 16 Ohio State and at home against No. 13 Michigan State. Johnny Davis has led Wisconsin to 10 quadrant one and two wins, and with the recent strong play of Steven Crowl, the Badgers are poised to contend for the Big Ten title and a high seed in the NCAA tournament. 3) Illinois (15-5, 8-2) Best win: 56-55 vs. No. 13 Michigan State Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland Recent standout: Kofi Cockburn (22 pts, 9 reb at Northwestern) AP Poll: 18 NET: 15 KenPom: 16 SOS: 28 Quad 1 record: 2-3 Illinois picked up its best win of the season on Tuesday as Trent Frazier's 16 points led the Illini to a one-point win over No. 13 Michigan State. Brad Underwood outwardly criticized Frazier’s absence on the midseason Defensive Player of the Year Award watchlist, and Frazier held Max Christie to two points on 1-for-8 shooting. The Illini then snuck away from Northwestern with a 59-56 win thanks to a dominant performance from Kofi Cockburn, who scored 22 points and snatched nine rebounds. Both of Illinois’ wins this week came without point guard Andre Curbelo. 4) Michigan State (16-4, 7-2) Best win: 86-74 at No. 11 Wisconsin Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern Recent standout: A.J. Hoggard (11 pts, 10 ast vs. Michigan) AP Poll: 13 NET: 18 KenPom: 19 SOS: 20 Quad 1 record: 3-3 Michigan State trailed by eight points with five minutes to go at No. 18 Illinois and nearly pulled off the comeback, but ultimately lost its second game in three tries. The Spartans then returned home and used a 44-point second half to beat Michigan 83-67. A.J. Hoggard dished out 10 assists, and Max Christie, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall combined to shoot 7-for-10 from 3-point land. With Marcus Bingham Jr. blocking shots and Gabe Brown slashing from the wings, Michigan State has a plethora of ways it can defeat opponents. 5) Indiana (16-5, 7-4) Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 4 Purdue Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan Recent standout: Xavier Johnson (59 pts, 23 ast last four games) AP Poll: 6th in receiving votes NET: 29 KenPom: 25 SOS: 85 Quad 1 record: 2-2 Indiana held Penn State to 17 first-half points and used a 12-0 start to obliterate the Nittany Lions. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson combined for 33 points and 12 rebounds, but it was Xavier Johnson’s speed and decision making in transition that made the Hoosiers click. The Hoosiers then won their second Big Ten road game of the season when they overcame an early 8-0 deficit to defeat Maryland by 13 points. Johnson has turned the corner as Indiana’s floor general, which is crucial as Rob Phinisee is now sidelined with plantar fasciitis. Next up is a battle of frontcourt stars when Kofi Cockburn and the Illini visit Assembly Hall on Feb. 5. 6) Ohio State (13-5, 6-3) Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 9 Duke Worst loss: 71-68 vs. Florida (neutral site) Recent standout: Malaki Branham (20 pts, 7 reb at No. 4 Purdue) AP Poll: 16 NET: 19 KenPom: 21 SOS: 11 Quad 1 record: 3-5 Ohio State overcame a 20-point deficit at No. 4 Purdue to tie the game with less than a minute, but Jaden Ivey’s dagger sent the Buckeyes packing with their first loss in over two weeks. Even with the loss, the Buckeyes impressed in multiple ways as they outscored Purdue by eight points in the second half at Mackey Arena. Malaki Branham continued his breakout freshman campaign by matching E.J. Liddell with 20 points, but the rest of the starting lineup scored just six points. The concern for Ohio State, though, is it hasn’t defeated a team projected to make the NCAA tournament since its Dec. 11 win over Wisconsin. 7) Iowa (14-6, 4-5) Best win: 83-74 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 48-46 at Rutgers Recent standout: Kris Murray (23 pts, 5 reb vs. No. 4 Purdue) AP Poll: 9th in receiving votes NET: 23 KenPom: 22 SOS: 40 Quad 1 record: 2-5 In its lone game of the week, Iowa squandered an opportunity at a huge résumé-bosting when it fell by 10 points at home against Purdue. The Murray brothers combined for 37 points and 14 rebounds but were largely left hanging by the rest of the Hawkeyes, who shot 4-for-16 from beyond the arc. Aside from a two-point loss at Rutgers, each of Iowa’s losses have come against quadrant one opponents. And with three games left against ranked opponents, Iowa still has opportunities to stake its claim for the NCAA tournament. 8) Michigan (10-8, 4-4) Best win: 80-62 at Indiana Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota Recent standout: Hunter Dickinson (25 pts, 6 reb at No. 13 Michigan State) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 47 KenPom: 33 SOS: 25 Quad 1 record: 1-4 After two double-digit wins a week ago, Michigan came back to Earth with a two-point home win over Northwestern. Caleb Houstan continued his hot streak with 18 points on 3-for-5 3-point shooting, and Eli Brooks scored in double digits for the first time since Jan. 4. But when Michigan’s legitimacy was really tested, it crumbled on the road in a 16-point loss to Michigan State. Hunter Dickinson did all he could to power Michigan to an upset on the road, scoring 25 points, but the Wolverines connected on just three shots from beyond the arc. There are still chances for Michigan to make a push for the tournament, but time is running out. 9) Rutgers (12-8, 6-4) Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 4 Purdue Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Recent standout: Mawot Mag (13 pts, 7 reb, 4-4 FG at Nebraska) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 113 KenPom: 102 SOS: 86 Quad 1 record: 2-2 Rutgers suffered a demoralizing home loss to Maryland in a game where the Terrapins shot 48 percent from beyond the arc. Four of Rutgers’ five starters scored in double digits, but the rest of the team contributed just six points and dug itself a 12-point first-half hole. The Scarlet Knights nearly handed Nebraska its first conference win of the season, but Ron Harper Jr. stepped up to hit clutch free throws down the stretch. With Rutgers connecting on field goals at the second-lowest rate in the conference, postseason hopes are dwindling in Piscataway. 10) Northwestern (9-10, 2-8) Best win: 64-62 at No. 13 Michigan State Worst loss: 74-70 vs. Penn State Recent standout: Pete Nance (21 pts, 5 reb vs. No. 18 Illinois) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 78 KenPom: 68 SOS: 16 Quad 1 record: 1-8 Northwestern fell a few possessions short of turning its season around and instead solidified its position towards the bottom of the Big Ten. The Wildcats tied the game with less than two minutes left at Michigan, but allowed DeVanté Jones to take control of the game down the stretch. Pete Nance did his best to hang with Kofi Cockburn when Northwestern hosted Illinois, but again, the Wildcats crumbled in the final minutes. With two losses by one possession in one week, Northwestern has had its last gasp at a .500 record in conference play. 11) Maryland (11-10, 3-7) Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 18 Illinois Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason Recent standout: Eric Ayala (22 pts, 8 reb at Rutgers) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 100 KenPom: 90 SOS: 33 Quad 1 record: 2-5 After picking up a solid road win at Rutgers, Maryland laid an egg at home against Indiana. The Terrapins continued to launch 3s despite their lack of success and ended the afternoon 6-for-27 from 3. Maryland’s starting lineup turned the ball over 13 times against Indiana and allowed easy looks in the paint throughout the game. With just three points coming from the bench, Maryland severely lacks depth and frontcourt strength, which is tough to overcome playing in the Big Ten. 12) Minnesota (11-7, 2-7) Best win: 81-76 at Mississippi State Worst loss: 81-71 vs. Iowa Recent standout: Payton Willis (17 pts at No. 11 Wisconsin) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 86 KenPom: 91 SOS: 26 Quad 1 record: 2-7 Minnesota competed with Ohio State in the first half thanks to a strong start form Payton Willis and just two turnovers all game, but the Buckeyes outscored Minnesota by nine in the second half. Minnesota was outrebounded by 26 and allowed 49 points to Ohio State’s main frontcourt contributors. Later in the week, Eylijah Stephens tied the game with just over two minutes left, but Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis scored the game’s final six points. Minnesota has now lost six of its past seven games and its 10-1 start to the season feels like years in the past. 13) Penn State (8-9, 3-6) Best win: 61-58 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass Recent standout: Jalen Pickett (28 pts last two games) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 96 KenPom: 83 SOS: 7 Quad 1 record: 1-7 Penn State took the court just once this week and was run out of the gym at Indiana. The Nittany Lions trailed by as many as 31 points, and Jalen Pickett and John Harrar were the only players to score double digits. Penn State is the Big Ten’s lowest scoring team and has now lost four of its last five games. Year one of the Micah Shrewsberry era finishing above .500 overall would be a positive at this point of the season. 14) Nebraska (6-15, 0-10) Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois Recent standout: Bryce McGowens (29 pts, 7 reb vs. Rutgers) AP Poll: Unranked NET: 202 KenPom: 182 SOS: 27 Quad 1 record: 0-8 Nebraska squandered its best chance at a conference win when it blew a four-point lead with three minutes remaining on its home court against Rutgers. Freshman phenom Bryce McGowens did his best to will Nebraska to its first win since Dec. 22, finishing with 29 points and seven rebounds. Two home contests with Northwestern and Minnesota in the next 10 days represent two more opportunities for the Cornhuskers to secure a win in conference play.
After nine consecutive losses to in-state rival Purdue, Indiana stunned the Boilermakers thanks to a game-winning 3-pointer by Rob Phinisee. But the Hoosiers followed up that emotional win with their first home loss of the season to Michigan, which capped off another thrilling week in Big Ten basketball. Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois all lost at least one game this week, causing some changes to this week’s power rankings. Here’s how I see things as we enter the final week of January. (Stats through Jan. 23). 1) Michigan State (15-3, 6-1) Best win: 86-74 at No. 11 Wisconsin Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern Recent standout: Malik Hall (14 pts, 8 reb at Wisconsin) AP poll: 10 NET: 18 KenPom: 19 SOS: 21 Quad 1 record: 3-2 The Spartans are the only Big Ten team left with just one conference loss and picked up their biggest win of the season on Friday in Madison. Michigan State dominated all 40 minutes of the game and found production in all areas. Six Spartans scored nine or more points against Wisconsin while also dominating the glass with a 39-20 rebound advantage. I’ve been saying it all year, but this is the deepest and most balanced team Tom Izzo has had in years. As we approach the midway point of conference play, the Spartans are my favorite to win the Big Ten. 2) Purdue (16-3, 5-3) Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 14 Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: 70-68 at Rutgers Recent standout: Sasha Stefanovic (22 pts, 6-10 3pt FG vs. Northwestern) AP poll: 6 NET: 8 KenPom: 6 SOS: 51 Quad 1 record: 3-2 Purdue lost its third conference game of the season on Saturday in front of a raucous crowd at Assembly Hall. After trailing for most of the second half, the Boilermakers were a play away from sneaking out with a win but failed to execute in the final minute. After a 1-for-7 night from beyond the arc at Indiana, Sasha Stefanovic rebounded in a big way in Purdue’s 20-point win over Northwestern at Mackey Arena by shooting 6-for-10 from 3. Playing without Jaden Ivey, seven Boilermakers stepped up to score seven or more points. 3) Wisconsin (15-3, 6-2) Best win: 74-69 at No. 6 Purdue Worst loss: 73-55 at No. 16 Ohio State Recent standout: AP poll: 11 NET: 21 KenPom: 28 SOS: 5 Quad 1 record: 5-2 Wisconsin dropped out of the top 10 this week after a 12-point loss at home to Michigan State. Johnny Davis was his usual self, dropping 25 points with five rebounds and four assists, but Brad Davison’s 22 points made him the only other Badger in double figures. Wisconsin gets a bit of a pass for this poor performance due to the absence of Tyler Wahl (11 ppg, 5.7 rpg) that exposed the Badgers’ lack of depth. Still, Wisconsin is one of two teams in the country with 10 wins over quadrant one and two opponents. 4) Illinois (13-5, 6-2) Best win: 76-53 at Minnesota Worst loss: 81-65 at Maryland Recent standout: Alfonso Plummer (18 pts, 4 reb at Maryland) AP poll: 24 NET: 13 KenPom: 15 SOS: 34 Quad 1 record: 1-3 Illinois only played one game this week, and it was ugly. Playing without Kofi Cockburn (concussion), the Illini lost by 16 points at Maryland. Alfonso Plummer attempted to shoot Illinois to victory (5-for-11 3-pt FG), but his squad was outscored 29-10 in the final 10 minutes of play. Illinois’ ceiling will be reliant upon Cockburn’s health and Andre Curbelo’s consistency -- Curbelo scored 20 points versus Purdue but only four at Maryland -- as they battle for what should be a tightly-contested race for the Big Ten title. The Illini typically pass the eye test this season, but have just one win over quadrant one opponents. 5) Michigan (9-7, 3-3) Best win: 80-62 at Indiana Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota Recent standout: Hunter Dickinson (25 pts, 9 reb, 4 ast at Indiana) AP poll: Unranked NET: 38 KenPom: 24 SOS: 26 Quad 1 record: 1-4 Michigan is the team I have criticized the most this season, but the Wolverines made me eat my words on Saturday at Assembly Hall. Dominating the game from start to finish, Michigan shot 11-for-17 from 3, outrebounded Indiana by 10 and looked like a team that is poised to go on a tear in the second half of Big Ten play. After shooting just over 30 percent from 3 this season, freshman Caleb Houstan shot 8-for-11 from beyond the arc in Michigan’s wins over Maryland and Indiana this week. The talent was always there, but it looks like Juwan Howard has figured out how to make his team click. 6) Iowa (14-5, 4-4) Best win: 83-74 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 73-53 at Iowa State Recent standout: Keegan Murray (15 pts, 8 reb vs. Penn State) AP poll: 11th in receiving votes NET: 22 KenPom: 20 SOS: 61 Quad 1 record: 0-4 In one of the most controversial finishes of the season, Iowa was called for a foul 30 feet away from the basket on the final possession of a tie game. Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. sunk two free throws to win a game that made Iowa fans sick to their stomachs. The Hawkeyes returned to Iowa City with an edge and led for nearly the entire game in a 17-point win over Penn State. Despite shooting 31 percent from 3 as a team, Iowa saw contributions from the entire rotation, which was an intriguing sign moving forward. An opportunity for a résumé-boosting win lays ahead on Thursday when Purdue travels to Iowa City. 7) Indiana (14-5, 5-4) Best win: 68-65 vs. No. 6 Purdue Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Michigan Recent standout: Xavier Johnson (18 pts vs. Purdue, 14 pts vs. Michigan) AP poll: 10th in receiving votes NET: 42 KenPom: 33 SOS: 86 Quad 1 record: 2-2 Indiana managed to pick up its best win and worst loss of the season in the same week. Rob Phinisee ended Indiana’s losing streak to Purdue with a game-winning 3-pointer, which felt like a turning point for the Hoosiers. But the Hoosiers lost their first home game of the season three days later when they were run out of the gym by Michigan. Indiana is still allowing the fewest points per game of any Big Ten team but couldn’t string together stops against Michigan. Juwan Howard elected to full-court press and play a 2-3 zone against Indiana, which kept the Hoosiers uncomfortable. Year one of the Mike Woodson era has already had its ups and downs, but barring collapse, Indiana is still on pace to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016. 8) Ohio State (12-4, 5-2) Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 9 Duke Worst loss: 71-68 vs. Florida (neutral site) Recent standout: Eugene Brown III (14 pts, 4 reb vs. IUPUI) AP poll: 16 NET: 23 KenPom: 26 SOS: 16 Quad 1 record: 3-4 Ohio State’s only game this week was an 83-37 embarrassment of IUPUI (1-17), who might be the worst team in college basketball this season. The Buckeyes’ home game against Nebraska was postponed, leaving little to say about Ohio State recently. With its only wins coming against Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and IUPUI since Dec. 12, it’s hard to know what to expect of Ohio State, but tough road games with Minnesota and Purdue lay ahead this week. With E.J. Lidell leading the way and a talented group of young guards, the Buckeyes can still compete for a Big Ten title. 9) Rutgers (11-7, 5-3) Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 6 Purdue Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Recent standout: Geo Baker (25 pts at Minnesota) AP poll: Unranked NET: 107 KenPom: 91 SOS: 59 Quad 1 record: 2-2 The Scarlet Knights snuck away with a win over Iowa in a low-scoring affair that ended in controversy, but Ron Harper Jr. sealed it in the end. Rutgers then lost a nailbiter at Minnesota in a game that saw constant lead changes throughout the second half. In the end, it was Rutgers’ inability to contain Payton Willis, who scored 32 points, that led to the loss. After a disastrous start to the season, Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights have turned things around and have a promising Big Ten schedule moving forward. A home game against Maryland is up on Tuesday, followed by road games with Nebraska and Northwestern. If Rutgers wins three in a row, its NCAA Tournament chances will skyrocket. 10) Maryland (10-9, 2-6) Best win: 81-65 vs. No. 24 Illinois Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason Recent standout: Donta Scott (25 pts, 6 reb) AP poll: Unranked NET: 99 KenPom: 82 SOS: 36 Quad 1 record: 2-4 Maryland fell victim to Michigan’s recent turnaround in a 19-point loss on the road, but claimed its biggest win of the season when Illinois arrived in College Park. Donta Scott took advantage of Kofi Cockburn’s absence to score 25 points and grab six rebounds in Maryland’s 16-point win over Illinois. Maryland is still a longshot to reach .500 in Big Ten play by the end of the season. Its offense ranks 11th in scoring and connects on just 31 percent of 3-point attempts. And after a trip to Piscataway on Tuesday, Maryland will face a brutal stretch against Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue. 11) Minnesota (11-5, 2-5) Best win: 81-76 at Mississippi State Worst loss: 81-71 vs. Iowa Recent standout: AP poll: Unranked NET: 79 KenPom: 88 SOS: 37 Quad 1 record: 2-5 Minnesota ended its four-game losing streak with a three-point win over Rutgers thanks to 32 points from Payton Willis. In a game where Minnesota leading scorer Jamison Battle didn’t play, Willis stepped up to drain 8 of 13 3-point attempts. Minnesota doesn’t necessarily have any woeful losses this year, but its 2-5 record against quadrant one and two opponents reveals the Golden Gophers are a tier below NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents. 12) Penn State (8-8, 3-5) Best win: 61-58 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass Recent standout: AP poll: Unranked NET: 89 KenPom: 78 SOS: 9 Quad 1 record: 0-6 Penn State hung around for the first half at Iowa, but was blown out in the second half in a 17-point loss. The Nittany Lions have now lost three of their past four games to halt any momentum built during a 3-1 stretch to begin 2022. While Penn State allows the third fewest points of any Big Ten team, it’s also scoring at the lowest rate. The Nittany Lions want to play slow, physical games, but their Big Ten-worst turnover margin (-3.5 per game) is holding them back. 13) Northwestern (9-8, 2-6) Best win: 64-62 at No. 14 Michigan State Worst loss: 97-87 (2OT) vs. Maryland Recent standout: Chase Audige (23 pts vs. Wisconsin) AP poll: Unranked NET: 81 KenPom: 66 SOS: 25 Quad 1 record: 1-6 The return of leading scorer Pete Nance immediately following Northwestern’s win at Michigan State felt like a turning point for the Wildcats, but it was followed up by losses to Wisconsin and at Purdue this week. The Wildcats have now lost six of their past seven games, and things don’t get easier this week with a trip to Michigan and home matchup with Illinois. Northwestern is the Big Ten’s fourth highest scoring team this year (76.5) and have the second best turnover margin (+4.71 per game), but it has led to a 2-6 record in conference play with very little hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament. 14) Nebraska (6-13, 0-8) Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois Recent standout: Bryce McGowens (20 pts, 5 reb vs. Indiana) AP poll: Unranked NET: 193 KenPom: 160 SOS: 22 Quad 1 record: 0-6 Besides freshman phenom Bryce McGowens, there’s not much to be excited about when watching Nebraska. The Cornhuskers lost by seven at home to Indiana in their only game of the week as a road matchup with Ohio State was postponed. Nebraska allows the most points per game of any Big Ten team and has the worst 3-point shooting percentage in the conference. It’s likely Nebraska will remain at the bottom of these rankings for the rest of the season.
This weekend in Big Ten basketball was headlined by Northwestern’s upset win at No. 14 Michigan State and one of the most exciting games in all of college hoops when Purdue won a 2OT thriller at Illinois. The Wildcats were without leading scorer Pete Nance, but locked in defensively down the stretch to stun the Spartans on their home floor. Purdue and Illinois certainly look like Final Four contenders, finding themselves at the top of this week’s Big Ten power rankings. (Stats through Jan. 17) 1) Purdue (15-2, 4-2) Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 11 Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: 70-68 at Rutgers Recent standout: Sasha Stefanovic (22 pts, 8 reb vs. Illinois) AP poll: 4 NET: 7 KenPom: 4 SOS: 57 Quad 1 record: 4-1 Zach Edey won the battle of seven-footers when the Boilermaker big man scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Kofi Cockburn in Champaign. On an afternoon where Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams combined to shoot 9-for-28 from the field, Sasha Stefanovic stepped up to drill five of eight 3-point attempts. It feels like Purdue and Illinois have separated themselves from the rest of the Big Ten and are the conference’s best chances at a deep run in the NCAA tournament. When the Boilermakers are hitting shots from deep, it makes the Edey-Williams duo even more difficult to slow down. 2) Illinois (13-4, 6-1) Best win: 76-53 at Minnesota Worst loss: 71-51 vs. Cincinnati, (neutral site) Recent standout: Andre Curbelo (20 pts, 6 reb vs. No. 4 Purdue) AP poll: 17 NET: 12 KenPom: 12 SOS: 40 Quad 1 record: 1-3 The Illini walked off their home court with their heads down, but deep down Brad Underwood is smiling at the return of Andre Curbelo. The point guard played his first game since Nov. 23 and scored 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting. But the most important stat of the game for Illinois? Zero turnovers for Curbelo. The sophomore floor general received heavy criticism from fans after 16 turnovers in 89 minutes of play to start his season, but looked much more composed on Monday. When Curbelo is at the top of his game, Illinois can hang with just about any team in the country. 3) Wisconsin (14-2, 5-1) Best win: 74-69 at No. 4 Purdue Worst loss: 73-55 at No. 19 Ohio State Recent standout: Brad Davison (25 pts vs. Ohio State) AP poll: 8 NET: 18 KenPom: 27 SOS: 7 Quad 1 record: 5-1 Wisconsin’s fall in these rankings has nothing to do with the Badgers’ recent play, but rather how impressive both Purdue and Illinois were on Monday. Wisconsin has a 9-2 record against quad one and quad two opponents and still has the Big Ten’s best conference win: a five-point victory at Purdue. The Badgers rose to No. 8 in this week’s AP poll – their highest ranking of the year – and have a chance to further improve their résumé with a home game against No. 14 Michigan State on Friday. Tyler Wahl and Brad Davison combining for 45 points in Wisconsin’s win over No. 19 Ohio State is a scary sight for opponents. 4) Michigan State (14-3, 5-1) Best win: 64-60 vs. No. 25 UConn (neutral site) Worst loss: 64-62 vs. Northwestern Recent standout: Julius Marble II (18 pts vs. Northwestern) AP poll: 14 NET: 23 KenPom: 22 SOS: 25 Quad 1 record: 3-2 In one of the more shocking results of the season, Michigan State lost at home to a Northwestern team playing without Pete Nance. The referees nearly bailed Michigan State out by calling a foul with less than a second left, but Marcus Bingham missed the front end of the one-and-one to seal the loss. This could be Tom Izzo’s deepest and most versatile team in recent years, but either Gabe Brown or Max Christie need to establish themselves as consistent, reliable scorers in order for Michigan State to compete with Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. 5) Iowa (13-4, 3-3) Best win: 83-74 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 73-53 at No. 15 Iowa State Recent standout: Kris Murray (career-high 29 pts, 11 reb vs. Indiana) AP poll: First in receiving votes NET: 19 KenPom: 19 SOS: 44 Quad 1 record: 0-4 After a slow start to Big Ten play, Iowa claimed two important wins versus Indiana and at Minnesota. Both wins came by nine or more points, and it was the Murray brothers leading the way. Keegan is the projected lottery pick, but Kris has looked just as good at times. Against Indiana, Kris seized the opportunity after Keegan’s foul trouble to score a career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds. Keegan bounced back for a double-double of his own against Iowa (25 pts, 10 rebounds) despite uncharacteristic poor 3-point shooting from the Hawkeyes. 6) Indiana (13-4, 4-3) Best win: 67-51 vs. No. 19 Ohio State Worst loss: 61-58 at Penn State Recent standout: Jordan Geronimo (10 pts, 8 reb vs. Nebraska) AP poll: 13th in receiving votes NET: 34 KenPom: 28 SOS: 124 Quad 1 record: 1-2 Indiana split a pair of road contests this week to win its first true road game in over a year. Jordan Geronimo and Trey Galloway again provided a boost off the bench, combining for 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. Trayce Jackson-Davis went down hard after being fouled and was seen icing his tailbone on the bench during the final seven minutes of Indiana’s win at Nebraska. The preseason All-American forward ensured fans that he will be ready to go against Purdue on Thursday. The Boilermakers have beaten Indiana in nine consecutive matchups. 7) Ohio State (11-4, 5-2) Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 6 Duke Worst loss: 71-68 vs. Florida (neutral site) Recent standout: AP poll: 19 NET: 25 KenPom: 23 SOS: 5 Quad 1 record: 3-4 Ohio State stayed in the AP rankings this week but hasn’t looked like the same team that beat Duke. The Buckeyes lost by 10 points at Wisconsin in a game where they shot 3-for-19 from beyond the arc and allowed 16 points off turnovers. Since Dec. 12, Ohio State's only wins have come against Nebraska in overtime and at home against Northwestern and Penn State. Chris Holtman’s squad snuck away with a home win against the Nittany Lions, but again didn’t possess the same 3-point shooting (6-for-22) or depth it had shown early in the season. E.J. Liddell hasn’t skipped a beat, but the rest of the Buckeyes have struggled since their over two-week break due to COVID-19. The Buckeyes may not be clicking right now, but don't count them out to compete for the Big Ten title. 8) Northwestern (9-6, 2-4) Best win: 64-62 at No. 14 Michigan State Worst loss: 97-87 (2 OT) vs. Maryland Recent standout: Ryan Young (18 pts, 8 reb vs. Michigan State) AP poll: Unranked NET: 72 KenPom: 53 SOS: 64 Quad 1 record: 1-4 No Pete Nance? No problem, said the Wildcats on Saturday. Northwestern went into the Breslin Center and came away with a two-point win over Michigan State. In Nance’s absence, Ryan Young poured in 18 points, snagged eight rebounds and held opposing big man Marcus Bingham Jr. to two point and two rebounds. It’s been difficult to assess just how good Chris Collins’ squad is this season, but when it’s playing cohesive defense that leads to 10 steals and 16 forced turnovers, it will stay in most games. Up next is a home game with Wisconsin that represents a shot at a big résumé-boosting win. 9) Penn State (8-7, 3-4) Best win: 61-58 vs. Indiana Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass Recent standout: Sam Sessoms (17 pts, 6 ast vs. Rutgers) AP poll: Unranked NET: 87 KenPom: 66 SOS: 12 Quad 1 record: 1-5 The Nittany Lions demolished Rutgers last Tuesday with stingy defense and strong rebounding. Penn State out rebounded the Scarlet Knights by eight and scored 18 of its points off turnovers. As Micah Shrewsberry gets more comfortable in his first year as head coach, so are his players. The Nittany Lions nearly pulled off an upset win at Ohio State thanks to balanced scoring and taking care of the ball. John Harrar (10.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) might be the most underrated player in the Big Ten amongst a crowded group of frontcourt stars. 10) Rutgers (10-6, 4-2) Best win: 70-68 vs. No. 4 Purdue Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Recent standout: Ron Harper Jr. (31 pts vs. Maryland) AP poll: Unranked NET: 116 KenPom: 93 SOS: 80 Quad 1 record: 1-2 After a blowout loss at Penn State, Rutgers returned to Jersey Mike’s Arena on Saturday to grab a double-digit win over Maryland. Ron Harper Jr. was the star, leading all scorers with 31 points on 6-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. It’s been quite the up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights have won five of their past six games and have plenty of opportunities for wins ahead. After a home contest with Iowa, Rutgers will face off against Minnesota, Maryland, Nebraska and Northwestern, which could be a recipe for a rise in the Big Ten standings. 11) Michigan (7-7, 1-3) Best win: 72-58 vs. San Diego State Worst loss: 75-65 vs. Minnesota Recent standout: DeVante Jones (17 pts, 6 reb at Illinois) AP poll: Unranked NET: 61 KenPom: 32 SOS: 20 Quad 1 record: 0-4 Michigan’s last win came on Dec. 18 against Southern Utah. Let that sink in. The Wolverines were picked by many to win the Big Ten this year, but now are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament with losses to Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois in their past three conference tilts. Michigan’s next game is a must-win at home against Maryland, which could be the start of a turnaround or the tipping point of a collapse. On paper, all the talent is there for Juwan Howard, but finding the right rotations has been a struggle. I'm not sure how Michigan has maintained solid standing in the computer rankings, but they surely aren't passing the eye test. 12) Maryland (9-8, 1-5) Best win: 70-68 vs. Florida Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason Recent standout: Eric Ayala (26 pts, 11 reb at Northwestern) AP poll: Unranked NET: 107 KenPom: 85 SOS: 58 Quad 1 record: 2-3 Maryland came out on top in a 2OT nail-biter at Northwestern only to lose by 11 points at home against Rutgers. The Terrapins struggled from 3-point land (6-for-25) while allowing Rutgers to hit from deep all night (10-for-22). It appears Maryland’s starting five is starting to play with some chemistry, but it has gotten close to no production from its bench. In the past two games Maryland’s bench has scored just 14 total points. 13) Minnesota (10-5, 1-5) Best win: 81-76 at Mississippi State Worst loss: 81-71 vs. Iowa Recent standout: Eylijah Stephens (22 pts vs. Iowa) AP poll: Unranked NET: 79 KenPom: 90 SOS: 27 Quad 1 record: 2-5 After a 10-1 start to the season, Minnesota has dropped four games in a row. Its last win came on Dec. 22 against Green Bay, and the Golden Gophers have failed to be competitive in many games since. During its four-game losing streak, Minnesota has lost three games by double digits and lost a heartbreaker at Michigan State last Wednesday. The Golden Gophers have come back to Earth after a surprisingly hot start, but things won’t get easier moving forward as three of their next five games are against ranked opponents. 14) Nebraska (6-13, 0-8) Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois Recent standout: Bryce McGowens (20 pts, 5 reb) AP poll: Unranked NET: 204 KenPom: 162 SOS: 23 Quad 1 record: 0-6 It was good news for Nebraska when Trey McGowens returned from injury on Monday against Indiana and hit his first 3-point attempt of the game, but McGowens’ return came with yet another loss. The Cornhuskers are at risk of going winless in the Big Ten this year as things in Lincoln don’t seem to be improving under head coach Fred Hoiberg. Alonzo Verge Jr. and freshman five-star recruit Bryce McGowens is a competitive backcourt duo, but Nebraska has gotten beat in the paint all year.
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 ncaa.stats.org, CBS Sports and kenpom.com 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.
It may have been a disappointing season for Indiana volleyball, which finished last week with a 10-22 overall record and 4-16 in the Big Ten. But you never would have known it from being inside Wilkinson Hall. Since head coach Steve Aird's arrival in 2018, games have sometimes felt more like a party than a sporting event. Before the Hoosiers took the floor, fans would tailgate outside, complete with cornhole, free food and a live DJ manning the turntables. When fans entered the stadium, they would find the Indiana University drumline and the lively Crimson Guard student section. That’s the environment Aird has aimed for throughout his four seasons as the head coach of the Hoosiers. “It starts with a community — the student section — to really get behind it,” Aird said. “There will be some ups and downs as we get going, but I think we have a loyal fan base.”
The Big Ten was victorious in the Big Ten-ACC challenge this past week, which earned the conference a number of résumé-boosting wins. Conference play also started over the weekend, giving us a taste of how Big Ten foes stack up with each other. Here’s how I see the conference layout in this week’s Big Ten power rankings. (Stats per stats.ncaa.org, CBS Sports, kenpom.com through Dec. 5) 1) Purdue (8-0, 1-0) Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 5 Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: N/A Recent standout: Jaden Ivey (19 pts vs. Iowa, 18 pts vs. Florida State) NET: 1 KenPom: 2 SOS: 40 Quad 1 record: 3-0 Purdue will be the No. 1 team in the country when the next AP poll comes out after dominating Florida State in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. The Boilermakers’ first sign of weakness came in a down-to-the wire home game with Iowa, who was playing without Big Ten leading scorer Keegan Murray (24.6 ppg). Next up is a road trip to Rutgers, followed by neutral site contests with NC State and Butler. 2) Ohio State (6-2, 1-0) Best win: 71-66 vs. No. 1 Duke Worst loss: 71-65 at Xavier Recent standout: E.J. Liddell (14 pts, 14 reb, 6 ast, game-winning shot vs. Duke) NET: 28 KenPom: 21 SOS: 16 Quad 1 record: 2-2 Ohio State made a statement in its win over Duke that early season struggles aren’t indicative of what this team is made of. The Buckeyes were without Justice Sueing and Seth Towns against Duke, but Zed Key stepped up with 20 points. Ohio State is third in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage to complement the frontcourt force of Kyle Young, Key and Liddell. 3) Wisconsin (7-1, 0-0) Best win: 65-63 vs. No. 12 Houston (neutral site) Worst loss: 63-58 vs. Providence Recent standout: Johnny Davis (25 pts, 5 reb vs. Marquette) NET: 18 KenPom: 27 SOS: 61 Quad 1 record: 1-0 Wisconsin won on the road against Georgia Tech then returned to Madison and stomped Marquette 89-76. Johnny Davis has been the breakout star for the Badgers, but Brad Davison, Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl each contributed 15 or more points against Marquette. 4) Michigan State (7-2, 0-0) Best win: 64-60 vs. No. 22 UConn (neutral site) Worst loss: 75-58 vs. No. 6 Baylor (neutral site) Recent standout: Max Christie (11 pts vs. Louisville, 14 pts vs. Toledo) NET: 19 KenPom: 23 SOS: 9 Quad 1 record: 2-2 Michigan State picked up a road win against Louisville (6-2) thanks to contributions from all over the roster. Tyson Walker dished out 10 assists, allowing six players to score in double figures. Malik Hall led the way with 15 points and five rebounds, to go along with nine points and 12 rebounds from Marcus Bingham Jr. against a tough Louisville frontcourt. Don’t doubt this Spartan team in what some thought would be a down year. 5) Iowa (7-1, 0-1) Best win: 75-74 at Virginia Worst loss: 77-70 at Purdue Recent standout: Patrick McCaffery (15 pts, 5 reb at Purdue) NET: 9 KenPom: 22 SOS: 146 Quad 1 record: 1-1 Iowa started the season 6-0, but hadn’t played a team inside the KenPom top 200. Well any questions were answered as the Hawkeyes jumped out to a huge lead against Virginia and held off a late comeback. Iowa then claimed one of the more impressive losses in all of college basketball when it hung tough at Purdue without Big Ten leading scorer Keegan Murray (24.6 ppg). Iowa is first in the Big Ten in turnover margin and second in 3-point shooting percentage. 6) Indiana (7-1, 1-0) Best win: 76-74 vs. St. John's Worst loss: 112-110 / 2OT at Syracuse Recent standout: Parker Stewart (47.7 3pt % leads Big Ten) NET: 56 KenPom: 30 SOS: 341 Quad 1 record: 0-0 Indiana overcame a 17-point first half deficit at Syracuse only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in double overtime. While it was a loss, the fact that Indiana put itself in a position to win on the road after a big deficit was promising. Trayce Jackson-Davis is a first-team All-American candidate, and unlike from his first two seasons, he’s surrounded by Miller Kopp (28 pts vs. Syracuse) and Parker Stewart (47.7 3pt % leads Big Ten) who can knock down shots. 7) Illinois (6-2, 1-0) Best win: 82-72 vs. Notre Dame Worst loss: 71-51 vs. Cincinnati, (neutral site) Recent standout: Alfonso Plummer (21 pts vs. Notre Dame, 24 pts vs. Rutgers) NET: 48 KenPom: 18 SOS: 212 Quad 1 record: 0-1 Illinois took care of business at home against Notre Dame in the Big Ten-ACC challenge then routed Rutgers by 35 points in the Big Ten opener – all without point guard Andre Curbelo. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer has emerged as a strong second option, draining a Big Ten-high 24 3-point shots and converting all 23 free-throw attempts. It was a rough start for the Illini, but Brad Underwood is starting to figure things out. 8) Minnesota (7-0, 0-0) Best win: 81-76 at Mississippi State Worst loss: N/A Recent standout: Payton Willis (24 pts, 7 ast, 4 reb at Mississippi State) NET: 36 KenPom: 90 SOS: 241 Quad 1 record: 1-0 The knock on Minnesota through five games was that it hadn’t played a Power Five opponent. But after winning on the road against Pittsburgh and Mississippi, Minnesota is the Big Ten’s early-season surprise story. Transfers Payton Willis and Jamison Battle are an experienced duo that is averaging over 15 points per game apiece. 9) Michigan (5-3, 0-0) Best win: 72-58 vs. San Diego State Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Arizona (neutral site) Recent standout: Caleb Houstan (8 pts, 7 reb vs. UNC, 17 pts vs. SDSU) NET: 63 KenPom: 17 SOS: 45 Quad 1 record: 0-3 Michigan lost by 21 points at North Carolina in a game where the Wolverines were dominated in the paint. Hunter Dickinson managed just four points and five rebounds due to constant foul trouble, which allowed UNC’s Dawson Garcia and Armando Bacot to control the lane. Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan look like one of the Big Ten’s best freshman duos, but the new-look Wolverines still haven’t gelled. 10) Northwestern (6-2, 1-0) Best win: 67-61 at Maryland Worst loss: 77-72 vs. Providence (neutral site) Recent standout: Pete Nance (17 pts, 10 reb at Maryland) NET: 42 KenPom: 37 SOS: 151 Quad 1 record: 0-2 Northwestern fell in soul-crushing fashion at Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Boo Buie tied the game with 20 seconds left, but Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia hit the game-winning shot with five seconds on the clock. Northwestern’s ceiling depends on how much Pete Nance (17.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) can hang with the Big Ten’s frontcourt elite. 11) Nebraska (5-4, 0-1) Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois Recent standout: Alonzo Verge Jr. (25 pts, 10 reb, 8 ast vs. NC State) NET: 192 KenPom: 103 SOS: 283 Quad 1 record: 0-1 Nebraska had every chance to win at NC State, but let things slip away in a four-overtime loss on the road. The Cornhuskers got out to a 10-point lead at Indiana, but lost by 13 after a woeful shooting performance in the second half. Alonzo Verge Jr. and Bryce McGowens would start on a good amount of Big Ten teams, but depth is an issue for Nebraska. 12) Penn State (4-3, 0-0) Best win: 60-45 vs. Oregon State (neutral site) Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass Recent standout: John Harrar (16 pts, 12 reb vs. Miami (FL)) NET: 137 KenPom: 91 SOS: 130 Quad 1 record: 0-2 Penn State lost its Big Ten opener at home to Ohio State after a nail-biting home loss to Miami (FL) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. John Harrar (10.9 rpg) is the Big Ten’s leading rebounder and Seth Lundy is putting up more than 15 points a game, but first-year head coach Micah Shrewsberry doesn’t have much after that. 13) Maryland (5-4, 0-1) Best win: 86-80 vs. Richmond (neutral site) Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason Recent standout: Hakim Hart (18 pts, 7 reb vs. Northwestern) NET: 155 KenPom: 52 SOS: 223 Quad 1 record: 0-0 Maryland and head coach Mark Turgeon mutually parted ways this week in a surprising move after Turgeon signed an extension this past offseason. A season with much promise for the Terrapins is now derailed after three straight losses, including a 67-61 home loss to Northwestern. Maryland added a couple standout transfers, but it now looks like the Terrapins will miss the NCAA tournament. 14) Rutgers (4-4, 0-1) Best win: 74-64 vs. Clemson Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Recent standout: Ron Harper Jr. (23 pts, 9 reb vs. Clemson) NET: 217 KenPom: 100 SOS: 202 Quad 1 record: 0-1 Rutgers lost three straight games to non-Power Five schools to set up a must-win game at home against Clemson. In a win it desperately needed, Rutgers defeated Clemson by 10 points behind a signature game from Ron Harper Jr. But point guard Geo Baker didn’t play against Illinois, and Rutgers lost by 35 as they cling to a .500 record through eight games.
The opening weeks of the 2021-2022 college basketball season have already delivered in a major way. Three teams ranked in the preseason AP top five rankings have gone down, and fans in the stands are revitalizing the excitement surrounding the sport. Early signs show the Big Ten might not be as talented from top to bottom as it has been in recent years, but the conference still claimed some big-time wins during Feast Week. Here’s the first edition of my weekly Big Ten power rankings. (stats updated through Nov. 28) 1. Purdue (6-0, 0-0) Best win: 80-74 vs. No. 5 Villanova (neutral site) Worst loss: N/A Standout performer: Zach Edey (17.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg) NET: 29 KenPom: 2 Purdue has a case to be the No. 1 team in the country after defeating No. 5 Villanova and No. 18 North Carolina in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. The 7-foot-4 Zach Edey has taken a sophomore step so large he’s now starting over preseason All-American candidate Trevion Williams. Jaden Ivey has developed into a likely lottery pick in next year’s draft and will be in the conversation for the Big Ten’s best guard all season. Sasha Stefanovic is the perfect sharpshooter to complement Ivey and Purdue’s huge front court, and Caleb Furst is a versatile freshman who has made an immediate impact against talented opponents. 2. Wisconsin (5-1, 0-0) Best win: 65-63 vs. No. 12 Houston (neutral site) Worst loss: 63-58 vs. Providence Standout performer: Johnny Davis (20.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.0 spg) NET: 23 KenPom: 32 After a close loss at home to Providence (6-1), the Badgers won the Maui Invitational after defeating Texas A&M, No. 12 Houston and Saint Mary’s. Wisconsin lost a lot of production and senior leadership from last year’s squad – D’mitrik Trice, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter are all gone – but Johnny Davis and Brad Davison are a steady backcourt duo that can win games in the Big Ten. The biggest strength thus far, though, has been Wisconsin’s team defense. The Badgers haven’t allowed more than 63 points in a game this season and have held opponents below 60 four times. In order for Wisconsin to stay in the upper echelon of the Big Ten, a scorer besides Davis and Davison will need to step up on a consistent basis. 3. Michigan State (5-2, 0-0) Best win: 64-60 vs. No. 22 UConn (neutral site) Worst loss: 75-58 vs. No. 6 Baylor (neutral site) Standout performer: Gabe Brown (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) NET: 76 KenPom: 26 Not many teams in the country have played the amount of high-caliber opponents as Michigan State. The Spartans opened the season against No. 3 Kansas and lost by 13 points at Madison Square Garden. But they bounced back by dominating Butler in the Gavitt Games and picking up two resume-boosting wins against Loyola-Chicago and No. 22 UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Head coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans trailed by two points at halftime against the defending national champion Baylor Bears only to lose by 17, but this looks like one of the more balanced Michigan State squads in recent years. Marcus Bingham Jr. (10.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg. 3.1 bpg) and Malik Hall (9.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg) have made obvious improvements with McDonald’s All-American Max Christie stepping in as a scoring threat to complement Gabe Brown. 4. Indiana (6-0, 0-0) Best win: 76-74 vs. Saint John’s Worst loss: N/A Standout performer: Trayce Jackson-Davis (20.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.8 bpg) NET: 67 KenPom: 31 First-year head coach Mike Woodson has the Hoosiers playing a more up-tempo and exciting brand of basketball through six games. Transfers Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp give Indiana capable shooters on the wing that it hasn’t had in a number of years. Depth also appears to be a major improvement for Indiana with freshman Tamar Bates as a constant threat to score off the bench. Jordan Geronimo and Khristian Lander look much improved from a year ago, and 7-footer Michael Durr adds necessary size in the physical Big Ten. After a solid win over Saint John’s at Assembly Hall, Indiana’s biggest non-conference test awaits on Nov. 30 at Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. 5. Ohio State (4-2, 0-0) Best win: 79-76 vs. No. 21 Seton Hall (neutral site) Worst loss: 71-65 at Xavier Standout performer: E.J. Lidell (22.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.8 bpg) NET: 13 KenPom: 24 The Buckeyes lost in the championship game of the Fort Myers Tip-Off to No. 23 Florida on a buzzer beater in a game they probably should have won. Losing Duane Washington from last year’s team leaves a scoring hole in the backcourt, but E.J. Lidell looks like one of the Big Ten’s best players early on. Ohio State struggled with Akron in a one-point win to start the year, but Lidell, Kyle Young (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Zed Key (9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) form a tough frontline that will be hard to score on. Meechie Johnson Jr. hit the game winner against Seton Hall and will need to fill in that instant-offense role that Ohio State is missing in the backcourt. 6. Michigan (4-2, 0-0) Best win: 74-61 at UNLV Worst loss: 80-62 vs. Arizona Standout performer: Eli Brooks (15.7 ppg, 42.9% 3-pt FG, 1.2 spg) NET: 3 KenPom: 8 Michigan hasn’t done anything on the court in 2021 to deserve this ranking – it’s purely based on the third best recruiting class in the nation, head coach Juwan Howard and the return of Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks. The Wolverines fell to Seton Hall on their home floor, got manhandled by Arizona and won unconvincingly against Tarleton State (1-5). Michigan seems to have a bit of an identity crisis after losing Mike Smith, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers. But there’s no shortage of talent on this roster – Dickinson is a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate are long and lengthy freshmen that can immediately impact games. 7. Illinois (4-2, 0-0) Best win: 72-64 vs. Kansas State (neutral site) Worst loss: 71-51 vs. Cincinnati, (neutral site) Standout performer: Kofi Cockburn (26.3 ppg, 71.4% FG, 10.0 rpg) NET: 4 KenPom: 25 Some said Illinois could be better this season than the Illini squad that claimed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year, but they must have forgotten that its best player Ayo Dosumnu is no longer in Champaign. Andre Curbelo complemented Dosunmu well last year, but has had some growing pains in a more prominent role in 2021, turning the ball over four times per game. Illinois crumbled in the final minutes at Marquette in the Gavitt Games and was dominated by Cincinnati in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer scored 30 points on Friday, but the Illini struggled to beat UT-Rio Grande Valley at home. Life without Dosunmu isn’t going as well as most thought. 8. Iowa (6-0, 0-0) Best win: University of Missouri-Kansas City (?) Worst loss: N/A Standout performer: Keegan Murray (25.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.5 rpg) NET: 7 KenPom: 20 Iowa hasn’t played anyone in the top 200 of KenPom’s rankings and has three opponents higher than No. 300. With that said, the Hawkeyes have easily taken care of business in each game – winning by 20 or more each game. Keegan Murray looks ready to take over as Iowa’s go-to option and models the type of wing player becoming increasingly valuable in the NBA. Jordan Bohannon is back yet again and is averaging 10 points on 39.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Iowa lost Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp and C.J. Frederick from last year’s squad, so we’ll learn soon just how good this Iowa team is. 9. Maryland (5-2, 0-0) Best win: 86-80 vs. Richmond (neutral site) Worst loss: 71-66 vs. George Mason Standout performer: Eric Ayala (15.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg) NET: 38 KenPom: 46 Maryland was as successful as any Big Ten team working the transfer portal this offseason, adding Fatts Russell (12.9 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Qudus Wahab (10.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg). The Terrapins can score in a variety of ways, with four players averaging more than 10 points per game, but the loss to George Mason and other narrow wins are concerning. Maryland hung tough with Louisville in the Bahamas Championship, getting 14 points and six rebounds from Donta Scott, but ultimately fell by eight points. Mark Turgeon has a talented starting five, but his bench players are largely inexperienced. It could take some time for this team to gel together. 10. Minnesota (5-0, 0-0) Best win: 73-69 vs. Western Kentucky Worst loss: N/A Standout performer: Jamison Battle (17.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) NET: 81 KenPom: 100 Minnesota hasn’t played a Power Five opponent yet, but is one of four Big Ten teams that is still undefeated. The Golden Gophers fired Richard Pitino after last season, and with that came a huge exodus of talent. Marcus Carr transferred to Texas, Liam Robbins transferred to Vanderbilt and Jamal Mashburn Jr. followed Pitino to New Mexico, to name a few. But so far, it seems first-year head coach Ben Johnson has brought in a nice crop of talent. George Washington transfer Jamison Battle is averaging 18.9 points, and Payton Willis transferred back to Minnesota after a year at College of Charleston and is averaging 16.6 points on 44.4 percent shooting from 3. 11. Northwestern (5-1, 0-0) Best win: 78-62 vs. Georgia (neutral site) Worst loss: 77-72 vs. Providence (neutral site) Standout performer: Pete Nance (17.7 ppg, 47.1% 3-pt FG, 8.0 rpg) NET: 96 KenPom: 41 Northwestern returns four of five starters from last year’s squad and is off to a solid start. Pete Nance and Boo Buie are averaging over 17 points per game apiece and powered Northwestern to a 20-point halftime lead over Georgia. This also appears to be one of Northwestern’s deeper teams in recent years, with Ryan Young scoring 13 points per game off the bench and Ryan Greer shooting 50 percent from 3-point land. This could be a make-or-break season for Chris Collins. 12. Penn State (4-2, 0-0) Best win: 60-45 vs. Oregon State (neutral site) Worst loss: 81-56 at UMass Standout performer: Sam Sessoms (15.3 ppg, 47.1% 3-pt FG, 5.2 rpg, 3.7 apg) NET: 44 KenPom: 75 Head coach Micah Shrewsberry is dealing with a lot of roster turnover in his first season. But Sam Sessoms (15.3 ppg) and Seth Lundy (15.3) are two returners with plenty of experience and scoring ability. The question, though, is who can contribute past that duo. John Harrar is back for his senior year and is nearly averaging a double double with 9.7 points and 10.7 rebounds, but past him lie a lot of questions regarding consistent production. It’s definitely a rebuilding year in Happy Valley. 13. Nebraska (5-2, 0-0) Best win: 74-65 vs. Sam Houston Worst loss: 75-74 vs. Western Illinois Standout performer: Bryce McGowens (17.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.3 apg) NET: 129 KenPom: 103 Fred Hoiberg brought in Bryce McGowens this offseason, making him Nebraska’s top recruit of all time. And so far, McGowens has lived up to the hype by averaging 17.7 points per game. The 6-foot-7 freshman is tough in the lane, but has struggled to shoot from beyond the arc with a 25.8 3-point percentage. Nebraska lost by eight points to Creighton in one of its stronger games of the season, and has followed that up with four wins – albeit to opponents all ranked 200 or higher, according to KenPom. This could be Hoiberg’s most talented team. 14. Rutgers (3-3, 0-0) Best win: 48-35 vs. Merrimack Worst loss: 53-51 vs. Lafayette Standout performer: Ron Harper Jr. (15.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) NET: 40 KenPom: 94 Rutgers has lost three straight games to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass. The Scarlet Knights made the tournament for the first time since 1991 and returned the majority of their contributors, but are 3-3 this year with no games against Power Five schools. Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker have been All-Big Ten candidates throughout their careers and could turn things around, but something has to change fast. Rutgers is shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point land.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – For just a moment, Indiana looked like the 2020 squad that peaked with a No. 7 ranking in the AP Poll. With 12 minutes left in the second quarter, the game was tied 7-7 as Indiana cornerback Jaylin Williams sat back in zone coverage. Williams jumped the route to intercept Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell and went untouched for a pick six. But as quick as Williams was to reach the end zone was the sideline referee to reach for the flag in his pocket. Raheem Layne collided with the intended Purdue receiver, allowing O’Connell’s pass to float directly into Willams’ hands. Pass interference was called on Layne, and Indiana’s best chance at a game-changing play was taken away. And on the very next play, O’Connell found tight end Paul Piferi down the sideline for a 24-yard touchdown to give Purdue a 14-7 lead. “That was tough,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “We needed some confidence. That was the first takeaway we’ve gotten in a while.” Indiana has intercepted five passes in 2021 after picking off opposing quarterbacks 17 times last year, which was good for second in the nation. But Indiana failed replicate this short glimpse into the past as O’Connell picked apart the Indiana secondary in a 44-7 loss in West Lafayette. This game represented the basic blueprint for each of Indiana’s last four losses: success on a scripted drive to start the game, followed by limited red zone trips and an inability to limit the opposing quarterback through the air. The Hoosiers went from a No. 17 preseason ranking to a 2-10 record with wins coming against Idaho and Western Kentucky. Indiana and Vanderbilt finish the college football regular season as the only Power Five schools without a win over a Power Five school. Indiana was outscored 316-94 in Big Ten games this season. Indiana showed signs of life offensively on its first drive of the game, going 11 plays and 75 yards for a touchdown. Walk-on quarterback Grant Gremel earned the start and went 6-for-8 for 55 yards on the opening drive. “I settled in pretty quick,” Gremel said. “I felt comfortable, I felt good.” But offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan called freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley’s number on the goal line. McCulley waited for blocks from Charlie Spegal and Matt Bjorson before plowing forward for a touchdown on a quarterback draw. But after a sharp first drive, Indiana failed to score for the rest of the contest. Gremel finished the game completing 18 of 30 attempts for 147 yards and an interception. And after scoring a touchdown to tie the game, McCulley didn’t see the field the rest of the afternoon. “I just don’t think we executed the way we wanted to,” Gremel said. “That’s been the theme the whole season…we shoot ourselves in the foot a lot.” The continued offensive struggles left the defense on the field for the majority of the game, and as Purdue commanded a 20-point lead throughout the second half, O’Connell took his time to dissect the Indiana defense. O’Connell finished the game completing 26 of 31 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Indiana’s defense held strong when stopping the run in the first half, allowing 20 yards on 12 carries. But as Purdue controlled the pace of the game in the second half, the Boilermakers began to milk the clock by running the ball. Purdue rushed 16 times for 147 yards and one touchdown in the second half. The result is yet another blowout loss for Indiana head coach Tom Allen and the Hoosiers. And now, Allen is faced with the task of rebuilding the kind of belief around Indiana football that led to two straight bowl game appearances and players from the SEC transferring to Indiana to play for Allen. A lot will likely change in the coming weeks as the transfer portal becomes more prevalent in college football. Before the Purdue game, Jacolby Hewitt, C.J. Person and D.K. Bonnhome entered the transfer portal, and after a 2-10 season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more players leave. Indiana also has quite the predicament at quarterback next season after a slew of injuries during the season. Michael Penix Jr. suffered the fourth season-ending injury of his career and Jack Tuttle was inactive in the final two games, but both maintain eligibility for next season. McCulley showed bits of potential with his feet, but struggled mightily throwing the ball. Dexter Williams suffered a torn ACL before the season, and it’s unlikely that Indiana enters a season with the walk-on Gremel as the starter. So what’s left of a disaster season in 2021 are questions at every level of the roster and coaching staff. The only glimmer of hope heading into this offseason lies on the fact that Indiana has its top recruiting class in school history arriving in Bloomington next fall. But for Allen, Indiana’s staggering freefall in 2021 means evaluation of every level is on its way. “That’s part of it,” Allen said. “Everyone needs to be held accountable and it begins with me.”
Quarterback uncertainty, challenge for secondary headline Old Oaken Bucket as disaster season concludes
Disastrous, off the rails, a collapse, a failure – whichever title best describes the 2021 Indiana football season concludes with its final chapter on Saturday. Indiana and Purdue will play for the Old Oaken Bucket at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in West Lafayette. It’s the second consecutive Bucket game played at Purdue after last season’s contest never came to fruition due to COVID-19. The Hoosiers have lost seven consecutive games, played four different quarterbacks, matched up with six teams in the College Football Playoff top 16 and battled countless injuries to reach this point. And now, Indiana has one final chance to salvage anything left of a lost 2021 campaign. “Winning the Bucket would make us feel a whole lot different going into this offseason,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. Here are three questions I’m asking before the 123rd Old Oaken Bucket game.
‘Mr. Blue Collar’: Matt Bjorson’s physical, dependable style proves indispensable for Indiana's special teams, tight end groups
Tight ends coach Kevin Wright felt the Indiana offense wasn’t executing in preparation for its game against Maryland on Oct. 30. The Hoosiers practiced a set of plays where senior tight end Matt Bjorson stayed in pass protection, but something wasn’t right. Wright knew it wasn’t Bjorson’s fault — he nicknamed the senior tight end “Mr. Dependable” for a reason. Wright attempted to mix in another player to give Bjorson a rest, but that’s not in Bjorson’s DNA. “I’m in,” Bjorson said. As Indiana worked to solve its offensive struggles, Wright tried three more times to give Bjorson a breather, but was met with the same response. “I’m in,” Bjorson repeated. Bjorson’s refusal to take a play off reveals his meticulous attention to detail and work ethic that have been instrumental throughout Indiana’s locker room. During the 2020 season, Bjorson earned Indiana’s Ted Verlihay “Mental Attitude” Award, and in his fourth season as a Hoosier, Bjorson is what Wright called “the quarterback of the punt team.” Wright’s first impression of Bjorson was a player who’s always locked in, and after coaching him for two seasons, Wright now calls Bjorson “Mr. Blue Collar.” “He doesn’t say a lot,” Wright said. “He’s one of those guys that always has a smile on his face and a pencil in his hand.” *** Matt Bjorson started watching film when he was eight years old. That was the standard Bjorson’s coach — Dr. David Marco, who believed in “the West Point way” and coached second graders like a drill sergeant — set for his players at an early age. In addition to twice-a-week film sessions, the elementary schoolers were expected to memorize plays, analyze their tackling form and critique the way they stepped and used their hands when blocking. After each game, Marco gave out player grades and named the game’s top player at each position. “[Matt] couldn’t watch enough film,” Matt’s father Kris Bjorson said. “And he couldn’t practice enough and that’s eight years old ... It was all-consuming to him to watch and get really technical.” However ridiculous Kris — a former team captain for the University of Cincinnati football team — thought these requirements were for eight year olds, it paid off. Matt’s team went undefeated on its way to the Super Bowl, and his love and competitive drive toward football was formed. That season sparked dreams of playing in the Big Ten or SEC one day, and the first school Matt latched onto was Ohio State. The Christmas after Matt’s first Super Bowl run, Kris gifted his son a full Ohio State football uniform and enough scarlet and gray to cover the walls of his room. Although Kris was a Bearcat in his playing days, he said Matt always wanted to play at a school bigger than Cincinnati. So for the following years leading up to Matt’s high school career at Hinsdale South, the father-son duo joined forces in pursuit of Matt’s dreams. To simplify the Bjorson household and Kris’ coaching responsibilities, Matt teamed up with his older brother Nick. And Matt played no small role against teams with kids two and three years older. Matt cracked skulls at fullback and middle linebacker with Nick lining up at wide receiver. From day one, Matt was the one to set the tone on the field. “[Matt] was always the most physical kid on the field,” Kris said. “He was always the one to do what he had to do to create a physical environment for the team.” Stemming from his high school days in Youngstown, Ohio and his college career at Cincinnati, Kris preached a whistle-to-whistle mentality when coaching Matt and Nick. Kris said he was taught to play every snap like it was his last and that he believes there’s really no other way to play football. Matt exemplified that style of play when he was in sixth grade, playing against eighth graders. Hinsdale reached the Super Bowl of the Bill George Youth Football League with a 9-1 record, but faced a tough challenge against Lombard — the only team to beat the Bjorson-led squad in the regular season. Powered by the younger but mighty Matt, Hinsdale avenged its loss to become Super Bowl champions. Kris considers this his and Matt’s best youth football memory, and one that shaped who Matt would eventually become as a player. “[Matt] invented the word ‘pancake,’” Kris said. *** After a hard-hitting youth football career at fullback and middle linebacker, Matt Bjorson developed into one of Illinois’ top high school football players. As a senior at Hinsdale South High School, Bjorson was named to the 2017 all-state team and West Suburban Silver Offensive Player of the Year for his play at tight end and defensive end. He made 25 catches for 411 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior en route to being ranked the No. 21 hybrid tight end nationally and the No. 18 prospect in Illinois by ESPN. This led to offers from Indiana, a slew of MAC schools and the University of Kentucky, but ultimately, Bjorson chose Indiana because he saw traits of himself — and his father — in Tom Allen. “You want them to be around someone who is faith-based, who is goal-driven and who has things beyond the game that they’re communicating with the kids,” Kris Bjorson said. “So I thought that was a great fit for Matt.” And in a bigger sense, Bjorson felt his belief in hard work and toughness was common throughout the Indiana players and coaching staff. “[At Indiana] it’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re a 5-star, you get what you want,’” Bjorson said. “Allen’s mentality really brought me here to see a fire and passion for the sport.” Bjorson hauled in his first career touchdown as a sophomore in what Allen called a “breakthrough” win for Indiana at Nebraska on Oct. 26, 2019. Throughout his four seasons as a Hoosier, Bjorson has served a multi-purpose role, both as a tight end and a leader on special teams. Although Indiana fell to Michigan 29-7 on Nov. 6, the experienced Bjorson helped true freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley settle in under the bright lights of The Big House. On the opening drive of the game, Indiana faced third down and five at its own 40-yard line. Bjorson paced six yards down the field and ran a quick hitch route, positioning himself just past the first-down marker. McCulley’s quick release connected with Bjorson for an Indiana first down just before converging defenders sandwiched Bjorson. “He has such great flexibility within the offense,” Wright said. “He’s a guy that can block and he’s an underrated receiver.” Bjorson complements Indiana’s second-leading receiver Peyton Hendershot to create a versatile duo at tight end, but Bjorson’s physical presence is perhaps most evident on special teams. Wright called Bjorson the “quarterback of the punt team,” but Bjorson also takes on a leadership role in nearly every aspect of Indiana’s special teams. Bjorson said he takes pride in special teams because it can help set up both the offense and the defense. Bjorson understood special teams from an early age, as his father Kris also ran the punt team at Cincinnati. “Special teams carries a lot of momentum and energy,” Kris said. “I think it certainly decides games.” During Indiana’s 56-14 win over Idaho on Sept. 11, Bjorson’s energy was on display. As the first-half clock ticked away against Idaho, D.J. Matthews caught a punt over his shoulder while running in the opposite direction. As Matthews circled around, Bjorson and fellow Hoosiers formed a wall for Matthews. Bjorson sealed the sideline with a crucial block, allowing Matthews to fly past the Idaho bench before using a stiff arm to cut back to the middle of the field and glide into the end zone. “It was a huge breakthrough for us on special teams,” Bjorson said. “Stuff like that makes people want to try more, want to give more effort to see how much of an impact it can make.” Bjorson said his responsibility on special teams is to make sure everything is secure and running smoothly in order to provide Indiana with a winning edge. Indiana special teams coordinator Kasey Teegardin said setting the tone is crucial because the first play of every game is run by the special teams. “All it takes is one play because I do believe one play can spark,” Teegardin said. “You can see the impact.” *** Peyton Hendershot said the tight end position was the worst position on the team during his first season at Indiana. He and Bjorson committed to not only changing that, but making it one of the best. Bjorson and Hendershot first did this by working to create more opportunities for tight ends within the offense. Whether it be developing their threat as red-zone targets, runners after the catch and run or pass blockers, Hendershot feels they have reversed the narrative regarding Indiana tight ends. “I’m super happy and super proud that me and him got to create that legacy here that the tight end position is going to be the best position on the team,” Hendershot said. But the duo won’t let that stop after 2021 — even with the possibility that neither is on Indiana’s roster next season. Due to experience and leadership, Wright uses Bjorson and Hendershot as an extension of the coaching staff. Wright allows Bjorson and Hendershot to break into collaborative groups with Indiana’s younger tight ends to analyze film without coaches present. Bjorson has embraced this leadership role by trying to set a higher standard for the tight end room. “When you have two players who can do something like that, it’s really beneficial to help people and bring them along,” Bjorson said. Since committing to Indiana in June 2017, Bjorson has appeared in all 41 games — a rare feat for any college athlete. Bjorson has been there for the ups and downs of Indiana football. He was there for the ascent to a top-10 national ranking and two straight bowl game appearances. And he’s here for what can be characterized in no other way than a disappointing 2021 campaign that started with Indiana at No. 17 in the country and currently stands with a 2-8 record. But through it all, Bjorson has told himself that “you can’t ever give up until you have nothing left to give.” Hendershot said Bjorson surprised everyone when he arrived in Bloomington and saw the field from day one. Hendershot described Bjorson as stable, steady and always ready to work. This was an area in which Hendershot admittedly lagged early in his career, but being around Bjorson everyday quickly changed that. “A couple years ago, I was one of those guys like, ‘I’m ready for the season to be over with,’” Hendershot said. “[Bjorson] helped me be consistent and more focused and all of that, and I can’t thank Matt enough.” Although Indiana's 2021 campaign isn't going as planned, Bjorson has helped keep Hendershot locked in through the final weeks of the season. Hendershot arrived in Bloomington one year prior to Bjorson, but said it feels like they have spent their whole careers together. Hendershot said he no longer calls Bjorson a friend, but a brother, because of the way he exemplifies Allen’s culture. “He’s the best teammate anyone could ever ask for,” Hendershot said. “Matt Bjorson is the best guy ever and we’re so honored and blessed to have him on our team.”
The loudest roars inside Memorial Stadium weren’t spurred by on-field success. There was none. Instead, the only energy came from the north corner of the stadium where close to 100 students gathered shirtless, waving their jackets in the air and chanting their rendition of “Seven Nation Army.” The migration to section 19 started late in the second quarter as Indiana trailed 17-0 and sustained through Indiana’s only scoring drive of the game: a seven-play, 61-yard drive culminating in a 47-yard field goal from Charles Campbell.
ANN ARBOR — Tom Allen’s arm pointed to the sky, dipped towards the ground, then inched higher. It was his way of describing the valleys of development present in freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley — natural talent and glimpses of star potential, coupled with mistakes that can swing the results of a game. It depicted the insurmountable challenge of starting a true freshman quarterback in front of 109,890 opposing fans and the bottom line that Indiana left Michigan Stadium with a 2-7 record. And it displayed what always emits from Allen — even in through a season filled with loss: faith for the future. “[McCulley] made some plays you smile at and plays you shake your head at,” Allen said. The most common phrase during Allen’s postgame press conference was, “He’s a young quarterback.” For what’s left in a 2021 season that has spiraled into disaster, it’s the reality Allen and the Hoosiers face. Indiana lost its fifth consecutive game on Saturday night, a 29-7 beatdown against No. 7 Michigan that officially ended any glimmer of hope Allen and the Hoosiers had of reaching a third-straight bowl game.
Indiana quarterback Donaven McCulley set an Indiana record for most passing yards by a true freshman, but it wasn’t enough to overcome defensive struggles in Indiana’s 38-35 loss at Maryland. The Hoosiers will now need to win four consecutive games to end the season in order to become bowl-eligible. Next up are the No. 9 Michigan Wolverines, who rank first in the Big Ten in rushing offense and second in points scored. It’s another prime time matchup for the Hoosiers, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. ET under the lights at The Big House. The Hoosier Network’s football crew Jack Ankony, Tyler Tachman and William McDermott got together to discuss the most important questions heading into this matchup. Indiana’s defense had one of its worst performances of the season at Maryland, allowing 419 yards through the air. How concerned are you with the defense moving forward? Jack: All of a sudden, Indiana’s defense ranks dead last in the Big Ten, allowing 31.6 points per game. Some of that is due to a variety of injuries in the secondary and a difficult schedule, but it looks like a totally different unit from the dominance it showed in 2020. Without Tiawan Mullen at full health – and against the Big Ten’s top rushing offense in Michigan – it’s hard to envision the defense showing drastic improvements on Saturday. Tyler: The secondary has been through its share of adversity this season. Reserve defensive back Chris Keys tore his ACL earlier this year and Larry Tracy entered the transfer portal. Plus, starters Devon Matthews, Mullen, Reese Taylor and Jaylin Williams have also missed varying amounts of time. It’s uncertain whether Mullen and Taylor will be good to go Saturday. It’s hard to imagine Indiana’s defense getting back on track if its secondary doesn’t step up, despite the injuries. William: It didn’t seem as if Mullen played healthy last weekend. Indiana needs him to be the All-Big Ten corner he is. He was just picked on last weekend. Having Taylor would also be huge. Indiana faces more injuries now as defensive back Josh Sanguinetti is doubtful for Saturday. No team in the Big Ten has been more successful running the ball than Michigan this season. Pick a player – who can step up on Indiana’s defense to stop the run? Tyler: Ryder Anderson. The Ole Miss graduate transfer has been one of Indiana’s biggest leaders on and off the field this season. Indiana hasn’t gotten much production from the defensive line in the past few games and Anderson can lead a push into the backfield. Also, someone needs to take the pressure off Micah McFadden.