14. Northwestern (10-6, 1-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan State (L, 77-84)
Last week may end up being the most perplexing week of the Big Ten season, but some things will never change. Northwestern, a program that's never been invited to the NCAA Tournament and has it engrained in its DNA to torture its fans, suffered another heartbreaking loss. The Wildcats went into the Breslin Center, where road wins are few and far between, and buried a season-high 12 three-pointers at a 48-percent clip. Teams that shoot like that aren't supposed to lose. In fact, in the previous four seasons, the Wildcats were 15-1 when they made at least 12 threes with a rate no less than 40 percent. But Northwestern cooled off in overtime, converting only 1-of-9 jumpers, and let a golden opportunity to capture at signature win at Michigan State go to waste.
This Week: Illinois (1/14); at Michigan (1/17)
13. Penn State (12-4, 0-3 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan (L, 64-73)
When people discuss Penn State, they discuss star D.J. Newbill. But they need to start discussing Brandon Taylor. And that is not a good thing. Though Taylor provides the Nittany Lions solid defense, he is abysmal on the other end of the floor. His individual offensive rating is 85.0, which is tied for 88th among the 90 Big Ten players that have played at least 40 percent of their team's respective minutes. And what makes it that much worse is that not only does the offense run through him often, but he's a black hole once he touches the ball. He has the second-highest shot rate on the roster (26.0 pct.), and his turnover rate (20.1 pct.) nearly quadruples his assist rate (5.6 pct.). Taylor is the Nittany Lion defenses want most to have the ball in his hands. And Michigan is sure glad he had it as much as he did last week in their matchup when he converted only 1-of-10 shots for two measly points. If Penn State wants Taylor to continue shooting, they need to feed him in the left corner. Otherwise, they will need a new sidekick for Newbill.
This Week: at Indiana (1/13); Purdue (1/17)
12. Rutgers (10-7, 2-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Nebraska (L, 49-65); Wisconsin (W, 67-62)
How in the world did Rutgers, the laughingstock of the Big Ten, upset Wisconsin, who was the conference's indisputable favorite? Well, for starters, Rutgers benefited from playing on its home hardwood while Wisconsin missed Big Ten Player of the Year leading candidate Frank Kaminsky due to a concussion. But the key was that, unlike Northwestern at Michigan State, Rutgers capitalized on its hot shooting. In their first three games against Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska, the Scarlet Knights scored 47, 50, and 49 points, respectively. In the second half alone against Wisconsin, Rutgers scored 44 points thanks to 67-percent shooting. Rutgers used this second-half spree to turn a 12-point halftime deficit into its first win against a team ranked in the AP Top 5. Ever. So the Rutgers faithful stormed the court, even if it was more of a leisurely stroll.
This Week: at Maryland (1/14); at Minnesota (1/17)
11. Nebraska (10-6, 2-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Iowa (L, 59-70); Rutgers (W, 65-49); Illinois (W, 53-43)
Nebraska earned two much-needed home wins over Rutgers and Illinois last week with defense. The Knights and Illini mustered only 0.83 and 0.72 points per possession against the Huskers, respectively. Accordingly, Nebraska was bumped to No. 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, while its offense continues to flounder at No. 259.
However, Nebraska's defensive ranking is inflated and will burst soon. Why? Nebraska's defensive success relies on its opponents struggling to make shots, particularly from behind the arc. Nebraska's opponents have made only 27.6 percent of their threes, which, on the surface, would make Nebraska's three-point defense the 15th-best in the nation. But the truth is that defenses have little control over their opponent's three-point percentage. Instead, it's a lottery, and defenses just need to hope that the other team doesn't heat up on that day. The only way for defenses to protect themselves from that risk is to limit the number of three-pointers the offense takes. Yet Nebraska doesn't do that. In fact, 38.6 percent of Nebraska's opponents' shots are threes, which is the 58th-highest rate. So, at some point just due to natural regression, the Huskers' opponents will start draining a much-higher percentage of their threes, and, because those opponents will be able to shoot so many of them, Nebraska's defense will be torched in the process.
This Week: at Wisconsin (1/15)
10. Minnesota (11-6, 0-4 B1G)
Last Week: Ohio State (L, 72-74); at Michigan (L, 57-62)
Minnesota currently sits in the cellar of the Big Ten with an 0-4 conference record, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the Gophers are the worst team. One look at the Gophers' first four Big Ten games, and it's understandable why they are still seeking their first conference win. Three road games at Purdue, Maryland, and Michigan, and a home game against one of the Big Ten's better teams in Ohio State? That's most likely the toughest four-game opening to the conference season for any Big Ten team.
However, Minnesota's struggles cannot wholly be blamed on its strength of schedule. Another key reason is that the Gophers have not imposed their style of play against their fellow Big Ten teams. In the non-conference season, Minnesota had little trouble applying pressure and speeding up the game -- only three of its 13 non-conference games failed to exceed 70 possessions. But, in regulation of Minnesota's four Big Ten games, the number of possessions were 65, 71, 61, and 60. This has limited the Gophers' fastbreak opportunities and, as a result, the Gophers' offensive efficiency has declined somewhat significantly. If Minnesota can't find a way to push the tempo, they're in trouble.
This Week: Iowa (1/13); Rutgers (1/17)
9. Illinois (11-6, 1-3 B1G)
Last Week: Maryland (W, 64-57); at Nebraska (L, 43-53)
Illinois suffered a serious blow when its best player, Rayvonte Rice, broke his hand last week in practice. At the time of his injury, Rice had the highest offensive rating among any Big Ten player with a usage rate above 20 percent. He was Illinois' offensive catalyst, so it wasn't a surprise that, without him, Illinois had two of its worst shooting performances of the season last week. The Illini posted an eFG% of 42.7 percent against Maryland (fourth-worst) and 32.7 percent against Nebraska (worst). If it wasn't for Malcolm Hill's superb shooting (5-of-11 2FG, 4-of-7 3FG, 6-of-7 FT) en route to a career-best 28 points against Maryland, Illinois would still be without its first Big Ten win.
This Week: at Northwestern (1/14); Indiana (1/18)
8. Michigan (10-6, 3-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Penn State (W, 73-64); Minnesota (W, 62-57)
Last week, Michigan was one of only two Big Ten teams that were unbeaten, the other being its rival from East Lansing. This was incredibly important for the Wolverines:
Both games last week were tossups: at Penn State and versus Minnesota. KenPom's algorithm gave Michigan a 34.9-percent chance to beat the Nittany Lions on the road and a 51.1-percent chance to bury the Gophers at home. This meant Michigan was expected to win only one game and had only a 17.8-percent chance to sweep the week.
But, if Michigan wanted to continue its quest for an NCAA Tournament invite, two wins were almost a must. I've mentioned over and over that, for Michigan to be an at-large team after earning a 7-5 record in non-conference play, the Wolverines most likely need to be 10-8 in the Big Ten and add another win in the Big Ten Tournament. Yet, after Michigan's loss to Purdue, KenPom projected the Wolverines would win only seven Big Ten games. Thus, it is imperative that Michigan wins its tossups. While upsets over the Big Ten's heavy hitters are icing on a team's resume, it is the tossups that will determine whether Michigan is on the right side of the bubble. So going 2-for-2 was critical.
KenPom now projects that Michigan will be 9-9 and gives the Wolverines about a 40-percent chance to have a winning Big Ten record when it's all said and done:
Michigan doesn't need a sweep this week to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes intact -- the Wolverines are a big underdog against rival Ohio State -- but a win in Columbus tonight would really help polish some glaring blemishes on Michigan's resume.
This Week: at Ohio State (1/13); Northwestern (1/17)
7. Purdue (10-7, 2-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Wisconsin (L, 55-62); Maryland (L, 60-69)
Despite not winning a game last week, Purdue maintained its spot in these rankings. Teams should not be punished for losing to the two best teams in the conference unless they were absolutely slaughtered in them. But that wasn't the case with Purdue. The Boilermakers gave both Wisconsin (at the Kohl Center!) and Maryland a run for their money. However, Purdue wasn't able to finish the job because they couldn't keep their hands off the opposition. The Boilermakers committed a total of 49 fouls last week and sent Wisconsin and Maryland to the free-throw line a combined 62 times, of which the Badgers and Terrapins made 52 (83.2 pct.). That's not a recipe for beating elite teams.
This Week: at Penn State (1/17)
6. Indiana (12-4, 2-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan State (L, 50-70); Ohio State (W, 69-66)
Indiana may be 2-1 in the Big Ten and have earned a critical home win against Ohio State on Saturday, but the Hoosiers have a slight problem. Well, it may be more than a slight problem. You see, Indiana established itself as one of the best shooting teams in the nation during the non-conference season. At the moment, the Hoosiers are 22nd in eFG% (54.9 pct.), 29th in 2P% (53.2 pct.), and 35th in 3P% (38.5 pct.). But they have gone ice cold in Big Ten play. In their first three conference games, the Hoosiers posted an eFG% of 42.3 percent and a 3P% of 24.2 percent, which is 13th and 14th in the Big Ten, respectively. If these percentages don't rise, Indiana will start to slide in the standings.
This Week: Penn State (1/13); at Illinois (1/18)
5. Ohio State (13-4, 2-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Minnesota (W, 74-72); at Indiana (L, 66-69)
Ohio State went as D'Angelo Russell went last week. In the first half at Minnesota, Russell was as on fire as an elite college basketball player can be. In the first 20 minutes, he scored 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting (5-of-5 3FG) as the Buckeyes raced out to a 12-point halftime lead. But he completely cooled off after the intermission, scoring only two points and missing all five of his shots, and Minnesota roared back and forced overtime, where the Buckeyes still hung on to win by two. Unfortunately, Russell still couldn't rediscover his offensive rhythm when Ohio State went to Bloomington on Saturday, registering 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting against Indiana. OSU needs Good D'Angelo back.
This Week: Michigan (1/13); at Iowa (1/17)
4. Iowa (11-5, 2-1 B1G)
Last Week: Nebraska (W, 70-59); Michigan State (L, 61-75)
Iowa seemed to be on pace to remain the third-best team in the Big Ten. Earlier in the week, the Hawkeyes handled their business against Nebraska and were in fantastic position to sweep the week, holding an 11-point halftime lead against Michigan State at home. But something happened in the second half: the Spartans sucked the life out of the Hawkeyes in a way I'm not sure I've seen before. Michigan State made its first seven threes and missed little else after halftime, outscoring Iowa by 25 points in the second half. And, as each Michigan State shot fell through the cylinder, you could see the hope just drain from the the Hawkeyes. They felt powerless, and, as a result, they completely quit. It was a tough loss, but Iowa can't allow that loss to affect them further this week.
This Week: at Minnesota (1/13); Ohio State (1/17)
3. Michigan State (12-5, 3-1 B1G)
Last Week: Indiana (W, 70-50); at Iowa (W, 75-61); Northwestern (W, 84-77)
Michigan State was the Big Ten Team of the Week last week. After experiencing a non-conference season full of close losses mostly to great teams, bad bounces, and head-scratching game-management decisions, the Spartans had their best week of the season. They stomped all over the Hoosiers. They rained fire down on the Hawkeyes in the second half and crushed their will. And they held off a hot, upset-minded Northwestern team in overtime, their first win in four overtime games this season. This is a team that may just be finding its stride right at the perfect time. After the Spartans face Maryland on the road this Saturday, they are projected to be the favorite in 12 of their final 13 Big Ten games. This may not be the last time MSU is the Big Ten Team of the Week.
This Week: at Maryland (1/17)
2. Wisconsin (15-2, 3-1 B1G)
Last Week: Purdue (W, 62-55); at Rutgers (L, 62-67)
There's no denying that Wisconsin's road loss to Rutgers was a bad loss. It reminded me of when the Trey Burke-led Wolverines were upset by Penn State, which was 0-14 in the Big Ten, in 2013. That bad. However, this loss is somewhat explicable. The Badgers were without Frank Kaminsky, the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year, due to concussion symptoms, and starting point guard Traevon Jackson exited in the second half with a fractured foot that will keep him sidelined for weeks. A team can't be expected to still dominate an inferior opponent on the road without 1.5 starters, including the conference's best player, unless that team's name is Kentucky. Add in that Rutgers, a team that usually shoots very poorly, couldn't miss in the second half, and Wisconsin was ripe to be upset. These things happen. It happened to that 2013 Michigan team, the same one that was the national runner-up. It's not the end of the world.
But, no matter the circumstances, no team that just lost to Rutgers can be No. 1.
This Week: Nebraska (1/15)
1. Maryland (15-2, 3-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Illinois (L, 57-64); at Purdue (W, 69-60)
Maryland lost last week, but it didn't lose to Rutgers. Welcome to No. 1.
This Week: Rutgers (1/14); Michigan State (1/17)