FINALLY! The Big Ten basketball season starts on December 27th with four games on the slate, including the Michigan State Spartans opening on the road against 12-1 Minnesota. Though the record looks good, the Gophers will be playing their 12th (yes, 12th) home game of the season.
Records can be slightly deceiving, especially before the grueling stretch of Big Ten basketball hits a team. That’s what I’m here for, to deliver you power rankings for the Big Ten so you aren’t left wondering who’s for real and who’s pretend.
Without further ado...
1. Purdue Boilermakers (11-2): A loss on the road to Louisville and a three-point defeat to defending champion and current top-ranked team Villanova are the only blemishes on Boilermakers resume. Purdue has a quality non conference win over Notre Dame on the road and hold onto one of the nation’s frontrunners for player of the year in Caleb Swanigan, who has recorded two straight 20-point, 20-rebound games and leads the team with 18.3 PPG and 12.5 RPG. The former Spartan commit paired with seven-footer Isaac Haas and guard Vince Edwards make Purdue the favorite to win the league.
2. Indiana Hoosiers (10-2) : The state of Indiana could very well be the bullies of the Big Ten as former Tom Izzo assistant Tom Crean lands his team at the two spot. An early non conference loss to IPFW is alarming, but when the Hoosiers have been healthy, they have beaten top-tier competition such as Kansas and North Carolina. A healthy James Blackmon Jr. could make the difference, and big men OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant give the Hoosiers an edge over most.
3. Wisconsin (11-2): The Badgers, who made the Sweet 16 last year return nearly everyone and are poised to challenge for a league title yet again. Point guard Bronson Koenig is as clutch as the come and forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ are both candidates for First-Team All-Big Ten. In his first full season, coach Greg Gard has a talented group of veterans who have been through the bruising gauntlet of the Big Ten multiple times.
4. Maryland (12-1): This is where it starts to get tough. I believe the three teams listed above are a step above of everyone else. Maryland comes in at four mainly because of Melo Trimble (17.9 PPG). The Terps have one-point wins over Georgetown, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, but got beat down by Pittsburgh. Head coach Mark Turgeon will have to find someone else on offense if he plans to have Maryland finish amongst the best.
5. Northwestern (11-2): THE WILDCATS!! Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament. Ever. And every year it looks like they are going to have a chance and always fall short. This could be (no jinxes) the year, as Scottie Lindsay (14.9 PPG) and Bryant McIntosh have Northwestern off to a great start with quality wins over Texas and Dayton. Northwestern barely lost to both Notre Dame and Butler, but will be competitive against the best in the Big Ten.
6. Michigan (10-3): The Wolverines got off to an impressive start, sweeping Marquette (18-point win) and a good SMU team (22-point win) to take the 2K Classic. They also narrowly beat Texas, but losses to UCLA, Virginia Tech and South Carolina sting for their NCAA Tournament resume. Led by seniors Derrick Walton Jr. (12.4 PPG) and Zak Irvin (14.1 PPG), the Wolverines will likely live and die by the three-ball. Luckily for head coach Jon Beilein, he has a few guys who can do it.
7. Ohio State (10-3): The Buckeyes and head coach Thad Matta barely get edged by the Wolverines for inconsistency. The Buckeyes played Virginia on the road down to the wire (a two-point loss), yet managed to fall at home to Florida Atlantic and barely survived games against UNC-Asheville and North Carolina Central. Still, Ohio State has some big-time players in JaQuan Lyle (5.9 APG) and Jae’Sean Tate (14.3 PPG) who will have to be more consistent to compete.
8. Minnesota (12-1): Yes, Minnesota is 12-1, but the best win the Gophers have is against Arkansas and have played one of the weakest non conference schedules in the country. The squad is led by speedy guard Nate Mason and have a chance early in conference play to prove if they are real of not.
9. Michigan State (8-5): Hard to imagine an 8-5 team gets the ninth slot here over a couple of programs with much better records, but four of those losses are against top 20 teams (Baylor (No.4), Duke (No.5), Kentucky (No.8) and Arizona (No. 18)). The Spartans were without star Miles Bridges in their loss against Northeastern, but Spartan fans should still be concerned about Michigan State missing the Tournament for the first team under Izzo. The Spartans, however, will be boosted by Bridges return and have a favorable Big Ten schedule only playing Indiana and Wisconsin one time.
10. Illinois (10-3): Illini head coach John Groce was firmly planted on the hot seat following his team’s early season upset loss to Winthrop and two more right after to West Virginia and Florida State. After that, Groce and the Illini have reeled off six straight including wins over North Carolina State and BYU. Illinois is led by playmaker Malcom Hill (18.4 PPG) and point guard Tracy Abrams who is finally healthy after missing nearly two full seasons with injury.
11. Iowa (8-5): Iowa is led by Peter Jok, who at just over 22 points per game sits as the conference’s leading scorer. Beyond that, it freshman Cordell Pemsi who has picked up the slack after and injury to Tlyer Cook. The Hawkeyes have four losses to quality teams and one really bad one to Nebraska-Omaha. However, they have rallied off five wins in a row, including beating both in-state rivals in Iowa State and Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes will need some more production elsewhere to make a bid for the tournament, as Jok can’t do everything himself.
12. Rutgers (11-2): Rutgers is 11-2 and lost to both Miami and Seton Hall by single digits. That’s the good. The bad is the fact that they lost their only two semi-marquee non conference games and their best win to date is now North Texas. The Scarlet Knights might be in for a long conference if Corey Sanders (10.7 PPG), who averaged 16 PPG last year, doesn’t start filling it up.
13. Penn State (8-5): The Nittany Lions played Duke pretty tough but sits at 8-5 with not a whole lot of beef on their resume. Wins over George Washington and Georgia Tech are OK, but losses to George Mason and Albany are not. Penn State will need a lot from junior guard Shep Garner if the plan on being competitive with the teams ahead of them.
14. Nebraska (6-6): Head coach Tim Miles lost a lot of talent after last year, but guard Tai Webster has been a beast for the Cornhuskers, averaging 17 points, 5.1 rebounds and four assists per game. Regardless, the Huskers are the only Big Ten team not above .500, though they played a hard schedule. Expect them to not finish last in the Big Ten, but for now, it’s where they sit.