14. Rutgers (6-9, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: Indiana (L, 72-79); at Wisconsin (L, 57-79)
Unsurprisingly, Rutgers dropped its first two Big Ten games, losing to Indiana at home and Wisconsin in Madison, but, surprisingly, I'll give the Scarlet Knights some credit. They put up a fight in both games even if they ran out of gas against the Badgers. Against Indiana, whom KenPom considers a top-25 team, Rutgers trailed by only six points with less than four minutes remaining. In the "Trohl" Center against Wisconsin, Rutgers was behind by only four points at the 13-minute mark of the second half. However, the Badgers constructed an 18-4 run thereafter to make it a blowout. Given the Knights are 249th on KenPom, just putting up a fight is an accomplishment for them. The sad thruth.
13. Minnesota (6-8, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Ohio State (L, 63-78); Michigan State (L, 61-69)
Minnesota had two tough assignments to open the Big Ten season and wasn't able to pass either of them. If you want to know why, look no further than two-pointers. Not only did Minnesota make only 32-of-85 twos (37.6 pct.) against Ohio State and Michigan State, Minnesota permitted the Buckeyes and Spartans to combine for 44-of-78 twos (56.4 pct.). Those percentages were the worst in the Big Ten last week. The Gophers not shooting their twos well is to be expected as their offense is 288th in two-point shooting (44.6 pct.). On the other hand, their two-point defense was one of their strengths against non-conference opponents. That OSU and MSU carved them up inside is a gigantic red flag.
12. Illinois (8-7, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan (L, 68-78); at Ohio State (L, 73-75)
If shorthanded Illinois has any shot at winning some Big Ten games, it needs excellent performances from its two best players, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, consistently. Though Nunn delivered last week, averaging 18.5 PPG and 6.5 RPG, Hill did not. Hill entered the Big Ten season as the conference's leading scorer (18.7 PPG), yet he averaged only 12.5 PPG in the Illini's two losses. Before you think that's not that bad, here's the kicker: his eFG% for the week was 33.3 percent (5-of-16 2P, 2-of-8 3P). Among the 37 Big Ten players that averaged double-digit points last week, Hill's eFG% was dead last. He must shoot his way out of this slump immediately because MSU and Purdue are up next.
11. Penn State (9-6, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: at Maryland (L, 64-70); at Michigan (L, 56-79)
Before Saturday, Penn State appeared to be a team on the rise. The Nittany Lions responded to an awful home loss to #182 Radford with a 6-2-1 record against the spread, giving #51 Colorado and #15 Maryland legitimate scares outside of Happy Valley along the way. The Buffaloes edged Penn State by one point in Vegas, while the Terrapins had to overcome a 13-point deficit in the final seven minutes at home to avoid the upset. And, with Caris LeVert ruled out of their game against Michigan this past weekend, it seemed like the stars were aligning for Penn State to earn that first top-100 win. But they weren't because those LeVert-less Wolverines went bananas on offense in the first half and smoked the Lions by 23 points. I'm curious to see how they respond to this latest defeat. Will it rattle PSU's confidence? Or will PSU get back on the ladder and continue to climb?
10. Nebraska (8-7, 0-2 B1G)
Last Week: Northwestern (L, 72-81); Indiana (L, 69-79)
Last season, Nebraska's offense (285th in adjusted efficiency) couldn't get out of the way of its defense (25th in adjusted efficiency). Last week, it was the reverse. In their losses against Northwestern and Indiana, the Huskers scored 141 points on 130 possessions (108.4 PPP). On a per-possession basis, that was the sixth-best offensive output in the conference last week. However, the Huskers' defense surrendered 160 points in the same number of possessions. That defensive rate is 1.23 PPP, which was the worst in the Big Ten by more than six points every 100 possessions. In other words, it wasn't even close.
9. Wisconsin (9-6, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: Purdue (L, 55-61); Rutgers (W, 79-57)
On Saturday against Rutgers, Wisconsin's Zak Showalter did something that had happened only once before in the Big Ten since the start of the 2010-11 season: he scored at least 20 points without missing a single shot. Showalter tallied 21 points and made all four of his twos, all four of his threes, and his lone free throw. In terms of shooting, it was a perfect game. The only other Big Ten player to achieve such a feat in the last six seasons was Penn State's Jeff Brooks, who scored 21 points and converted all seven of his field goals and all six of his free throws against Central Connecticut State. Maryland's Dez Wells did the same as well against Miami (FL) in 2014 with 21 points on 7-of-7 field goals and 6-of-6 free throws, but the Terrapins were in the ACC. So it doesn't count here.
8. Ohio State (10-5, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: Minnesota (W, 78-63); Illinois (W, 75-73)
Ohio State has won its last six games, but no Big Ten team had an easier start to conference play. The Buckeyes hosted Minnesota and Illinois, who are the two worst Big Ten teams not named Rutgers. And neither game was a cakewalk for Ohio State. The Gophers actually led early in the second half before OSU stopped screwing around and went on a 20-3 spree that carried them to a 15-point win. Then, on Sunday, the Illini battled back and forth with Ohio State the entire game, and it didn't end until Malcolm Hill's three-quarter-court heave, which would have won it, drifted just left of the bucket at the buzzer. These were wins that OSU had to get, and they did. But the manner in which they did doesn't indicate that OSU is ready to join the upper half of the Big Ten.
7. Northwestern (13-2, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Nebraska (W, 81-72); Maryland (L, 59-72)
Only three other Big Ten teams can claim to have as many wins as Northwestern, but the Wildcats still haven't beaten one quality opponent, owning a strength of schedule that is 325th overall and last in the Big Ten per KenPom. On Saturday, Northwestern had an opportunity to earn that first signature win when the Terrapins came to town. Though Maryland was considered a top-five team in the polls, it was only a slight favorite in Evanston. This was a winnable game for NU. However, the Wildcats weren't ready for the moment because the Terrapins dominated them in the first half. By halftime, Maryland had doubled them up, 40-20, and the deficit was too large to overcome. If Northwestern wants to be an NCAA Tournament team, it must win some of these games.
However, this game did provide one of the most amazing sequences ever. Watch:
So, @umterps and @nu_sports just combined for one of the craziest sequences you'll ever see in a basketball game https://t.co/0VzLi21vHd— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 3, 2016
6. Michigan (12-3, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: at Illinois (W, 78-68); Penn State (W, 79-56)
There were some surprise performances in the Big Ten last week, but none may have been as surprising as Mark Donnal's. Before last week, Donnal had played in 11 non-conference games, averaging 3.9 PPG and 2.1 RPG in only 9.8 MPG. He had been replaced in the starting lineup after three games, and his minutes were waning as he became a fixture on the scout team. He wasn't expected to make much of an impact during the Big Ten season. Yet Donnal stunned everyone when he posted 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds, three blocks, and two steals against Illinois and followed that with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds against Penn State. He was active around the basket, going strong to the rim and battling for rebounds. He set good screens and caught passes underneath for open layups from Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, and Duncan Robinson. He looked like a completely different player than in the non-conference season. If Donnal can sustain this, he'll solidify a frontcourt that had been shaky all year.
5. Indiana (12-3, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: at Rutgers (W, 79-72); at Nebraska (W, 79-69)
Indiana, a team that tends to sputter when not in Bloomington, earned two road wins to kick off Big Ten play. The Hoosiers didn't beat upper-tier teams in doing so, but two conference road wins are still two conference road wins. However, a glaring concern reappeared last week: their habit of turning the ball over. In those two games, Indiana turned it over on 25.4 percent of its possessions, which was the worst turnover rate in the conference last week. This was thanks mostly to its win against Rutgers, in which IU coughed it up an absurd 23 times. Right now, the Hoosiers are 307th in turnover rate, which is the worst in the Big Ten. Indiana still has an electric offense, ranking 11th in adjusted efficiency, but, if IU can't clean up the turnovers, it'll hurt IU down the stretch.
4. Purdue (13-2, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Wisconsin (W, 61-55); Iowa (L, 63-70)
Purdue may be the best Big Ten team -- KenPom thinks so, ranking the Boilermakers at #6 and one spot ahead of Michigan State -- but they fall to #4 on this list after how the results shook out last week. What's crazy is that they were on their way to grabbing the #1 spot after MSU dropped its first game to Iowa. After beating Wisconsin in Madison, Purdue led the Hawkeyes by as many as 19 points in the first half at home. Purdue was feeling it from three (7-of-14) and holding onto the basketball (4 TOs). However, everything changed in the second half. Iowa went to a trapping press, and Purdue's guards couldn't handle it, causing the Boilermakers to cough it up 10 times while they got ice cold from long range (1-of-11 3P). With Purdue discombobulated, the Hawkeyes capitalized and used a 19-2 run over a 10-minute stretch to gain the lead before shocking Purdue with a 70-63 win. This was a very tough loss for Purdue to swallow. Not only did it cost PU the top spot here, it could cost them the top spot in the standings in March.
3. Michigan State (14-1, 1-1 B1G)
Last Week: at Iowa (L, 70-83); at Minnesota (W, 69-61)
With Denzel Valentine still nursing his knee, Michigan State hasn't been the juggernaut that it was for much of the non-conference season. The Spartans needed overtime to escape an upset bid by Oakland, weren't competitive in their first loss of the season at Iowa, and held only a two-point lead against lowly Minnesota entering the final two minutes. What's been interesting to watch is to see which Spartans would step up and fill Valentine's shoes. Guards Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris are the clear candidates, and both have had outstanding games in Valentine's stead. But the best Spartan last week was center Matt Costello, who averaged 17.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 1.5 BPG. If Michigan State continues to get contributions like these, it should tread water until Valentine returns.
2. Maryland (13-1, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: Penn State (W, 70-64); at Northwestern (W, 72-59)
Maryland was on the verge of enduring a horrid start to the Big Ten season. The Terrapins were losing to Penn State by 13 points at home with less than seven minutes left before they rallied, using a 21-4 run in the next five minutes to survive and close out the Nittany Lions, 70-64. The only reason Maryland won this game was freshman center Diamond Stone, who came off the bench to score 39 points (!) on 10-of-15 shooting, grab 12 rebounds, and block three shots. He simply was dominant as PSU couldn't stop him or stop fouling him (19-of-25 FT), while his teammates struggled, making only 9-of-42 shots (21.4 pct.). For his performance, Stone was named the Big Ten Player of the Week:
Diamond Stone of @TerrapinHoops claims #B1GMBBall Player & Freshman of the Week honors. #B1G pic.twitter.com/fXG6kbJjJ6— Big Ten Men's Hoops (@B1GMBBall) January 4, 2016
1. Iowa (11-3, 2-0 B1G)
Last Week: Michigan State (W, 83-70); at Purdue (W, 70-63)
Iowa is the new Big Ten king, and I don't care that Iowa has more losses than Maryland, Michigan State, and Purdue. The Hawkeyes just earned wins over two KenPom top-10 teams in the same week, handing the Denzel Valentine-less Spartans their first loss and stunning Purdue in Mackey Arena. The only other Big Ten team to own two wins over KenPom top-10 teams is Michigan State, who's beaten Kansas and Louisville, but the Spartans just fell victim to Iowa and aren't the same without Valentine. There is a great chance that Michigan State will be able to reclaim this spot once its best player returns, but no Big Ten team was as impressive as Iowa last week. So #1, the Hawkeyes shall be.