Welcome back, and once again I’m glad I waited another day to do these rankings. Not one, but TWO last second shots gave Indiana and Ohio State wins last night, and every game in conference play matters.
Tuesday’s slate had some great games as well, and the weekend showed us yet again that there are 13 teams in this conference that can beat anyone on any given day (I’m sorry Rutgers).
This weekend has some high profile games, headlined by Michigan State against Indiana on Saturday afternoon.
1. WISCONSIN BADGERS (15-3, 4-1 BIG, NO. 17 AP) – The Badgers showed enough resiliency to fend off Michigan on Tuesday night to regain the top spot in the power rankings this week. They remain the highest rated Big Ten team in the AP Poll, and the combination of Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have the Badgers off to a great start in Big Ten play. The Badgers will be tested Friday night when they travel to Minnesota, a team looking to get back to their winning ways.
2. MARYLAND TERRAPINS (16-2, 4-1 BIG, NO. 25 AP) – Maryland is sort of flying under the radar in the Big Ten, as their 16-2 record isn’t getting noticed enough. Their lone conference loss to Nebraska caused concern, but they have since rolled off three straight wins, including over Indiana and Illinois on the road. The Terps schedule will keep them in the race, but we will see what senior guard Melo Trimble (17.2 PPG) have in store against Iowa on the road Thursday night.
3. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (15-4, 4-2 BIG, NO. 21 AP) – The Boilermakers drop to their lowest ranking in four weeks following a road loss to Iowa. However, Purdue bounced back in a throttling of Illinois, led by big man Isaac Haas and potential Big Ten Player of the Year in Caleb Swanigan. Purdue gets Penn State at home on Friday before traveling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Boilermakers have a difficult road to the Big Ten title, having to play Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana twice still, as well as a road game against Maryland in the coming weeks.
4. NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (15-4, 4-2 BIG) – After a disappointing 1-2 start to Big Ten play, Northwestern went on the road and beat both Nebraska and Rutgers. They followed up that performance by returning home and manhandling an Iowa team fresh off a win over one of the conference favorites in Purdue. Northwestern is a well coached team under Chris Collins and can score with a number of different players all over the court. Guard Bryant McIntosh has creeped up to second in assist for the Big Ten and Scottie Lindsay remains a top ten scorer. This might be the year the Wildcats hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
5. INDIANA HOOSIERS (13-6, 3-3 BIG) – The Hoosiers have bounced back after a woeful beginning to Big Ten play, thanks to the play of James Blackmon Jr. (17.5 PPG). Blackmon Jr. drilled a three at the buzzer to propel the Hoosiers over Penn State on the road, and now return home to play Michigan State on Saturday. The issue now for Tom Crean’s team is the health of mega-athlete OG Anunoby, who went down in the first half against Penn State and did not return. Crean wasn’t very optimistic about it and could be a huge detriment to the Hoosiers chances of making a Big Ten or potential NCAA run.
6. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (12-7, 4-2 BIG) – The Spartans turned in a disappointing defensive effort against Ohio State on the road last Sunday, resulting in their second conference loss of the season. Now, head coach Tom Izzo has a chance to regroup and rework his team with a near full week off until they play Indiana on Saturday. It will give the time for Michigan State to get their confidence back, especially for players like Cassius Winston, who remains and integral part of the offense. One thing the Spartans have been successful at is sharing the wealth, as they currently sit seventh in the country in assists as a team. They will need plenty of those on Saturday to compete with a high-flying Indiana squad.
7. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (15-4, 3-3 BIG) – Minnesota has a better overall record than the Spartans and Hoosiers who sit before them, but have hit a bit of a rough patch, losing their last two to the Spartans (for the second time) and Penn State. Like the Spartans, Minnesota will have had a good six days to practice and prepare for their next opponent, and for the Gophers, that’s a home matchup against Wisconsin. The Badgers struggled for stretches against Michigan, and the well-rested Minnesota squad could expose it and get their third quality win in conference play after beating Purdue and Northwestern earlier in the year.
8. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (11-8, 3-3 BIG) – Here come the Nittany Lions. Pat Chambers had this team turned around with wins over both Michigan state and Minnesota, and nearly had a chance to take out Indiana before Blackmon Jr. played spoiler with a buzzer-beating three-pointer. Regardless, I have been impressed with Penn State’s play. They have four guys who can score the ball, led by a potential All-Big Ten selection in guard Shep Garner. The Nittany Lions might not be an NCAA Tournament team, but they will continue to give top tier competition fits on the offensive end.
9. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (12-7, 2-4 BIG) – The Buckeyes jump up to No. 9 this week after being in the bottom three the past two power rankings. Ohio State got an impressive win over Michigan State for their first Big Ten victory and followed that up with a last second lay-up by senior forward Marc Loving to beat Nebraska on the road. The Buckeyes could work their way back onto the NCAA bubble, as they do have the toughest schedule in Big Ten play (playing Penn State, Illinois, Iowa and Rutgers only once). It starts this week, with two home games against Northwestern and Minnesota, to gain some ground in the conference.
10. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (12-7, 2-4 BIG) – Michigan has the offense, but their defense (55 percent from three-point range for opponents in conference play) has been...bad. This team goes how Derrick Walton Jr. goes, as they showed in their win over Nebraska. Walton had 15 in the second half and propelled them to victory. I was impressed with the steps they took against Wisconsin on the road, but a win would have really turned my head. They sit at 10th now, but Walton will be the key determinant to whether or not they rise or fall in the coming weeks.
11. NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (9-9, 3-3 BIG) – Well, the Cornhuskers perfect record was fun for a while. After starting 3-0 in conference, Nebraska has come down to earth, dropping three straight against Northwestern, Michigan, and a heartbreaker Wednesday night against Ohio State. The loss of Ed Morrow (10 PPG, 7.1 RPG) has hurt, but Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. remain lethal scorers for Tim Miles group. Like Penn State and Michigan before them, Nebraska will give opposing teams trouble when they have the ball, they just have to defend better.
12. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (12-7, 2-4 BIG) – After a tough loss on the road against Maryland for the second time this season, Illinois caught Purdue, fresh off a loss to Iowa, at the worst possible time. It resulted in a 91-64 beat down and dropped the Illini to 2-4 in conference play. They have the second leading scorer in Big Ten play with Malcolm Hill and big man Maverick Morgan has made some strides. Illinois has the talent to beat anybody, but they have to tone down the selfishness (13.4 APG, good for 195th in the country.)
13. IOWA HAWKEYES (11-8, 3-3 BIG) – Iowa is by far the most hot and cold team in the conference. First the get destroyed by Purdue, but beat them later on in the year. They followed up that monumental win with a 35 POINT LOSS to Northwestern. It’s hard for a team to lose by 35 in a conference game, no matter who you are playing. Peter Jok is to go-to guy, but Iowa needs some support, like freshman Tyler Cook getting 16 and six rebounds in their win over Purdue.
14. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (11-8, 0-6 BIG) – Rutgers actually played both Northwestern and Iowa pretty close before getting blown out by Indiana for their sixth straight conference loss. Rutgers is the lone team in the Big Ten who might not be able to beat anyone on any day, but they are a competitive bunch, led by Corey Sanders. They rebound well and fight hard on defense, but the talent level just is not there.