By Jacob Munoz
This isn’t getting any easier.
I’m unsure of why the Big Ten conference is so consistently muddying its own narratives. Is it a really good conference, like many analysts and fans would argue? Are all the teams capable of beating each other most nights, and is that a good thing due to strong non-conference results?
In any case, these fourteen schools are making college basketball plenty interesting. We are still well away from the Big Ten Tournament, which will take place at the United Center from March 13-17. But it’s worth considering that less teams may be underdogs than their seedings will suggest.
This handy little power ranking of every team in the conference is based on a host of facts, opinions and biases, but will hopefully get you thinking about college basketball more this year and prepare you for the frenzy of March Madness. From ranking the lowly #14 team to the vaunted #1, this piece strives to ensure the freshest updates this season.
14. Penn State (0-10 conference, 7-14 overall)
Previous Rank: 14
Recent game: 99-90 L vs. Purdue
Just when Penn State fans thought their season couldn’t get worse, they lose a heartbreaker at home to the surging Boilermakers. This game showed that, like every other Big Ten team, they can compete every once in a while, but the reality of zero conference wins remains. Two conference games in two weeks has afforded them some rest, but at the cost of showing any mettle.
13. Illinois (3-8 conference, 7-15 overall)
Previous Rank: 13
Recent games: 86-75 L @ Minnesota, 71-64 W vs. Nebraska
Illinois isn’t a surefire basement team just yet. Trent Frazier seemed to have to do everything against the Gophers, but a standout performance off the bench by Kipper Nichols versus the Huskers provided him some leeway. They won’t move up against Nebraska just yet due to their poor overall record still lingering, but the time is coming.
12. Nebraska (3-8 conference, 13-9 overall)
Previous Rank: 9
Recent games: 62-51 L vs. Wisconsin, 71-64 L @ Illinois
Nebraska’s in free fall and their NCAA Tournament hopes are fading. Tanner Borchardt finally had a good game against the Illini with a double-double, but it’s clear that without a bench the team can’t compete the way a normal team can. They may fall another spot next week if no one else steps up.
11. Northwestern (3-7 conference, 12-9 overall)
Previous Rank: 10
Recent game: 70-52 L @ Maryland
Writing about the Wildcats is taking its toll on me. The offense is flat-out ugly, and they can’t score beyond the paint. Dererk Pardon is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the team right now, and with Vic Law struggling the once cautious Anthony Gaines is shooting like there’s no tomorrow.
10. Rutgers (4-7 conference, 11-10 overall)
Previous Rank: 12
Recent games: 66-58 W vs. Indiana, 76-62 L @ Ohio State
So Rutgers isn’t really a bad team anymore, and their resume shows that they are above quite a few squads in the conference. Eugene Omoruyi is a strong leader, and helped them out-rebound both their opponents this week. If Geo Baker didn’t have such a bad game against the Buckeyes they could be on a four-game winning streak.
9. Indiana (4-7 conference, 13-9 overall)
Previous Rank: 11
Recent games: 66-58 L @ Rutgers, 79-75 W @ Michigan State
I’m not going to call Juwan Morgan the problem, but Indiana somehow managed to beat the Michigan State without him for most of the game. They didn’t shoot pretty this week outside of some uncharacteristic success beyond the arc against the Spartans, but they earned a much-needed split. It helped that Romeo Langford looked good down the stretch in East Lansing.
8. Ohio State (4-6 conference, 14-7 overall)
Previous Rank: 8
Recent games: 65-49 L @ Michigan, 76-62 W vs. Rutgers
The Buckeyes have established themselves as a middle-of-the-road team in the Big Ten, and it may be enough for them to get a tournament berth. The rest of their schedule is decent enough to see them go 5-5 and make their case for a spot. Kaleb Wesson and the offense fizzled out against Michigan, but recovered for a strong showing against Rutgers.
7. Minnesota (6-5 conference, 16-5 overall)
Previous Rank: 6
Recent games: 86-75 W vs. Illinois, 73-63 L @ Purdue
For Minnesota, this week was a tale of two second halves. In their first act against the Illini, they broke away late to keep up appearances, but just days later they fell apart to Purdue. Amir Coffey had two strong performances for a team that is certainly capable of beating the conference’s top schools.
6. Iowa (6-5 conference, 17-5 overall)
Previous Rank: 7
Recent game: 74-59 W vs. Michigan
It’s not every day where a team can say that had a convincing win against one of the nation’s best. Their victory over the Wolverines should be a morale booster after two straight losses and help them regain footing in the conference. Tyler Cook’s off night was saved thanks to a strong performance by Luke Garza
5. Maryland (8-4 conference, 17-6 overall)
Previous Rank: 4
Recent games: 70-52 W vs. Northwestern, 69-61 L @ Wisconsin
After a convincing win over Northwestern, Maryland ran into surging Wisconsin and lost momentum after halftime. A struggle for them all season has been possession: they’ve lost the turnover battle in every conference game so far outside of a tie at Rutgers. If they can figure out how to handle that problem without sacrificing what’s worked for them on offense, they’ll be a bigger threat.
4. Wisconsin (8-3 conference, 16-6 overall)
Previous Rank: 5
Recent games: 62-51 W @ Nebraska, 69-61 W vs. Maryland
Make it five straight wins for the Badgers, who are just one game back from taking a share of the Big Ten lead. Brad Davison came through in two second halves when the team needed him, and having Ethan Happ is always a good thing. Be on the lookout for Wisconsin this week as they face two tough road opponents in Minnesota and Michigan.
3. Michigan State (9-2 conference, 18-4 overall)
Previous Rank: 1
Recent game: 79-75 L vs. Indiana
This was not the game to lose: at home against a faltering Hoosiers team that was without their best player early on. What’s scary are the implications this defeat sends. Can we keep counting on this team’s late-half mental fortitude if they ice off a terrible free-throw night by going 4-for-10 from the line with ten minutes to go in the second half?
2. Michigan (9-2 conference, 20-2 overall)
Previous Rank: 2
Recent games: 65-49 W vs. Ohio State, 74-59 L @ Iowa
Michigan’s brick wall of a defense was damaged by Iowa in a loss that, while not destructive to their season, brings with it some much-needed concern. The shooting was ice cold, which they couldn’t afford when the Hawkeyes were having their way with them.
1. Purdue (9-2 conference, 15-6 overall)
Previous Rank: 3
Recent games: 99-90 W @ Penn State, 73-63 W vs. Minnesota
Is Purdue really the best school in the conference? Maybe, maybe not, but what matters is that they’ve managed to surge to #1 thanks to a seven-game winning streak. They have a very favorable conference schedule the rest of the way, and whether it’s Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline or bench threat Matt Haarms, count on there to be a playmaker for this team.