February begins tomorrow, and we have about a month remaining in the regular season. After about a month of tumult, the conference finally looks like it has taken shape with the top and bottom five teams looking apparent. Then there is a middle section that has a resume to be dancing come March.
There could still be some shockers as we enter the final month of conference play, but let’s evaluate where each team is at as the season dwindles.
No. 14: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last week: 14)
The Gophers are so bad. They have one Big Ten win, have lost five in a row and have just one win against a Power 6 team. They likely won’t move from the bottom spot in the conference.
No. 13: Nebraska Cornhuskers (Last Week: 13)
Now, Nebraska is taking that previous statement as a challenge. The Cornhuskers have dropped five of their last six and were blown out by Northwestern and Maryland this week. If this streak continues I doubt we see much improvement in the rankings
No. 12: Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 12)
The Wolverines hung with Purdue and on the road against Penn State for a considerable amount of game time. That is until both their offenses decided to wake up. When that happens, Michigan just has no answer. Sometimes Jett Howard will go on an ungodly streak to keep up, like he did against the Nittany Lions. But his luck eventually runs out when defenses realize he is the only legitimate option outside of the paint. Terrance Williams II is down to 27.3% shooting from deep, and Kobe Bufkin isn’t much better at 28.6%. Maybe one player will get hot for a game or two, but it doesn’t seem like they have enough to get back into the NCAA Tournament conversation this year.
No. 11: Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 11)
Once a top-25 team, Ohio State has lost seven of its last eight contests. Now, the Buckeyes are 11-10 and have a bunch of ground to make up with no momentum heading their way. Their only chance: six of their last 10 come at home, and Michigan is one of their road games. If they can defend their home court and maybe pull off some upsets against Michigan State or Purdue, they could knife their way back.
No. 10: Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 7)
Another team on a stretch of losing, the Badgers have dropped six of their last seven. After Northwestern missed a week and a half due to Covid, they lost to them and followed that up with blowout losses to Maryland and Illinois. They now average only 65.1 points per game, better than only Minnesota in the conference. Their scoring margin is only 1.8, which is the third-worst. At 12-8, they have a lot of ground to make up to go dancing in March.
No. 9: Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 10)
The roller coaster ride that has been Maryland’s season seems to be on the up-and-up. The Terps cruised to nearly 20-point wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska this week thanks to continued really strong play by point guard Jahmir Young. The reason they aren’t higher is because they are 5-5 in the conference, with their only impressive win coming against Illinois earlier this year. They host Indiana this week for a chance to earn a much-needed Quad 1 win.
No. 8: Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 8)
Kris Murray is one of the best players in the conference and this Iowa team has all the makings of a tournament team on the offensive end. But the defense remains by far the worst in the conference allowing 73.4 points per contest. The Hawkeyes also cannot win on the road, going 1-5 away from Iowa City in Big Ten play. If they want to be dancing come March, they’ll need to be a lot better in both of those departments.
No. 7: Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 9)
The Nittany Lions would have to do a lot wrong to miss the NCAA Tournament. Michigan fans saw on full display how quickly a game can change when you play Penn State. In the final four and a half minutes of the first period, the Nittany Lions got red hot and went on an 18-2 scoring run. They have a rather easy schedule ahead and can cement their tournament status.
No. 6: Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 5)
The Spartans could easily be on a three-game losing streak if it weren’t for a couple of late missed threes from Iowa last week. After getting throttled by Purdue, Tom Izzo whined in his press conference about Zach Edey’s dominant 38-point performance:
Tom Izzo on Zach Edey: "He's the biggest guy I've ever coached against. And they don't call 3 seconds. They don't." pic.twitter.com/8i678wPXKu— Braggs In The Stands (@BraggsInStands) January 29, 2023
Michigan State wraps up its most brutal stretch of the season this week by playing Rutgers and Maryland at home. After that, Indiana is the last top-five Big Ten team on the schedule. It’s in a prime position to be a middle seed in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 5: Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 6)
After not playing for a week and a half because of a Covid outbreak, Northwestern rattled off three wins last week. Now the Wildcats have to do it again to maintain this top-five ranking. A road contest with Iowa on Tuesday night presents a tough challenge, but the next three are home against Michigan, at Wisconsin and at Ohio State. They have been teetering the line of contender or pretender all season, but at 15-5 they’ll have to be really bad down the stretch to not make the tournament.
No. 4: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last Week: 3)
Rutgers is in a really good position despite losing two of its last three. The Scarlet Knights’ next two games are in Piscataway against Minnesota and Michigan State. And their last six games of the year include games against Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The metrics love the Scarlet Knights, and they’ll have a chance to be a top-25 team heading into the Big Ten Tournament if the cards play out right.
No. 3: Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 4)
Since some early season drama has been put aside, Illinois has been really good. The Illini won six of their last seven games with their only loss coming to Indiana. They are up to No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring margin, better than both Indiana and Rutgers. Illinois has one of the best defensive teams in the conference and are outrebounding just about everyone they play. With their size and athleticism, I think they can compete with anybody in the country when we get to March. At the same time, their offensive deficiencies and apparent leadership issues also make them a team worthy of upset if they revert to their old ways.
No. 2: Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 2)
Midseason was really rough for Indiana, but it appears this team is living up to the potential a lot of people saw before the season began. Trayce-Jackson Davis notched a 20-20 in a close win over Minnesota and then followed that up with 18 and 10 in a 16-point win over Ohio State. This team can win in a lot of ways — they can grind you out with their defense and play more physically, or shoot the hoop off the rim and score at will. They get Purdue in Bloomington on Saturday for one of the most anticipated games in the Big Ten this season.
No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers (Last week: 1)
Zach Edey’s 38-point, 13-rebound performance against Michigan State was one of the best individual performances we have seen in college basketball this season. There is no answer for Purdue’s big man. The matchup with Indiana is going to be fun to watch because the Boilermakers’ freshmen have not been great on the road. Their play will be a determining factor against Indiana and beyond as they pursue a national title.