One month from now we are projected to be in the heart of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament, which recently moved from Chicago to Indianapolis. It’s hard to get the image of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske walking off the floor after warmups of last year’s Big Ten Tournament out of your head. It was at that moment that I, and many other sports fans around the world, really began to take the pandemic seriously.
Almost one year later, we are eagerly awaiting Michigan’s return to the floor amid an unforgettable Big Ten season. Let’s take a look at our conference power rankings as of today.
It’s almost impossible to argue that anyone but Michigan has been the best team in the conference so far. With a top-10 offense and defense nationwide and an undefeated home record, the Wolverines were firing on all cylinders before the COVID shutdown. Time will tell how the return will affect the Wolverines.
Boasting four wins in a row, including solid victories at home against Iowa and Wisconsin, the Illini have started to pull away from the rest of the top tier along with Michigan. With two of the top five scorers in the Big Ten and Kofi Cockburn averaging a double-double (17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds), Illinois certainly has the firepower to make a March run. It’s a shame Thursday’s game against Michigan had to be postponed.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Winners of five-straight games, the Buckeyes have found their way onto the 1-seed line in a few brackets. Despite having four losses, Ohio St. finds itself at No. 4 in the AP Poll. One of the most balanced teams in the country, Chris Holtmann has done a masterful job of weathering the storm of the Big Ten this year.
It’s common knowledge at this point that Iowa is an elite offensive team. Luka Garza continues to put up absurd offensive statistics across the board. However, it’s also becoming common knowledge that the Hawkeyes have no interest in playing defense. Not only are they last in the conference in defensive efficiency, but there are over 50 teams between Iowa and the next-worst Big Ten team, Northwestern. The Hawkeyes seem primed for an opening weekend upset.
The Badgers have shown flashes of brilliance this year with D’Mitrik Trice leading the way. However, they’ve been unable to find any consistency and struggle to beat the top tier in the Big Ten. Brad Davison has struggled mightily of late and Wisconsin’s schedule doesn’t get any easier with five of their last six games against ranked teams.
Rutgers jumped back into the AP rankings this week at No. 25. Similar to Wisconsin. they have struggled to beat the teams in the top tier of the conference. The Scarlet Knights have consistently beat the teams they are supposed to beat while not really having any upset wins.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota continues to be a team you don’t want to face at The Barn (13-1 at home) while posing no threat whatsoever on the road (0-6). The Golden Gophers picked up a big win against Purdue on Thursday but continue to struggle on the boards and behind the 3 point line.
Since Michigan last saw Purdue, the Boilermakers have split a pair of games with Minnesota, lost at Maryland, and won a slugfest at home vs. a pesky Northwestern team. It’s tough to gain any confidence in Purdue as a legitimate threat in the Big Ten. Trevion Williams has proven himself to be a real threat but he needs more help.
The Hoosiers last five games have been decided by a combined 15 points, going 3-2 in that stretch. Trayce Jackson-Davis has certainly played at an all-conference level but there isn’t much more firepower from the Indiana offense. Yet somehow, Indiana upset Iowa twice in the last three weeks proving that they are not a team to be forgotten about come March.
10. Penn St. Nittany Lions
Like Michigan, Penn St. went through a COVID shutdown of their own. Since returning to the court their results have been mixed with a record of 4-5 in the last nine games. Despite lacking elite talent, Penn St. has done an admirable job of at least staying competitive this year.
Sitting 12th in the conference standings can not feel great for Mark Turgeon and company. But there are reasons for optimism as the Terrapins have the easiest remaining schedule in the conference with only one ranked team left in their remaining seven games. Back to back games against Nebraska next week can certainly help build some confidence. There is still an outside chance they could claw their way back into the tournament field.
12. Michigan St. Spartans
The return from the COVID pause for Tom Izzo and company was not pleasant and has added to what has already been a difficult year. The Spartans followed up a crushing, 30-point loss to Rutgers with back to back losses at Ohio State and Iowa. Wins against Nebraska and Penn State have certainly shown signs of improvement but it may be too little, too late for the Spartans this year.
Remember when Northwestern was 6-1 with wins over No. 4 Michigan St, Indiana, and No. 23 Ohio State? That seems like a very distant memory as the Wildcats have lost 10 games in a row. Only four of those games have been single-digit losses. With Rutgers, Illinois, and Wisconsin next up on the docket, how long could the losing streak go?
Poor Nebraska. Winless in conference play, it’s very tough to be optimistic about anything surrounding the Cornhusker program. The Huskers sit dead last in almost every statistical category except for a few defensive stats (hi, Iowa). At this point, all efforts should be on maintaining the health of safety of the players, coaches, and staff.