The regular season is finished. The Big Ten has co-champions this year and yet somehow that still doesn’t feel right. The Big Ten Tournament starts Wednesday and, depending on how things go, the conference could have as many as nine tournament teams.
All-in-all this was a wild year with loads of good-but-not-great teams littering the conference. Here’s how they stack up heading into the tournament:
Previous Ranking: 1
Hear me out before you write me off. Yes, I’m aware Purdue was not one of the conference co-champions this year. I’m also aware the Boilermakers could have been had they not faltered at the Kohl Center in Wisconsin.
Consider your other options here. Wisconsin stormed the court after defeating this very Purdue team to capture a share of the crown. The Badgers then had a chance to secure the outright title at home on Senior Day against the very worst team in the conference. They lost to Nebraska. I can’t have that team at No. 1.
Illinois also captured a co-conference championship thanks to a thrilling win over Iowa on Sunday night. The Illini are certainly playing well, but in the head-to-head Purdue took care of Illinois twice. To me, a one-game lead in the standings doesn’t eclipse two head-to-head matchups. So congratulations to Purdue for somehow staying No. 1 in our power rankings.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini 22-8 (15-5)
Previous Ranking: 2
Illinois fought off a pesky Penn State team and then took care of business at home against Iowa in the Big Ten regular season finale to capture a share of the title. Winners of three straight and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, I’m not sure anyone is hotter than Brad Underwood and company.
Previous Ranking: 3
What a whirlwind of emotions in Madison this week. The Badger student section and friends stormed the court following a monumental win over Purdue thanks to a Chucky Hepburn banked-in three. Then on Senior Day the Badgers laid an absolute egg and lost Johnny Davis to an undisclosed injury. The Badgers have been the surprise story of the conference this season and capped it off with a championship. However, if they’re without Davis for any period of time, their outlook moving forward diminishes in a hurry.
Previous Ranking: 6
Iowa continued its hot streak by torching the nets in Ann Arbor and playing good enough defense to handle a desperate Michigan team. The Hawkeyes then gave Illinois all it could handle in their attempt at preventing a co-championship before falling, 74-72. They have played their way all the way from the bubble to potentially as high as a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will be a tough out in the tournament depending on the matchup.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes 19-10 (12-8)
Previous Ranking: 4
Ohio State, on the other hand, is struggling mightily. The Buckeyes went 1-2 this week with losses to Nebraska (!) and rival Michigan. It doesn’t get much worse than that in Columbus. Now losers of three of their last four, they certainly aren’t playing their best basketball down the stretch as their defense is inconsistent at best. Ohio State is still easily a tournament team but I’m sure it will be a popular upset team in the brackets this year.
Previous Ranking: 7
Speaking of inconsistent, the Wolverines’ last nine games have gone WLWLWLWLW. On the season, their longest winning and losing streaks were a mere three games each. However, this was a big week for them. Likely needing to win two of their last three, they did just that by defeating their two biggest rivals in Michigan State and Ohio State. This should be a tournament team, but nobody knows which version of this team will show up.
Previous Ranking: 5
I mentioned last week the Michigan vs. Michigan State tilt would tell us a lot about the Spartans. It certainly did as the Spartans were thoroughly demolished by the Wolverines. They then backed that up with an uncompetitive loss to Ohio State. The Senior Day win over Maryland doesn’t mean as much when you’ve lost seven of your last 10 and trending down. The Spartans will get a rematch with Maryland on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights 18-12 (12-8)
Previous Ranking: 8
Rutgers and Indiana had what felt like a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament this week with both teams squarely on the bubble. The Scarlet Knights came out on top, 66-63, allowing them to remain on the right side of the bubble. Somehow, Rutgers is now the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament despite not even being a lock for the big dance. They could probably use one more win to feel good about the state of affairs heading into Selection Sunday.
Previous Ranking: 9
Indiana fell to the wrong side of the bubble with its loss to Rutgers at home in a game it had to have. The Hoosiers couldn’t pull off the upset over Purdue on Saturday either. They likely will need a win (or possibly two) to have a chance at making the tournament. The road ahead sees the Hoosiers play Michigan with the winner taking on Illinois. Best of luck.
Previous Ranking: 11
Now past the dividing line of tournament contention, Penn State didn’t have that great of a week, going 0-2 against tough Illinois and Rutgers teams. The only reason I moved the Nittany Lions up was because Minnesota had an even rougher week.
Previous Ranking: 12
With Michigan somewhat turning its season around, it’s safe to say Maryland takes the cake for the most disappointing team. A win over Minnesota helped the Terrapins move up a spot, but they didn’t put up much of a fight against Michigan State. Next up is a rematch with the Spartans.
Previous Ranking: 13
Northwestern somehow only had one game this week. In that game the Wildcats easily dispatched a freefalling Minnesota squad. At one point this season they looked like a threat to make the tournament. Now, not so much.
13. Minnesota Golden Gophers 13-16 (4-16)
Previous Ranking: 10
Minnesota completed the regular season in brutal fashion, losing to both Maryland and Northwestern on the road. The Golden Gophers’ win over Michigan earlier this year looks more and more baffling as time goes by. They rarely escaped falling all the way to dead last in our power rankings.
Previous Ranking: 14
The Cornhuskers had one conference win as of Feb. 26. They ended the year with three consecutive wins over Penn State, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin. This was the most stunning week of the season by any team in the conference. I never in a million years would have guessed Nebraska would win not just one, but both games this week.