We have now seen consecutive weeks of porous play from the Big Ten Conference. Michigan, Illinois and Iowa all lost last week, and Iowa was a 31.5-point favorite to Eastern Illinois. Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini gave up 51 first-half points to Missouri in a convincing beatdown to an unranked opponent.
Before we even get to Big Ten play, it feels like there is one, maybe two elite programs in the conference. With expectations really high for teams like Illinois and Indiana, the play from them and many others have the conference looking subpar, despite several programs that have cracked the top 25 this season.
Let’s take a trip through the conference for the last time in 2022 as we look towards the new year and conference play getting rolling:
No. 14: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last week: 14)
Last week it was Minnesota. This week it is Minnesota. A three-point win over the 3-12 Chicago State Cougars does very little to instill confidence that anything is going to change for the program come 2023.
No. 13 Nebraska Cornhuskers (Last Week: 13)
The Huskers are back in the win column after running away from Queens University early in the game. Their three-straight losses before that, though, make it tough to rank them much higher.
No. 12: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last Week: 12)
Rutgers is clearly better than Nebraska, but I don’t know if it has moved up to the bottom-middle tier of the Big Ten just yet. Consecutive games with 80+ points prove this young squad can put up points, but can they do so in the heat of the Big Ten season?
No. 11: Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 11)
Speaking of high-scoring offenses, how about the Wildcats? They have won their two games by a combined 66 points after beating IUC by 38 points. I’m still skeptical of how they will play against the quality of the Big Ten, but man they have looked like a contender for the NCAA Tournament early this season.
No. 10: Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 8)
Who is Michigan’s signature win this season? They lost to UNC this week and have dropped three out of five, with two other losses against top-25 opponents. This team is still trying to figure itself out on the offensive end, and while freshmen Jett Howard and Dug McDaniel have shown flashes, they have also shown just as many critical errors. This team needs them to mature quickly.
The construction of this roster remains to be a problem. They have one true point guard (thanks to the Jaelin Llewellyn injury), too many wings/forwards where not everyone can get minutes, and not enough confident shooters who can drill three-pointers when Dickinson kicks out from the post. Something has got to change fast if they want to be dancing come March.
No. 9: Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 10)
I look at the Nittany Lions and can say that at least they beat Illinois on the road. With a win over Quinnipiac this week, they have three-straight victories and could be one of the surprise teams in the conference.
No. 8: Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 9)
The Spartans are getting healthier and just won their third straight as well. They play Buffalo a day before New Years and then host Michigan on Jan. 7.
No. 7: Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 5)
Iowa was a 31.5-point favorite against a bad Eastern Illinois team that dropped 55 points in the second half in Iowa City en route to a 92-83 upset win. They are desperately missing Kris Murray, one of the best forwards in college basketball. When he returns healthy, I expect them to return to playing at a high level.
No. 6: Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 3)
Illinois cannot decide what kind of basketball team it wants to be. The Illini have impressive wins against UCLA and Texas, but they have looked demoralized in losses to Maryland, Penn State, and now Missouri this week. Even with a difficult schedule, they just suffered their second embarrassing loss in the last three games.
No. 5: Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 7)
The thing is, I don’t know if the Buckeyes even deserve to be this high. They beat Maine by 34 points this week after losing to UNC a week ago. The play from true freshman Brice Sensabaugh will be key to the success of the Buckeyes once Big Ten play hits.
No. 4: Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 6)
The Terps finally bounced back from their three-game skid with a 30-point win over Saint Peter’s. They come to Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day for what will be a huge game for both programs in the early Big Ten schedule. However, I still believe they are clearly a tier below the elite programs in the conference.
No. 3: Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 4)
Indiana was supposed to be the class of the conference, but it has two blowout losses to top-10 opponents. The win over North Carolina is not nearly impressive as it was during what became a four-game losing streak for the Tar Heels. Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to sport really good numbers, but he has not had as much consistent help around him that many anticipated coming into the season.
No. 2: Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 2)
Wisconsin had its game with Grambling State canceled due to weather. The Badgers are still riding high off a four-game winning streak, but it will be interesting how they come out against Western Michigan after not playing for over two weeks during the holiday season.
No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers (Last week: 1)
Purdue is still the No. 1 team in the country and is deservedly the top program in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers’ 12-0 start leave them as one of two undefeated teams remaining in the Power 6 of college basketball. Until further notice, they are the clear frontrunners in the conference and could run a decent portion of the season undefeated if the stars align.