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Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings: December 15th, 2015

Football season is winding down, so it's time to unveil the first edition of our Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings for the 2015-16 season. Woohoo!

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

14. Rutgers (4-6)

Last Week: Central Connecticut (W, 75-59); at George Washington (L, 49-83)

Rutgers isn't just the worst Big Ten team. It's the worst Power 5 team. By a lot:

Worst Power 5 Teams in College Basketball
KenPom Rank Team (Record) Conference Affiliation
113 Stanford (4-3) Pac-12
121 TCU (5-4) Big 12
132 Mississippi State (4-4) SEC
134 Minnesota (5-5) Big Ten
136 Auburn (4-2) SEC
145 Washington State (6-2) Pac-12
148 Penn State (7-3) Big Ten
180 Missouri (5-4) SEC
218 Boston College (4-6) ACC
252 Rutgers (4-6) Big Ten

13. Minnesota (5-5)

Last Week: South Dakota St. (L, 70-84); vs. Oklahoma St. (L, 60-62)

Minnesota is sitting on a three-game losing streak in December, which is not normal for this program. In the prior eight seasons dating back to 2007-08, the Gophers lost a grand total of 12 non-conference regular-season games, none of which were to teams that finished outside the KenPom top 100. This season, Minnesota already has lost five non-conference regular-season games, three of which were to teams that are outside the KenPom top 100 (#101 Temple, #102 Oklahoma State, #219 South Dakota). This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Richard Pitino and the Gophers, but, after the first month of the season, there are many questions as to how long this rebuild will take.

12. Illinois (6-5)

Last Week: Yale (W, 69-65); vs. Illinois-Chicago (W, 83-79)

For the second time this season, Illinois squeaked by a far inferior in-state squad. On November 23rd, Jalen Coleman-Lands had to hit a buzzer-beating three to give Illinois the upper hand over #339 Chicago State, 82-79. Then, this past Saturday, the Illini gave everything they had to overcome #328 Illinois-Chicago, 83-79. The main reason why these games were close was that Chicago State (275th in 3P%) and Illinois-Chicago (153rd in 3P%) shot well above their season percentages from behind the arc. Against Illinois, Chicago State made 11-of-25 threes (44.0 pct.), while Illinois-Chicago knocked down 9-of-15 threes (60.0 pct.). However, these aren't outliers. They represent a month-long trend that Illinois has one of the worst three-point defenses in the nation:

Big Ten's Three-Point Defenses - 12.14.2015

11. Penn State (7-3)

Last Week: at George Washington (L, 66-76); Canisius (W, 81-67); ULM (W, 54-50)

Penn State has faced 10 opponents, but it wasn't until this past week when PSU first opposed a KenPom top-100 team. The Nittany Lions traveled to Washington, D.C., to take on #41 George Washington, and it went as expected. Penn State had an early two-point lead but trailed the Colonials by double digits most of the second half before falling by 10. The Lions have a better record than many of their Big Ten counterparts, but the truth is that their record would be similar to the rest of the teams in the lower half of the conference if they had played more games against quality competition like the others have. That Penn State is 7-3 with its best win against #150 Eastern Michigan and losses against #135 Duquesne and #199 Radford actually is an indictment against this team.

10. Ohio State (4-5)

Last Week: Air Force (W, 74-50); at UConn (L, 55-75)

This is shaping up to be the worst of Thad Matta's 12 seasons in Columbus:

Ohio State under Thad Matta
Season Record KenPom Rank
2004-05 20-12 30
2005-06 26-6 14
2006-07 35-4 2
2007-08 24-13 30
2008-09 22-11 33
2009-10 29-8 7
2010-11 34-3 1
2011-12 31-8 2
2012-13 29-8 7
2013-14 25-10 20
2014-15 24-11 21
2015-16 4-5 71

Though, to be fair, those first 11 seasons were pretty dang good.

9. Wisconsin (6-5)

Last Week: Milwaukee (L, 67-68); Marquette (L, 55-57)

Speaking of Big Ten programs that might be having their worst season under a long-tenured coach, Wisconsin just endured a rough week, losing two home games to in-state schools ranked below them on KenPom (#72 Marquette and #123 Milwaukee). Albeit by a total of only five points, the Badgers have lost three home games to non-conference teams not ranked in the AP poll this season. In Bo Ryan's previous 14 seasons, Wisconsin fell to only four unranked non-conference teams in the Kohl Center (Temple in 2001-02, Wake Forest in 2002-03, North Dakota State in 2005-06, and Virginia in 2012-13). Yikes.

8. Nebraska (7-4)

Last Week: at Creighton (L, 67-83); Rhode Island (W, 70-67)

Nebraska's outside shooting has improved drastically this season, not that it could have gotten much worse. Last season, the Huskers were 340th in three-point shooting, knocking down only 28.4 percent of their triples. This season, they are 88th, having drilled 37.1 percent of their threes. This jump should be attributed to three newcomers: Kansas transfer Andrew White and freshmen Glynn Watson and Jack McVeigh. All three have made at least 40 percent of their threes, and they have combined to connect on 48-of-115 threes (41.7 pct.). The trio didn't fire many threes on Sunday in Nebraska's game against #50 Rhode Island, but it made 3-of-4 in the Huskers' biggest win of the season.

7. Northwestern (8-1)

Last Week: Chicago State (W, 77-35)

Like Penn State, Northwestern is a team that we know little about at this point. NU has played nine games, and only one of them was against a KenPom top-100 team (#11 North Carolina) -- the Wildcats' only loss. However, unlike Penn State, Northwestern has won the rest of its games like it should. Most of those have been comfortable wins, but NU did need overtime to beat the two toughest of those opponents (#112 Virginia Tech and #129 Columbia). The Wildcats seem to be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, but, because their next five games are against teams outside the KenPom top 100, we won't know for sure until after the New Year. Then, we can truly evaluate this Northwestern team.

6. Indiana (8-3)

Last Week: IPFW (W, 90-65); McNeese St. (W, 105-60)

I keep flipping Indiana and Michigan for the #5 and #6 spots on this list. The Hoosiers have the better computer numbers (#23 on KenPom to Michigan's #36) because they have clobbered the opposition at home, where they are 7-0 and own a whopping average margin of victory of 33 points (!!). However, they have struggled when not enjoying the comforts of Assembly Hall. Their one non-home win was over a bad St. John's team on a neutral site, and they have neutral-site losses to #60 UNLV and #91 Wake Forest. On the other hand, Michigan has fared better on the road against better teams, beating #43 Texas and #64 North Carolina State with losses to #20 SMU and #25 UConn. For now, I'm giving the nod to Michigan, but that will change if IU proves it can win on the road and defeats #22 Notre Dame at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday.

5. Michigan (7-3)

Last Week: at SMU (L, 58-82); Delaware State (W, 80-33)

In my takeaways after Michigan lost to SMU, I agreed with John Beilein's assessment that Michigan was "a long way from being good." That may not be the case on paper, but it is when I break down how U-M has performed against various levels of competition:

Michigan vs. Different Levels of Competition
Level of Competition (KenPom Rank) Michigan's Record Average Scoring Margin
1-25 0-3 -18.0
26-100 2-0 6.5
101+ or D-II School 5-0 34.6

When Michigan has played a non-top-25 team, U-M has treated it like a top-25 team should. However, when Michigan has faced a top-25 team, U-M has been shellacked each and every time. Good teams don't allow that to happen. Good teams are able to compete. That's not to say Michigan can't become a good team, but Michigan isn't one right now.

At the same time, many Big Ten teams would switch resumes with Michigan instantly.

4. Iowa (7-3)

Last Week: Western Illinois (W, 90-56); at Iowa State (L, 82-83)

Last week, Iowa choked away what arguably would have been the Big Ten's best non-conference win to date -- only Michigan State's neutral-site win over Kansas can contest. On Thursday, the Hawkeyes walked into Hilton Coliseum, the home of unbeaten, in-state rival Iowa State, and stunned the crowd. Jarrod Uthoff dropped in 30 points -- THIRTY -- in the first 20 minutes (!!!) to propel Iowa to a 49-35 lead at the intermission. The Cyclones pushed back in the second half, cutting Iowa's lead to one point multiple times around the five-minute mark, but it seemed that Iowa had withstood their best shot. The Hawkeyes had the ball, an 82-76 lead, and a 97.9-percent chance to win with 1:05 left:

Iowa-Iowa State Win% Chart

However, Iowa threw the ball away and was called for a five-second violation on back-to-back inbounds plays. This led to a Matt Thomas three-pointer and two Georges Niang free throws in a 12-second span. Just like that, it was a one-point game. And, when Monte Morris dropped in a running floater with 10 seconds left to give Iowa State its first lead since the first minute, Uthoff couldn't respond on the other end and left his shot short.

Collapse complete.

Despite the soul-crushing nature of the loss, Iowa still should look at the silver lining: few Big Ten teams could put themselves in a position to win at the Hilton Coliseum. This Iowa team is good and 13th on KenPom for a reason. If Morris had missed his runner, we're all sitting here talking about how the Hawkeyes are a legitimate Big Ten contender.

That Morris' runner happened to drop shouldn't change that line of thinking.

3. Maryland (9-1)

Last Week: vs. UConn (W, 76-66); Maryland Eastern Shore (W, 77-56)

Before last week, there were three players at the front of the Big Ten Player of the Year race. With respect to Purdue's Isaac Haas, who's 17.9 MPG prevents him being in serious contention, those players were Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, Michigan's Caris LeVert, and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell. However, in addition to Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff, who averaged 29.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG last week, Maryland's Melo Trimble threw his name into the mix. In two games, including one a 76-66 victory over UConn on a neutral site, Trimble scored 43 points on just 16 field-goal attempts (2.69 PPS) and added seven assists. Valentine has the lead, but the fight for Big Ten Player of the Year should be fun:

Early Big Ten Player of the Year Front-Runners
Name (School) MPG Offensive Rating Usage Rate (%) PPG RPG APG
Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) 32.5 135.4 24.4 16.8 4.8 6.5
Caris LeVert (Michigan) 32.0 124.9 26.5 17.4 4.9 4.0
Melo Trimble (Maryland) 31.3 128.4 25.2 15.8 2.4 5.3
Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa) 29.1 127.3 24.7 19.6 6.7 1.2
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State) 30.7 127.4 28.9 18.6 8.5 7.2

2. Purdue (11-0)

Last Week: IUPUI (W, 80-53); Howard (W, 93-55); Youngstown St. (W, 95-64)

Not only is Purdue undefeated at 11-0, it's won all of its games by double digits:

Purdue's Average Margin of Victory
Date Opponent Margin of Victory
Nov. 13th North Carolina A&T 41
Nov. 15th Vermont 28
Nov. 18th Incarnate Word 35
Nov. 21st vs. Old Dominion 22
Nov. 22nd vs. Florida 15
Nov. 28th Lehigh 22
Dec. 1st at Pittsburgh 13
Dec. 5th New Mexico 12
Dec. 7th IUPUI 27
Dec. 9th Howard 38
Dec. 12th Youngstown State 31
Average 25.8

None of the other seven unbeaten teams can make that claim.

However, one of them resides in the Big Ten and has played a tougher schedule. Thus...

1. Michigan State (11-0)

Last Week: Maryland Eastern Shore (W, 78-35); Florida (W, 58-52)

Michigan State sits at the top of this list because MSU is 11-0 and has three wins against the KenPom top 25, including ones over #6 Kansas and #10 Louisville, and five top-100 wins. It cannot be said that the Spartans have not been challenged. And, as SB Nation's Mike Rutherford points out, what's even more interesting is that they were challenged near the end in all five of their games against top-100 teams. Except for the Boise State game, in which the Spartans had a six-point lead with five minutes left, all of these contests were either tied or had a two-point margin heading into the final five minutes. However, as Rutherford reveals, Michigan State has been clutch in those situations:

Michigan State Field Goals: 18 for 34 (52.9 percent)

Opponent Field Goals: 10 for 38 (26.3 percent)

Michigan State 2-Point Field Goals: 13 for 17 (76.4 percent)

Opponent 2-Point Field Goals: 7 for 22 (31.8 percent)

Michigan State Free-Throws: 30 for 32 (93.8 percent)

Opponent Free-Throws: 13 for 19 (68.4 percent)

Michigan State Turnovers: 5

Opponent Turnovers: 11

Michigan State Rebounds: 29

Opponent Rebounds: 19

What's most notable is that Michigan State, who was 338th in free-throw percentage last season, has been near-automatic from the line in the last five minutes of close games (93.8 FT%). My guess is that Michigan State has done an excellent job of getting the ball to Denzel Valentine (87.0 FT%) and Bryn Forbes (80.8 FT%) when its opponents have been in must-foul situations, which has preserved these significant wins for the Spartans.

Can MSU keep this up? We'll see, but don't expect MSU to fold as the pressure rises.