Welcome back y’all. Week five of the Big Ten season is upon us and there was plenty of action in this past slate of games. This week, the rankings don’t change much, but a couple of teams found their way towards the top end of the rankings –– at the expense of a few otherS (sorry, Nebraska).
Meanwhile, everyone in the conference except the two leaders have played eight games, one short of the halfway mark of the Big Ten season. The conference is beginning to separate itself, but a number of .500 level conference teams have the opportunity to springboard up to the top four –– and the elusive bye come Big Ten tournament time.
1. WISCONSIN (NO. 15 AP, 17-3, 6-1 B1G) – After two close wins against Michigan and Minnesota, the Badgers blew out Penn State and play Rutgers on Saturday, looking to extend their winning streak to five games. Wisconsin does everything well and probably has the best lineup in the Big Ten, led by Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. It will continue to be tough to stop the Badgers, and they are looking more and more likely to be the Big Ten champions and the highest Big Ten team seeded in the NCAA Tournament.
2. MARYLAND (NO. 22 AP, 18-2, 6-1 B1G) – Maryland is beating everyone since losing their conference opener to Nebraska, and even though they aren’t doing it with flash, they are doing it with good fundamentals and excellent teamwork. The Terrapins don;t do anything poorly and have a sound leader in Melo Trimble. Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson have proved to be more than solid compliments, but their next three games (road against Minnesota/Ohio State, home against Purdue) will determine if they are for real or beneficiaries of an easy conference schedule.
3. PURDUE (NO. 20 AP, 17-4, 6-2 B1G) – Big man Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan had himself an evening against the team he formerly committed to, posting 25 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Michigan State. More than that, they beat Michigan State despite an off night from Vince Edwards, and Purdue could be a potential Final Four team if everyone is clicking at the right time. They are on a three-game win streak and will likely make it four on the road against Nebraska on Sunday before welcoming Northwestern to West Lafayette for a battle of Big Ten leaders.
4. NORTHWESTERN (17-4, 6-2 B1G) – I’m saying it. This is the year. Chris Collins has Northwestern rolling with five wins in a row, including beating the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time in over 20 years. The Wildcats look NCAA Tournament bound, but games upcoming against Indiana at home and Purdue on the road could determine whether or not the Wildcats stay in the race for a.. cough, cough... unprecedented Big Ten title.
5. MICHIGAN (14-7, 4-4 B1G) – What. A. Beatdown. The Wolverines were practically flawless against Indiana en route to a 90-60 blowout victory where the team shot 63 percent (55 percent from 3-point range) and forced 16 Indiana turnovers. The Wolverines had a win over Illinois earlier in the week and enter this weekend’s matchup against rival Michigan State playing their best basketball. Head coach Jon Beilein has his team playing better defense, and paired with the shooters they have, it could be a real nice run as March is just around the corner for the Wolverines.
6. INDIANA (14-7, 4-4 B1G) – James Blackmon Jr., in the Hoosiers’ first game without OG Anunoby, lit up Michigan State for 33 points and six triple, but followed that performance with four points on only three shots in 33 minutes against Michigan –– a game they were blown out in 90-60. The inconsistency is concerning, but Indiana has games against Northwestern and Penn State to hopefully revitalize some confidence.
7. MICHIGAN STATE (12-9, 4-4 B1G) – The Spartans turned in a dismal first half against Indiana, proving too much to overcome despite a second half turnaround. Then, Michigan State battled Purdue closely behind a career-high 33 points and four blocks from Miles Bridges but fell short. It is encouraging for the freshman Bridges, who has still been battling hamstring issues since his injury. The Spartans will need a big game from him and the other freshman –– namely Nick Ward –– to beat rival Michigan on Sunday at Breslin Center.
8. MINNESOTA (15-6, 3-5 B1G) – The Golden Gophers have a decent resume, but have been slacking since their blowout loss to Michigan State earlier this month. The Gophers are on a four game losing streak, but excluding the loss the the Spartans, have lost their next three games by an average of three points (2-point loss to Penn State and Wisconsin in OT, 6-point loss most recently to Ohio State.) Minnesota has got to finish games if they want a shot at playing in March, and it starts at home on Saturday against Maryland.
9. OHIO STATE (13-8, 3-5 B1G) – Ohio State has a really good starting five, led by JaQuan Lyle and Jae’sean Tate, but their bench play has been less than stellar. For reference, C.J. Jackson is the only Buckeye bench player who plays more than 15 minutes per game in conference play, and he’s not doing too great (3.9 PPG, 20 percent 3-point). The Buckeyes really on their starting unit heavily, and though it is a talented five, foul trouble has been an Achilles heel for them, as both Tate and big man Trevor Thompson average about four per game.
10. ILLINOIS (13-8, 3-5 B1G) – The Illini shot the ball flat against Michigan after putting up 85 against them the week before, but rebounded at home in a 12-point win over Iowa. Now Malcolm Hill (17.4 PPG) and company have Penn State on the road before brawling with the Badgers at home to close out January. The Illini will need for scoring from people not named Malcolm Hill to really turn their season around and compete in the rest of conference play.
11. PENN STATE (11-10, 3-5 B1G) – There wasn’t much Penn State could do this week to avoid going 0-2 with road games at Purdue and Wisconsin, but the Nittany Lions had little fight after a heartbreaking loss to Indiana. They lost both games by an average of 26 points, but now have three of their next four at home, starting with Illinois on Saturday.
12. IOWA (11-10, 3-5 B1G) – Iowa has dropped three in a row after knocking off Purdue, but have some optimism looking forward. Peter Jok (21 PPG) continues to fill it up and Jordan Bohannon (4.9 APG) is carving out his role as a facilitator. Home games with Ohio State and Nebraska sandwiched between a trip to Rutgers provide a strong opportunity for Iowa to get back to the middle tier of the conference.
13. NEBRASKA (9-11, 3-5 B1G) – Well, it was fun while it lasted. The loss of big man Ed Morrow has proved to be too much for the Cornhuskers to handle, as they have dropped all four games without him after starting conference play 3-0 and handing Maryland their only conference loss of the season. Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. still provide a dynamic scoring backcourt, but without an interior presence, they will continue to struggle.
14. RUTGERS (12-9, 1-7 B1G) – The Scarlet Knights pulled off their first conference win of he season at home over Nebraska earlier in the week, then fought closely with Maryland before falling in College Park. Corey Sanders (12.5 PPG) has been the leader for them so far, but they still sit in the cellar and will likely be there for the remainder of conference play.