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Big Ten Power Rankings: Northwestern continues surprise run to season’s midway point

It’s time to stop underestimating the Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Indiana Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

From here on out, it is only Big Ten play for each team in the conference. While many teams had questions surrounding their non-conference play and how it would translate to the regular season in the Big Ten, a few have continued their hot starts to the regular season.

Even the bottom ranked Big Ten teams can compete with the top in the conference. The rankings from 12-2 are all subjective, as there is so much balance in the conference this season — which makes it difficult to navigate. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t try. Here are this week’s rankings:

No. 14: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last week: 14)

The Gophers hung with Wisconsin, but could not beat them on a night where they outrebounded the Badgers 40-24. That’s because of the 20 turnovers that Minnesota committed in what could have been a big upset for Minnesota. Instead, they drop to 0-3 in the Big Ten and 6-7 on the season, making them easily the least impressive team in the conference.

No. 13: Nebraska Cornhuskers (Last Week: 10)

The Cornhuskers have the second-worst offense in the Big Ten, only better than the team behind them in the rankings. They beat a struggling Maryland team and then fell on their home court to Iowa by double-digits. Halfway through the season, they are 9-7 and have Illinois and a rematch at Purdue coming up this week.

No. 12: Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 7)

After a five-game winning streak and an upset over Illinois in Champaign a few weeks ago, Penn State lost consecutive games this week. They hung tight with the Wolverines but still lost by double-digits. Then, Purdue came knocking and pulled away to a 13-point win in Happy Valley. Now, the Nittany Lions are sitting at 2-3 in the Big Ten and have Indiana and Wisconsin waiting this week.

No. 11: Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 12)

Michigan felt really good after beating a solid Penn State team by 10-points at home. But, then they went to East Lansing and played maybe the worst offensive game of the Juwan Howard era over the weekend. There are glaring weaknesses on this team, and at the top of it is shooting and defense. Michigan is tied for 8th in the conference shooting at just 44% on the year, but they allow 68.8 points per game, the second-most in the conference. After scoring 53 points against their archrival on the basketball court, something has got to change, and fast, for this team to even be considered for the NCAA Tournament.

No. 10: Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 9)

The Terps have had a lot of ups-and-downs this season, but since their 8-0 start, they are 3-5 in their last 8. After getting throttled in Ann Arbor, Maryland headed to Piscataway where they lost by 14 to Rutgers. Back on their home court, they beat a ranked Ohio State squad and appear to be back on track. If that wouldn’t have happened, they’d be much further down on this list. Now they go back on the road to Iowa for a chance to end their 3-game road losing streak.

No. 9: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last Week: 8)

The Scarlett Knights have the best defense in the conference, and by a rather wide margin, allowing just 56.2 points a contest. At the same time, they average about 71.5 points per game, giving them the largest scoring margin in the Big Ten. The problem is they are very streaky on the offensive end. In Rutger’s five losses, they have shot 25.8% from behind the arc. They’re tough when they're hot, but if the offense can’t keep up, they just are not going to be a top dog in the Big Ten.

No. 8: Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 11)

I think Iowa has moved around my rankings more than any other team in the conference this year. This team is figuring out how to play with Kris Murray again, and he is looking like one of the best players in the conference. He had 30 points in the win over Indiana and then another 17 in the blowout win at Rutgers. The Hawkeyes are figuring things out, just in time for a matchup with Michigan on Thursday.

No. 7: Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 3)

Indiana is just not winning basketball games. They’ve dropped five of their last eight games with their wins coming against Kennesaw State, Elon, and Nebraska. After this stretch, they’ve fallen out of the Top-25. To make matters worse, now they are without starters Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson for the foreseeable future due to injury. It’s a huge downward spell for a program that was supposed to be the best in the Big Ten.

No. 6: Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 4)

The Buckeyes went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country as they lost in the final seconds to Purdue in Columbus this week. Then, they lost a hangover match on the road against Maryland. They have Minnesota and a matchup at Rutgers this week. They’ll need to be successful to stay creep back into the Top-5.

No. 5: Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 5)

Illinois is the least consistent team in the conference, just check their schedule. They have alternated wins and losses for their last eight games. This stretch includes wins over Texas and most recently, Wisconsin. But also losses to Penn State, Missouri, and Purdue. When this team is playing well, they are maybe the second or third-best team in the conference. Maybe that is why Brad Underwood gets so fired up at his own players...

No. 4: Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 13)

I’ve been a skeptic of them all season long, but no longer. Northwestern looks legit. On a night where Boo Buie, their best player was 2-13 and the team shot 32.1% from the field, the Wildcats beat Illinois by 13 points at home. That’s because they shot 40 free throws and made 32 of them, shooting at an 80% clip. Following that win, they knocked off Indiana in Bloomington thanks to Buie’s 26. They’re 11th in the Big Ten in scoring, which can be their downfall, but their defense keeps them in just about every game they play.

No. 3: Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 6)

The Spartans have extended their winning streak to six with a win over Michigan this weekend. Despite a poor performance, the team’s veteran grit and defensive prowess slowed the Wolverines. This week they head on the road to Wisconsin and Illinois, two of the best teams in the conference. Malik Hall’s return has been monumental as Michigan State starts to prep for the Big Dance.

No. 2: Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 2)

Every team has a bad night, and the Badgers had one against Illinois in Champaign this week. They were 8-for-29 from deep in their first loss since November. They also didn’t play particularly well in a three-point win over Minnesota earlier in the week. Corrections will be needed with their next three games coming against Michigan State, at Indiana, and against Penn State.

No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers (Last week: 1)

Purdue responded with their loss to Rutgers by earning a tight 71-69 win in Columbus and cruising against Penn State. This only reaffirmed that they remain one of the best teams in the country and are the best in the Big Ten. They welcome Nebraska this week, who nearly upset them in Lincoln a few weeks back. A revenge game is in order before a matchup with the Spartans in East Lansing on the 16th.