Football season is wrapped up and it is time to turn our eye towards Big Ten basketball. Unfortunately, it has not been a great season for the Michigan Wolverines to this point. They are 7-10 so far, Dug McDaniel is out for away games, and this team has a long way to go to even be in contention for NCAA Tournament.
Here’s where the conference ranks and how the teams fair just over halfway through the season:
14. Penn State Nittany Lions (2-4 B1G, 8-9 overall)
The Nittany Lions did beat Michigan last week, but I think this is the worst team in the Big Ten. Purdue took them to the woodshed over the weekend in a 95-78 beatdown, and next up is a game on Tuesday against Wisconsin. With losses to VCU, Bucknell and Butler earlier this season, I could see Penn State going on some long losing streaks in the second half.
13. Michigan Wolverines (2-4 B1G, 7-10 overall)
A win over Ohio State at home helps push them up from last place, but this team doesn’t have a lot going for them. Juwan Howard has been in and out as head coach, McDaniel is out for the next several away games, and this team has been out of sorts on and off the court all season long. Illinois, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan State are upcoming, and they could very easily go winless in that stretch.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-4 B1G, 9-7 overall)
Rutgers' lone Big Ten win is an upset at home against Indiana earlier this week. Like most in the conference, the Scarlet Knights are horrendous on the road with an 0-4 mark. Their upcoming schedule at home against Nebraska, at Illinois, and home against Purdue is going to be an extremely tough test for a team that puts up the fewest points in the Big Ten (67.5 per game).
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-3 B1G, 12-5 overall)
The Golden Gophers went on a seven-game winning streak that was just snapped with consecutive losses to Indiana and Michigan State. This team is vastly improved from a season ago, but I’m fearful about how they stack up in the Big Ten for the long term. Minnesota struggled to defend the three-ball and this conference has some of the best shooting teams in the country. We’ll see how the remainder of their season goes with much better competition.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-4 B1G, 12-5 overall)
Three straight losses put a black eye on what had been a really good start for the Buckeyes. They’re the third-best rebounding team in the Big Ten and get plenty of second-chance opportunities because of it. They have a chance to get back on track and move up this list with games against Penn State and Nebraska this week.
9. Maryland Terrapins (3-3 B1G, 11-6 overall)
Senior Jahmir Young has been one of the best-scoring guards in the conference this season. He’s a volume shooter averaging about 15 attempts per game, but is hitting at a consistent 42.1 percent clip. There’s a good chance he averages more than 20 points per game if he continues to perform that way. After a win over Illinois, the Terps have a shot to go on a run and make the NCAA Tournament.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-3 B1G, 13-4 overall)
Inexplicably, Nebraska has Purdue’s number. The Huskers took the Boilermakers to overtime in Lincoln last season, and then actually got the job done last week against the No. 1 team in the country. They also beat Michigan State and Indiana at home thanks to hitting more than 10 three-pointers in each contest. They’re probably a tournament team right now, but they have a long way to go to stay in that spot.
7. Northwestern Wildcats (3-2 B1G, 12-4 overall)
Four guards are the leading scorers for the Wildcats this season, but they bank on the play of Boo Buie, who is averaging about 18 points per game. He scored 31 in the win over Purdue earlier in the year and has put this team on his back throughout stretches of the season. The Wildcats allow the highest three-point percentage to opponents (35.9 percent) in the conference, something they will have to patch up to compete and win a game or two in March.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (4-2 B1G, 12-5 overall)
I’m not sold on the Hoosiers so far. They were destroyed by UConn and Auburn earlier this season, and recently fell to Nebraska and Rutgers on the road. They have a conference-worst +1.8 scoring margin per game, proving they are beating even poor teams (like FGCU and Morehead State) by just a few points. Now they have a Tuesday matchup with Purdue and a trip to Madison this week, so we’re going to find out if they are for real.
5. Michigan State (2-4 B1G, 10-7 overall)
Five of the Spartan’s seven losses have come from teams in the top-50 of the KenPom rankings, and four of those were in KenPom’s top-15. They’ve had a tough schedule so far, which has led to a disappointing start based on their preseason projections. But they’re bound to go on a run like they always do as we push toward the end of the season. It feels like this team should be a lot better than they are, and I think they start to catch a stride down the stretch.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-3 B1G, 11-6 overall)
This team is just like the Hawkeye teams of old — they score a bunch of points but also give up just as many. Their new big man is Ben Krikke, the team’s leading scorer who is shooting 59.5 percent from the field this season (33rd in the country). They’ll go on runs throughout the season, but they are on a good one now, winning six of their last seven. Saturday’s game at home against Purdue promises to be a high-scoring one.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini (3-2 B1G, 12-4 overall)
The off-court issues with leading scorer Terrance Shannon Jr. have thrown this Illini season off course. If he comes back, they have a chance to be the best team in the conference. They lost to Purdue by just five points without him earlier this month and they are still figuring things out. Even without him, I think they are good enough to compete for the top spot in the Big Ten, which speaks to how deep and talented Brad Underwood’s group is.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (5-0 B1G, 13-3 overall)
It was assumed Wisconsin would be good this season, but it has exceeded expectations winning 12 of its last 13. Two of the Badgers’ three losses are in KenPom’s top-10 (Tennessee and Arizona) and they’ve beaten good teams like Virginia and Marquette. The emergence of A.J. Storr has pushed the offense to another level, but they’ll need to prove they can continue that production to earn the top spot.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (4-2 B1G, 15-2 overall)
Zach Edey is the best player in the country, and Purdue is once again among the top teams overall. They were ranked No. 1 until losing at Nebraska last week. Now, the Boilermakers are No. 2 and head on the road to Indiana and Iowa for their next two games. Both of Purdue’s losses have come away from West Lafayette and against Big Ten opponents, so it will be a big week to break some narratives.