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Big Ten Hoops Power Rankings: January 4

A few weeks into Big Ten play, the conference is still very up in the air.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Utah at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After a brief hiatus last week (thanks a lot, Covid) our conference power rankings are back! With multiple cancellations and postponements, we aren’t quite in the heart of conference play just yet. We’ve learned more about the teams that don’t appear like contenders than those that do. Take a look at our latest iteration:

1. Purdue Boilermakers

Previous Ranking: 1

Purdue has certainly fallen back to the field following recent struggles, including a loss at home vs Wisconsin on Monday night. Sasha Stefanovic has scuffled from three of late and Trevion Williams has been surprisingly uninvolved in the Boilermaker offense. The talent is there to make a run at a national championship, but Matt Painter still has work to do to get Purdue where they need to be.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Previous Ranking: 2

The Buckeyes came out of their three-week Covid pause very sluggishly, being pushed to overtime against Nebraska. Luckily for them, Malaki Branham made six three-pointers on his way to a 35-point outburst to rescue Ohio State. The Buckeyes are now 3-0 in conference play with a trip to Bloomington up next.

3. Illinois Fighting Illini

Previous Ranking: 4

Illinois remains unranked in the AP Poll, which is a travesty in my opinion. The Fighting Illini handled Mizzou, 88-63, to move to 9-3 on the season. Kofi Cockburn is entirely back to his dominant self and Alfonso Plummer has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. They travel to Minnesota tonight in what should be a revealing game for both squads.

4. Michigan State Spartans

Previous Ranking: 3

Michigan State has the most wins in the Big Ten and arguably the two best losses against No. 3 Kansas and No. 6 Baylor. However, their last three wins since our last power rankings were anything but convincing. The Spartans knocked off a pesky Oakland squad and then struggled in a win against High Point. Most recently, they barely escaped with a win in Evanston. There is still plenty of time for Tom Izzo and company to kick it into high gear, but I don’t think a rivalry win on Saturday against Michigan is a foregone conclusion.

5. Wisconsin Badgers

Previous Ranking: 6

Wisconsin stunned Purdue in West Lafayette Monday, 74-69. Johnny Davis has proven again and again this season that he is the real deal, with 37 points and 14 rebounds against the Boilermakers. To date, he is my pick for conference player of the year in the Big Ten.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes

Previous Ranking: 7

If Johnny Davis is my way-too-early pick for conference player of the year, Keegan Murray of Iowa is a close second. Murray scored a career-high 35 points on Monday against Maryland in an 80-75 victory. The Hawkeyes had a weak non-conference schedule, but smashed just about everyone with Murray leading them in scoring in nine of their 11 non-conference games. Conveniently, Iowa won all nine of those contests and lost the two in which he wasn’t the leading scorer.

7. Indiana Hoosiers

Previous Ranking: 5

Since Christmas, Indiana’s only game was at a bad Penn State team; somehow, the Nittany Lions were able to pull off the upset. Yet again, Trayce Jackson-Davis doesn’t appear to be getting any help this year in Bloomington. In order for the Hoosiers to have any kind of success, they need their backcourt to step up in a big way.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Previous Ranking: 9

Minnesota hasn’t played a game since December 22nd. However, I moved them up a spot due to Michigan’s recent struggles. In our last iteration, I tried to validate why Michigan should be higher than Minnesota. I can no longer make those claims.

9. Michigan Wolverines

Previous Ranking: 8

It’s weird to say that a late-December game was a must-win, but Michigan’s game against UCF certainly felt like it. The Wolverines have fallen all the way from national title contender to potential bubble team, all in the course of two months. Until Juwan Howard gets more shooting and production on the perimeter, it will be tough sledding ahead for Hunter Dickinson and the Michigan offense.

10. Northwestern Wildcats

Previous Ranking: 10

Northwestern admirably hung around with Michigan State, eventually falling 73-67. Yet despite Chris Collins’s insistent arguing about the Wildcats’ merit, I don’t believe that they are a top-half team in the Big Ten. We won’t know much more about the Wildcats anytime soon as they continue to play teams in the bottom half of the conference.

11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Previous Ranking: 12

Rutgers finally returned to the court after 18 days by defeating Maine and then Central Connecticut. Obviously, neither of these were major tests, but it was imperative that the Scarlet Knights get off to a hot start following their pause. Rutgers hosts Michigan tonight in what should be a fascinating litmus test for both programs.

12. Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous Ranking: 13

Prior to Sunday night, Penn State hadn’t played since December 11th at Michigan State. How did they respond to such a long layoff? They stunned Indiana, 61-58. I may be reading too much into this game, but I was very impressed with Penn State’s bench production as both Myles Dread and Sam Sessoms scored in double-figures. I still don’t believe in the long-term outlook of this Nittany Lions team, but in the short term things are going well.

13. Maryland Terrapins

Previous Ranking: 11

Maryland’s win over Florida could only propel them in these power rankings for so long. Since that ranked win, the Terrapins had 16 days off before finishing up non-conference play with Lehigh and Brown. Easy wins, right? Not so much. Maryland struggled in the first half and only led by three at the break against a now 1-10 Lehigh before pulling away in the second half. Similarly against Brown, the Terrapins trailed at the half following a horribly sluggish start before eventually finding their rhythm. These types of slow stars won’t work in the Big Ten as we found out last night. Maryland lost to Iowa, 80-75, and will need to find some rejuvenation in the post-Turgeon era.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Previous Ranking: 14

Nebraska put together arguably their best performance of the season by pushing Ohio State to overtime before finally succumbing, 87-79. Bryce McGowens has finally started to take control of the team, as he was expected to do before the season started. With that being said, Fred Hoiberg needs results — and quickly — if they want to even sniff the NCAA tournament bubble.