The highlight of Big Ten play this past week was without a doubt Ron Harper Jr.’s half-court heave to send the Scarlet Knights’ fans storming the court Thursday night. The win knocked Purdue out of the realm of the unbeaten. Elsewhere, Ohio State and Michigan State picked up a few nice wins while Michigan’s reality sunk further and further. Let’s examine how the conference stacks up just a few games into conference play.
Previous Ranking: 1
The Boilermakers had finally reached the pinnacle and were the No. 1 team in the country when madness happened. Rutgers stunned Purdue by hitting a half-court buzzer beater to knock it out of the top spot in the country. However, Matt Painter and company had a nice bounce-back win in overtime over North Carolina State. They may not be No. 1 nationally anymore, but they certainly still deserve to be No. 1 in the Big Ten.
Previous Ranking: 2
After two early losses to Xavier and Florida, the Buckeyes have strung together an impressive resume with wins over Duke, Seton Hall, and more recently Wisconsin. They boast a 49.1 percent field goal mark and are shooting 38.6 percent from three. These both rank second in the conference behind only Purdue. The Buckeyes will be put to the test against Kentucky on Saturday. With a convincing win, they could be pushing for the No. 1 spot in these power rankings.
Previous Ranking: 3
The Spartans had a solid week with wins at Minnesota and home against Penn State. Now 9-2, they are beginning to gain some national respect. They’ll take over a week off before resuming play against a very easy schedule. The Spartans only face Oakland, High Point, Northwestern and Nebraska prior to their trip to Ann Arbor. Expect the Spartans to be 13-2 heading into that game.
Previous Ranking: 4
Illinois has had a fully healthy starting lineup play in only a handful of games this year with Andre Curbelo now being out. The Illini came up just short against an Arizona team that looks like it could be Final Four bound. An offense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten at 78 points per game will only get better as they become fully healthy moving forward.
Previous Ranking: 5
Johnny Davis continues to surpass all expectations in Madison this year. However, that wasn’t enough for the Badgers to knock off the Buckeyes. Prior to their first conference loss, they were able to hold Trayce Jackson-Davis in check; they defeated Indiana, 64-59, with Jackson-Davis only scoring nine points on 10 shots in 30 minutes. The Badgers now have three more non-conference games prior to getting their first crack at Purdue in Mackey Arena.
Previous Ranking: 8
It’s hard to get a good read on this Indiana team early in the season. The Hoosiers had a huge lead over Wisconsin but couldn’t hang onto it. They then easily handled the Merrimack Warriors to reach 8-2 on the year, albeit against subpar competition. Mike Woodson has certainly avoided the worst-case scenario in his first year, but we won’t truly know what this team is until we’re a month or two into conference play.
Previous Ranking: 6
After the Hawkeyes’ hot start to the season, they dropped their last three games against Illinois, Iowa State and Purdue to sit at 7-3 on the season and 0-2 in conference play. While they are second in the Big Ten in PPG, they let up 79 PPG in the three losses, which is a major concern moving forward. Iowa’s next test is against the 7-3 Utah State Aggies on Saturday. We will see if this team can bounce back and end their skid.
Previous Ranking: 10
The Golden Gophers were able to split their Michigan week by losing to the Spartans prior to defeating the Wolverines on the road. By all accounts, this was a successful week for Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have steadily climbed up the KenPom rankings and now have a signature win (at least for now) against Michigan to bolster their resume. Can they shock the conference and play their way into March?
Previous Ranking: 7
Just when you thought the Wolverines had turned a corner by defeating San Diego State and Nebraska in convincing fashion, they put up an absolute clunker against Minnesota at home on Saturday. It’s clear at this point the major problems have not been fixed by conference play. These problems include spacing, outside shooting and perimeter defense. Resurrecting this team will be Juwan Howard’s biggest coaching challenge to date.
Previous Ranking: 9
This week the Wildcats easily dispatched of NJIT and that was it. KenPom is beginning to love Northwestern as they are now a top-50 team in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. Of course competition caveats still apply, however, as only three of their first nine opponents are within the top 160 nationwide on KenPom and they are 1-2 in those three games.
Previous Ranking: 12
After dropping three in a row, as well as a head coach, the Terrapins bounced back with a nice win over No. 20 Florida. They are one of the hardest teams to rank here because they suffered a bumpy start under a coach that was on his way out the door, but then bounced back with a signature win in their first Turgeon-less game. Maryland will need to get their offense clicking going forward if they are to have any success.
Previous Ranking: 13
Rutgers needed a drastic turnaround after going 1-4 from November 18th through December 3rd. They got exactly what they needed. A win over the No. 1 team in the country can be a season-defining moment. Unfortunately, they then dropped their next matchup to an underrated Seton Hall team that we’ve already seen in Ann Arbor. The Scarlet Knights have three non-conference games against frankly terrible competition before they ramp back up into Big Ten play.
Previous Ranking: 11
Coming off a loss to Michigan State, the Nittany Lions are going to look to turn up their scoring against VCU on Saturday. Will they? Probably not. With only five wins coming against Youngstown State, St. Francis, Cornell, Oregon State, and Wagner, there isn’t much optimism against an underrated VCU team. Happy Valley is struggling to find reasons to stay happy.
Previous Ranking: 14
Nebraska started the season 5-2 by playing only two teams inside the KenPom top 225 and losing both. Since the beginning of December, all four teams they’ve played have been inside the KenPom top 100. The Huskers are 0-4 and are giving up an average of 93.3 PPG. Such poor defense won’t win you much of anything. Nebraska will likely only be favored once or twice the remainder of the season as conference play heats up. Good luck.