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Michigan leads the way in first Big Ten basketball power rankings of 2021

There’s a clear tier at the top of the conference currently.

Northwestern v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The 2020-21 Big Ten basketball season continues to roll along as the calendar flipped to January. We have yet to do a power ranking of the teams so far this year, as we wanted to wait until everyone had played a representative amount of games to get an idea of the tiers in the conference.

The conference is competitive once again and to a certain extent will cannibalize itself because of the depth from top to bottom. With that said, it feels like there is a pecking order in place with a little more separation at the top than in previous seasons.

Instead of going team by team in this first edition, I wanted to break things down by tiers based on who has the look of a contender, who is next up, and who is already bound to be playing near the cellar the rest of the year.

The Contenders

1. Michigan (9-0, 4-0 B1G)

2. Illinois (8-3, 4-1 B1G)

3. Iowa (9-2, 3-1 B1G)

4. Wisconsin (9-2, 3-1 B1G)

5. Rutgers (7-2, 3-2 B1G)

Right now, these feel like the five teams that could be duking it out for the regular-season title. Michigan gets the nod above all of them because they are undefeated to this point, but they also have some big tests coming up as the level of competition gets cranked up. Outside of a few lapses, their performances have been pretty thorough.

Iowa has a superstar in Luka Garza, but I see them as the most likely of this group to slip given the fact that they do not guard anybody. KenPom loves Wisconsin, but they’ve got some curious losses on the schedule in Marquette and Maryland. Ultimately, I do think that it will be one of Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin that does wind up winning the conference but Rutgers is laying in the weeds and think they can get all of these teams into a rock fight with a chance to beat them.

Next in Line

6. Minnesota (10-2, 3-2 B1G)

7. Indiana (7-4, 2-2 B1G)

8. Ohio State (8-3, 2-3 B1G)

9. Purdue (7-5, 2-3 B1G)

We are going to find out a lot about Minnesota in the next few weeks with two games against Michigan and one against Iowa. Multiple wins might put them in that tier above this, while a few losses pretty much puts them in the mud with everyone else in this grouping. This batch of teams feels like they are what their records say they are and while they could ultimately still be tournament teams, I don’t see them challenging for a top-four spot in the conference.

Might still be a factor, but a lot to sort out

10. Michigan State (7-3, 1-3 B1G)

11. Northwestern (6-3, 3-2 B1G)

12. Maryland (6-5, 1-4 B1G)

Michigan State was able to get back in the win column after an 0-3 start to conference play in a victory over Nebraska, but their play in recent weeks has been stunningly bad. I will never count out Tom Izzo, but it feels like they have their work cut out for them and a brutal stretch coming up. I think we saw the separation between a team like Northwestern and Michigan on Sunday and their ceiling is probably somewhere in that second tier. Maryland has lost five of its last seven with one of those wins coming against Wisconsin. That feels like the exception to what they have been so far this season.

Don’t see it, bottom feeders

13. Penn State (3-4, 0-3 B1G)

14. Nebraska (4-7, 0-4 B1G)

Both Penn State and Nebraska will compete and the Huskers in general are better than last year, but it seems like both are destined to stay at the bottom of the Big Ten the rest of the season.