14. Rutgers (10-13, 2-8 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan State (L, 51-71); at Indiana (L, 64-72)
On most days when Rutgers steps on the hardwood, the Scarlet Knights take the form of the worst offense in the Big Ten. In 10 Big Ten games, they have scored only 90.8 points per 100 possessions, which is the worst offensive rate in the conference, and failed to average more than 90 points per 100 possessions in six of them. One of those games was this past Thursday when Rutgers mustered only 51 points in 68 possessions (0.750 PPP) in a 20-point home loss to Michigan State. This has been the norm for Rutgers.
However, every once in awhile, Rutgers feels it from the field and begins to pour in points. It happened a few weeks ago when the Scarlet Knights somehow toppled Wisconsin by scoring 119.9 points per 100 possessions -- their highest offensive rate of the season. And it almost happened again this past Saturday when Rutgers traveled to Assembly Hall to challenge the Hoosiers. Through the first 30 minutes or so, thanks to some incredibly hot shooting from behind the three-point line, Rutgers scored 52 points in its first 45 possessions (1.156 PPP) to take a seven-point lead. But the Scarlet Knights couldn't sustain their offensive effort, scoring only 12 points in their next 16 possessions (0.750 PPP), and Indiana was able to storm back and avoid the upset with a 19-5 run.
This Week: at Illinois (2/3); Ohio State (2/8)
13. Northwestern (10-11, 1-7 B1G)
Last Week: Purdue (L, 60-68)
Good news: Northwestern didn't suffer a soul-crushing, heartbreaking loss this week.
Bad news: Northwestern still lost its seventh straight game and sixth by single digits.
This Week: at Nebraska (2/3); at Wisconsin (2/7)
12. Penn State (14-8, 2-7 B1G)
Last Week: Minnesota (W, 63-58); at Illinois (L, 58-60)
Penn State was in position to sweep its games last week. After outlasting Minnesota earlier in the week, the Nittany Lions were in a tight one against Illinois in Champaign. With 6:09 left, center Jordan Dickerson threw down a dunk to bring the Lions within one point of Illinois. For the next five minutes, Illinois couldn't find the bottom of the net, missing its next eight shots and turning it over three times. This provided Penn State with numerous opportunities not only to take the lead but also extend it and secure its first road win since the non-conference season. However, the Lions were ice cold, too, making only three free throws and no field goals the rest of the way. Illinois capitalized, scoring two buckets in the final minute, and Penn State let another close one slip away.
This Week: at Maryland (2/4); Nebraska (2/7)
11. Illinois (14-8, 4-5 B1G)
Last Week: Penn State (W, 60-58)
So why did Illinois win that close contest against Penn State? Malcolm Hill. That's why.
Since Illinois star Rayvonte Rice was sidelined with a broken hand in early January, Hill has stepped up into the go-to role without any hiccups. In that time, he's averaged 17.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game with a 2P%/3P%/FT% split of 40/47/84. He arguably had his best game of the season last weekend, for which he was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week, when he out-dueled Penn State star D.J. Newbill with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting and the game-winning layup, which had a high degree of difficulty, in the final seconds. Hill's recent performances have put him in line for All-Big Ten honors and in contention for the imaginary Most Improved Player award, and, with the recent announcement that Rice has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, Hill should not see his statistical production dip and should remain Illinois' top scorer.
This Week: Rutgers (2/3); at Michigan State (2/7)
10. Nebraska (12-9, 4-5 B1G)
Last Week: at Michigan (L, 44-58); at Minnesota (L, 42-60)
Nebraska had a chance to prove itself this past week. Let me explain:
[Nebraska's four conference wins] were all home games for the Huskers. While Nebraska hasn't protected its home floor as well this season (9-3 home record) as it did last season (15-1 home record), Nebraska still has been much better in Lincoln than when in a hostile environment (1-4 true road record). This by no means is unusual -- almost every team is much better at home than on the road -- but it's important to mention this week because, if Nebraska wants to continue its winning ways, it will need to do so on the road. Both of the Huskers' contests this week are outside of Lincoln as they will travel to Michigan and Minnesota. If they don't win one of those, any perceived progress made by Nebraska will dissipate.
So what happened? The Huskers lost both road games by a combined 32 points.
We didn't think Nebraska was a legitimate contender, but, if there was any chance for Nebraska to shoot into the upper half of the standings, it disappeared last week. Going forward, it seems the Huskers won't be much of an obstacle on the road and will need to stand their ground in Lincoln to earn wins. The problem, though, is that three of their remaining four home games are against Wisconsin, Iowa, and Maryland -- three quality teams. Accordingly, wins could be slim pickings for Nebraska the rest of the season.
This Week: Northwestern (2/3); at Penn State (2/7)
9. Minnesota (14-9, 3-7 B1G)
Last Week: at Penn State (L, 58-63); Nebraska (W, 60-42)
Minnesota still cannot win a close Big Ten game -- 0-6 in Big Ten games decided by five points or fewer -- but the Gophers ensured that wouldn't be a problem against Nebraska. The Gophers relied on their strengths -- they own the fourth-best defensive turnover rate in the nation -- and harassed the Huskers into 20 turnovers in 60 possessions. It was the sixth time an opponent has had a turnover rate higher than 30 percent against Minnesota. Though Minnesota was unable to turn these turnovers into a bunch of points, that Nebraska wasn't able to use these possessions to get shots to the rim was enough for the Gophers to pull away in the final 10 minutes and win by a comfortable 18 points.
This Week: Purdue (2/7)
8. Iowa (13-8, 4-4 B1G)
Last Week: Wisconsin (L, 63-74)
Iowa must be ecstatic that it no longer must face Wisconsin this season unless they meet in the Big Ten Tournament. In their two games against Wisconsin's machine-like offense, the Hawkeyes surrendered 156 points in 111 possessions for an atrocious defensive rate of 140.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. 140.5 POINTS PER 100 POSSESSIONS! Iowa may as well have just scooted out of the way on the defensive end of the court and let the Badgers run layup lines. That may have been a more effective defensive strategy than whatever the Hawkeyes were trying to accomplish. Thus, Iowa has by far the worst defense in Big Ten play (117.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), but that number should decline quickly now that there are no more scheduled meetings with Wisconsin.
This Week: at Michigan (2/5); Maryland (2/8)
7. Michigan (13-9, 6-4 B1G)
Last Week: Nebraska (W, 58-44); at Michigan State (L, 66-76)
Is it possible for a team to underachieve and its coach still win Big Ten Coach of the Year? I ask because John Beilein is heading down that path. After a rocky December that saw Michigan plummet from a top-25 team into college basketball's dark abyss and significant injuries to its best players in Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, we were waiting for the Wolverines to collapse as most teams would in such a situation.
Well, we're still waiting.
Michigan is 6-4 in the Big Ten and, in its last four games, all of which were without LeVert and two of which were without Walton, Michigan beat Rutgers on the road, pummeled Nebraska, and took Wisconsin and Michigan State (at the Breslin Center!) to overtime before running out of gas. Somehow, Beilein and his staff are squeezing all they can out of an impossible situation, and the Wolverines are playing some of their best basketball as a result. If they can sustain this effort and add four or five more conference wins, Beilein may just win Big Ten Coach of the Year for the second straight season.
This Week: Iowa (2/5); at Indiana (2/8)
6. Indiana (16-6, 6-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Purdue (L, 67-83); Rutgers (W, 72-64)
When it was announced three weeks ago that center Hanner Mosquera-Perea would miss the next month or so with a knee injury, Indiana lost its only capable big man. Rather than replace Mosquera-Perea with someone with similar size, Indiana decided to go small, start a 6-foot-6 three-point shooter in Colin Hartman at center, and spread the floor. While this added a fourth perimeter threat to an already-explosive offense, it has crippled whatever interior defense the Hoosiers had with Mosquera-Perea. In the six games since he was sidelined, the Hoosiers have permitted opponents to score 114.7 points per 100 possessions with an eFG% of 57.8 percent and 2P% of 60 percent. In Indiana's blowout loss to Purdue last week, the Boilermakers recorded their second-best offensive performance of the season (1.246 PPP) thanks to 19-of-25 shooting (!!!) within five feet of the rim. Simply, without Mosquera-Perea, Indiana has no one to protect the rim, and, as a result, the Hoosiers have the second-worst overall defense and worst two-point defense in Big Ten play. Until Mosquera-Perea returns, Indiana will hope that its offense can light it up from downtown each and every game and outscore its opponent in a shootout, which is a risky proposition when the opponent is earning layup after layup.
This Week: at Wisconsin (2/3); Michigan (2/8)
5. Purdue (14-8, 6-3 B1G)
Last Week: Indiana (W, 83-67); at Northwestern (W, 68-60)
In last week's power rankings, I highlighted Raphael Davis' performance the week before and how he surprised folks by shooting well and often from behind the three-point line. Well, it's time to highlight his performance again this week except, this time, how Davis contributed surprised no one. Davis, who is more of a slasher than a shooter, attacked the rim frequently -- 11 of his 17 field-goal attempts were within five feet of the rim -- and made numerous trips to the charity stripe, too -- 15 total free-throw attempts. Thus, he averaged 17 points per game in Purdue's wins over Indiana and Northwestern last week to go along with six rebounds and three assists per game. If Davis can continue to score for the Boilermakers (18.0 PPG in last four games), Purdue, which is tied for second in the standings, may continue to be the Big Ten's sleeper team this season.
This Week: Ohio State (2/4); at Minnesota (2/7)
4. Michigan State (15-7, 6-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Rutgers (W, 71-51); Michigan (W, 76-66)
I haven't talked about Branden Dawson enough in these power rankings, so I will change that now. Dawson -- the 6-foot-6 power forward built more like an NFL tight end than a basketball player -- is a key reason why Michigan State has the best defense and rebounding team in Big Ten play. His combination of athleticism, strength, and motor makes him a tireless, unstoppable worker despite his lack of height down low, where he contributes in a variety of ways. Last week in the Spartans' wins over Rutgers and Michigan, he averaged 18.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 3.5 steals per game, and further strengthened his case to be the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year.
This Week: Illinois (2/7)
3. Maryland (18-4, 6-3 B1G)
Last Week: at Ohio State (L, 56-80)
Maryland is in need of two wins this week. The last two weeks have not been kind to the Terrapins. After opening the Big Ten season with a 5-1 record, the Terrapins have been blown out of the water on the road against Indiana (by 19 points) and Ohio State (by 24 points). While losing road games to opponents of this caliber is not unexpected or surprising, how Maryland lost these games is certainly concerning. And what's more concerning is that Maryland should be riding a three-game losing streak given that it trailed lowly Northwestern by 11 points in the final minutes at home, but Northwestern is Northwestern and allowed Maryland to stage a furious comeback. One reason for this decline in performance has been Maryland's three-point defense, which recently hasn't been as fortunate as it was earlier in conference play. If the Terrapins can shore up their three-point defense -- or just pray a bit harder that opponents don't connect on so many of them -- they may be able to get back on track with a sweep this week.
This Week: Penn State (2/4); at Iowa (2/8)
2. Ohio State (17-5, 6-3 B1G)
Last Week: Maryland (W, 80-56)
I'm trying not to talk about D'Angelo Russell every week, but he's making it extremely difficult for me not to do so. Once again, Russell put on a show and reinforced everyone's thought that he should leave Columbus and head to the NBA this instant. In Ohio State's only game last week against Maryland, Russell out-dueled fellow freshman Melo Trimble by registering 18 points on 12 shots, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and no turnovers. He now has averaged 24.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game in his last five contests. Not only is Russell the leader for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, he's challenging Duke's Jahlil Okafor (18.3 PPG, 9.4 RPG) for National Freshman of the Year.
This Week: at Purdue (2/4); at Rutgers (2/8)
1. Wisconsin (19-2, 7-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Iowa (W, 74-63)
Given Wisconsin's weak schedule the next six games (vs. Indiana, vs. Northwestern, at Nebraska, vs. Illinois, at Penn State, and vs. Minnesota), the Badgers could run away with the Big Ten championship in the next three weeks before we even enter March.
This Week: Indiana (2/3); Northwestern (2/7)