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Big Ten Power Rankings: Rutgers surging after two tight wins

The Scarlet Knights are on quite a run.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

We are a couple weeks into the Big Ten regular season and the conference is starting to shape out between pretenders and contenders. But there is still a lot of mud in the water as a large portion of the conference still teeters on the line of NCAA Tournament status.

How are things shaking out? Let’s dive into this week’s rankings:

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

The Golden Gophers will not go winless in the Big Ten! They stunned the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on their way to a 70-67 victory. However, they are still undoubtedly the worst team in the conference and don’t move from the bottom of our rankings.

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

The last couple weeks have been tough sledding for the Cornhuskers. They’ve lost six of their last nine games since upsetting in-state rival Creighton in early December. Most recently, the Huskers were blown out by Illinois at home and Purdue in West Lafayette. With such low offensive output, it’s tough to see them catching back up to the middle of the Big Ten.

No. 12: Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 10)

Maryland did beat Ohio State to snap an ugly stretch of games. However, the Terps followed that up by going to Iowa and losing by double digits. Next they host Michigan, a team that walloped them 81-46 in their meeting just two weeks ago. Then they prep for a matchup with Purdue over the weekend. With such little production coming from their second unit, it appears their run at the start of the season was more of a fluke than initially thought.

No. 11: Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 12)

Penn State hung with Purdue until allowing 45 points to Zach Edey and the Boilermakers in the second half. The Nittany Lions responded by drubbing Indiana by 19 at home. If you catch them on the wrong night, they can light up the scoreboard with their three-point shooting; they hit 39.5% of their shots from deep, leading the conference. That’s why they are a step ahead of some of these other teams and may have a shot at a NCAA Tournament appearance.

No. 10: Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 11)

The Wolverines love grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. A 34-point performance from freshman phenom Jett Howard was not enough in an OT loss to Iowa. That marks the sixth time this season Michigan has lost a very winnable game. Then, the Wolverines played sloppy in a win over Northwestern. This team feels close and yet so far away at the same time. If they start clicking, they have the talent to be a top-five team in the Big Ten, and their 4-2 record in the conference signifies that. However, it's very easy to question if that is possible in several of their games that just feel like demoralizing losses.

No. 9: Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 6)

The Buckeyes are skidding. After a devastating loss to Purdue at home, they just look and feel dysfunctional on the court. They're now on a four-game losing streak, including the upset loss to Minnesota at home. Part of that is because of a shoulder injury to starter Zed Key, the Buckeyes' third-leading scorer. But there are definitely some questions with some big games against Iowa, Illinois and Indiana in the next two weeks.

No. 8: Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 7)

Remember when I said Penn State could blow anyone out on a given night? Well, it hit 18-of-31 three-point attempts against Indiana to give the Hoosiers a third-consecutive loss. Luckily, they responded by beating Wisconsin, giving them their third loss in a row. But that game featured maybe the ugliest half in college basketball this season where the two sides went into the break with a 21-20 score. The Hoosiers' offensive issues are still abundant, and if it weren’t for playing a slow-paced Wisconsin team, they may have lost their fourth in a row.

No. 7: Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 4)

Right when I start to give the Wildcats some credit, they lay an egg against Michigan and lose a close one to Rutgers at home. Northwestern has the second-best defense in the conference but when the other team is scoring, it has a tough go at keeping up. It will need more efficiency from Boo Buie and Chase Audige to get back to winning basketball.

No. 6: Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 2)

The Badgers have fallen hard from their No. 2 ranking just a week ago. What looked like a single bad night has now turned into several. In those games, they have averaged less than 60 points a game thanks to a 45-point clunker against Indiana in Bloomington. Since the new year, their only win was a three-point victory over Minnesota at home. They have the talent to compete with the best, but only if their offense doesn’t sputter like it has as of late.

No. 5: Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 8)

Iowa is relentless. This team just never gives up. Down four with 20 seconds to go, Payton Sanfort hit a three-pointer and was fouled, hitting the free throw attempt to send the game to overtime against Michigan. Then a 14-5 run in the extra minutes secured a win. They’re 8-2 at home, Kris Murray is looking healthy, and they are in a spot where they can cement their tournament status over the next week or two.

No. 4: Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 3)

The Spartans were seconds away from beating Purdue in East Lansing on Monday, but an Edey layup with three seconds left secured the win. Now, the Spartans have lost back-to-back games after an ugly performance against Illinois. This upcoming stretch will define their season as their next five games are: home against Rutgers, at Indiana, vs. Iowa, at Purdue, and at Madison Square Garden against Rutgers.

No. 3: Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 5)

Suddenly, Illinois has won four in a row and is in a fantastic spot to really make up some ground in the Big Ten. The Illini host Indiana and Ohio State this week and then go to Wisconsin and host Nebraska to finish January. Those four teams are struggling more than anyone else in the conference right now, and they get to play three of those games in Champaign. Look for a big run for the Illini as the calendar turns.

No. 2: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last Week: 9)

I honestly do not know what I was thinking having Rutgers so low. It earned a couple huge wins this week at Northwestern and then at home against Ohio State in overtime. Winning close games was an issue for Rutgers early this year, losing by a single possession against Ohio State and Seton Hall in December. Since then, the Scarlet Knights have won 7-of-8 and are playing some of the best basketball in the Big Ten. The metrics love Rutgers, and it’s starting to seem like something could be brewing in Piscataway.

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

How good is Purdue? Zach Edey has scored more than 30 points in two of the last three games. What appears to be a soft schedule lies ahead: at Minnesota, home against Maryland, at Michigan. They should have no problem being one of the first teams in the country to reach 20 wins.