The Big Ten is a convoluted mess. Bracketologists are predicting somewhere around 8-10 teams making the big dance, but all these teams continue to beat each other up and make records look extremely wonky.
Take the Michigan Wolverines for example. A rather easy Big Ten schedule to this point has them at 5-3, tied for second place in the conference with an 11-8 overall record. Heading into Monday evening, there are 10 teams that have a .500 or better record in the conference. One of the teams that doesn’t is Ohio State, who just lost five in a row but have a much better overall resume than the Wolverines so far.
The one constant, though, is Purdue. The Boilermakers have three consecutive conference road wins, capped off by a win in East Lansing this week. With the win, they have reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. The only other team to even crack the top-25 is Rutgers at No. 23.
While it is clear Purdue is on top, let’s see how the rest of the conference shakes out with so many teams in the same proximity.
No. 14: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last week: 14)
Minnesota was up by double-digits against the Wolverines and Jett Howard went down with an injury early in the game. All signs were pointing in its favor, and it still couldn’t pull off the upset win in Ann Arbor. Tag on a 12-point first-half performance at home against Purdue, and the Gophers are still easily at the bottom of the barrell.
No. 13: Nebraska Cornhuskers (Last Week: 13)
Nebraska did earn a win against a fumbling Ohio State squad, but has still lost five of its last seven. The only wins came against the Buckeyes at home and on the road in a two-point win over Minnesota.
No. 12: Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 10)
While Michigan does hold a 5-3 record in the Big Ten, look at the teams still ahead on the schedule. The Wolverines have the pleasure of hosting Purdue this week, which will be a huge opportunity for them and as close to a must-win as it gets for a team looking up at the bubble. Then they go on the road to Penn State and Northwestern. Two games against Wisconsin and Indiana and a rematch with Michigan State are still on the schedule. They need to win a lot of games, and with Jett Howard appearing to suffer an ankle sprain over the weekend, odds are he may not be 100% if he even plays down the stretch.
No. 11: Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 9)
In their last five games, the Buckeyes have lost to both Minnesota and now Nebraska, the two worst teams in the conference. The only reason they are above Michigan is because of their response, beating Iowa by nearly 20 points on over 55% shooting from the field. Brice Sensabaugh’s 27 points helped push Ohio State to a Q1 win and a chance to rebound from this ugly losing streak. They head to Illinois and to Indiana this week for some more tough sledding.
No. 10: Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 12)
Maryland beat Michigan at home in a revenge game with several Michigan players’ families in attendance. Then, the Terps came within three points of upsetting Purdue in West Lafayette. A large part of that is because of the play of Jahmir Young. He’s scored 20 or more points in three of four games. Although he wasn’t as his best against the Boilermakers as he shot just 4-of-18 from the field, but he picked up seven assists and seven rebounds as he approached a triple-double. If they can return to winning ways, it’s likely they will be dancing in March.
No. 9: Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 11)
If the Nittany Lions wouldn’t have collapsed in the second half of their loss to Wisconsin, they’d be riding a three-game winning streak. Still, they have been playing better as of late and could cement tournament status with a few wins down the stretch. I like their odds of being a representative from the Big Ten if they do so, mostly because of how well they shoot the three-ball. A team like this one can beat anyone if they’re hot, and the tournament loves chaos. Seems like a happy match.
No. 8: Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 5)
Can the real Iowa Hawkeyes please stand up? No, really. They were on a four-game winning streak before their game was postponed against Northwestern. Then they got drubbed by Ohio State. The Hawkeyes can put up points, which makes them dangerous, but their defense is the worst in the Big Ten and there are some nights they cannot stop anybody. Still, because of their offense led by Kris Murray, they are easily a tournament team.
No. 7: Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 6)
The most relevant thing that has happened in Wisconsin in the past two weeks is the release of That 90’s Show (based on That 70’s Show) on Netflix. The Badgers have been awful, losing four of five games with their latest coming against a Northwestern team that hadn’t played in over a week due to a COVID outbreak, and were short players because of it. If they aren’t careful, it can easily stretch to much worse with games on the road against Maryland and against Illinois coming up this week.
No. 6: Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 7)
The Wildcats postponed two games because of COVID. Now, they have four games before the end of the month; that’s not going to be easy, but the committee will look favorably upon them if they perform well. A win over Wisconsin on Monday was a great start, but they need to continue to succeed in a short period of time.
No. 5: Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 4)
Bloomington is one of the toughest spots to play in the Big Ten, and Michigan State got a taste of that as it was blown out by Indiana, 82-69, thanks to a second-half run by the Hoosiers. That’s the problem with the Spartans — they have not been able to close games against great teams. They have one-point losses to both Gonzaga and Purdue. However, a 13-point home win over Rutgers proves they are still at the upper eschelon of the conference.
No. 4: Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 3)
I talked about it last week, but the Illini have their entire season ahead of them. It’s been a roller coaster ride for them and this week is the perfect example. They crushed Minnesota by nearly 20 points on the road, and then lost by 15 at home against Indiana. They’ve got a semi-favorable schedule down the stretch that can push them into a higher status within the conference.
No. 3: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last Week: 2)
Rutgers had a tough go of it in the Breslin Center, as it was unable to keep up with Michigan State. The Spartans were hot against a team that relies on defense to win, and the Scarlet Knights shot just 2-for-17 from deep. Now they face two of the most prolific offenses in the Big Ten with Penn State and Iowa coming up this week. They’ll need to rebound to stay this high in the rankings.
No. 2: Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 8)
After losing three straight, the Hoosiers matched that in the win column over Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State. That’s a Quad 2 win and two Quad 1 wins in under two weeks. It shows how quickly any team can turn around their season in this conference if they get hot. Indiana is so tough to beat at home and much of its toughest games on the schedule remaining are at Assembly Hall: Purdue, Rutgers, Illinois and Ohio State all come through in the next month.
No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers (Last week: 1)
We talked about it earlier, the Boilermakers are by far the best team in the conference. Everything else is up for debate except this. Fletcher Loyer is coming off Co-Conference Player of the Week honors last week with his teammate Zach Edey. They followed that up by holding Minnesota to a laughable 12 points in the first half of a 61-39 blowout. Then, Edey’s 24 points pushed the Boilermakers past Maryland in a close matchup. Because of their six-game winning streak, they are back to the No. 1 spot in the country for the second time this season.