Every time I think the Big Ten is starting to settle down and sort itself out, we get thrown into a spin cycle. Last week, the main culprit was Michigan State, a team who I labeled as the league’s only team with Final Four potential in an earlier edition of these very rankings.
For now, the Final Four hopes of the conference seem to rest solely with Purdue, a team that has been exceptional since Thanksgiving. With Tom Izzo at the helm, it’s still too early to write off the Spartans, but the performances they’ve put up in the last three games have been anything but promising.
Remember, these rankings are based on the current strength of the teams, not necessarily where I expect them to finish. Here we go…
Purdue put some distance between themselves and #2 this week with two more wins. They’re currently 6-0 in conference play and have reeled off 13 in a row overall. Matt Painter deserves all the credit he’s receiving, especially after finding a way to adapt after losing Caleb Swanigan.
Upcoming: vs Wisconsin / at Iowa
2. Ohio State
Two 20+ point wins for Ohio State last week and a 6-0 start to conference play are enough to bump the Buckeyes up a spot in the rankings. Keita Bates-Diop was recently named Mid-Season Comeback Player of the Year by the NCAA, and deservedly so, as he’s averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds.
Upcoming: at Northwestern / at Minnesota
3. Michigan State
As I mentioned above, the last three games for the Spartans have not been pretty. That stretch includes two double-digit losses, and an overtime win at home over Rutgers. Two weeks ago, I was penciling them in for another Final Four appearance, but a first weekend exit seems more likely if they continue to play like this.
Upcoming: vs Indiana
All in all, it was a very strong week for the Wolverines, despite the 1-1 record. They had Purdue on the ropes before losing late, and they stormed into East Lansing and knocked off Michigan State. John Beilein might be the most underrated coach in the country.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / at Nebraska / vs Rutgers
As I was watching Maryland get blown out by Ohio State on Thursday, all I kept thinking was – are the Buckeyes really that good or is Maryland just not as good as expected? I think it’s a little of both. It’s pretty obvious that the Terps are missing Melo Trimble’s leadership, but any way you slice it, they’ve been disappointing in league play.
Upcoming: at Michigan / vs Minnesota
After beating Wisconsin, the Cornhuskers fought back to force overtime at Penn State on Friday, but fell just a bit short. So they stand at 3-3 in conference. Tim Miles has done a great job so far, but if they want to make the dance, those are the games they’ll need to win.
Upcoming: vs Illinois / vs Michigan
7. Penn State
In my opinion, Penn State is in the exact same situation as Nebraska right now. If they want to make a run, they have to beat the teams around them in the standings consistently. They’ve alternated wins and losses in their last 6 games. That won’t get it done long-term.
Upcoming: vs Minnesota / at Northwestern
A 2-0 week for the Hoosiers moved them to 4-2 in conference, and jumps them 3 spots here. If they didn’t have those two inexplicable non-conference slip-ups, they would be in a really good position right now. But on the bright side, Archie Miller has his team finally moving in the right direction. A win at the Breslin Center on Friday (even with MSU’s struggles) would make a statement.
Upcoming: at Michigan State
In last week’s rankings, I summed up Minnesota like this – “Pitino can’t let the wheels fall off.” Welp…here we are. A 23-point loss to Northwestern, a 34-point loss to Purdue, and a 2-4 record in conference. The wheels might not be off yet, but they’re definitely wobbling, and the Gophers are free-falling in these rankings.
Upcoming: at Penn State / at Maryland / vs Ohio State
Last season must feel like a century ago for the Wildcats. They brought back plenty of talent, but they just can’t find the same magic. And just when it looks like they are starting to pull things together (blow out win over Minnesota) they stumble again (20 point loss to Indiana).
Upcoming: vs Ohio State / vs Penn State
Ethan Happ’s 19 points and 11 rebounds weren’t enough to get a win on Tuesday. That feels like something I’ve written before and will probably write again before this season ends. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but they just don’t have a lot of talent surrounding him.
Upcoming: at Purdue / vs Illinois
The Hawkeyes picked up their first conference win of the season in improbable fashion. At Illinois on Thursday night, they erased 20-point deficit, gave up a buzzer beating three to force overtime, then took control in the extra frame. Any conference road win counts as a good win for me.
Upcoming: at Rutgers / vs Purdue
What might have been for the Scarlet Knights? After nearly pulling off a stunning upset at Michigan State, they came out flat and were run off the floor by Ohio State. And so, Rutgers drops a spot here. The schedule moving forward is much more favorable, but the injury to Mike Williams is a big blow.
Upcoming: vs Iowa / at Michigan
The Illini are entering dangerous territory after giving one away against Iowa. They’re now 4-8 in their last 12, and the only winless team in conference play. They play two games on the road this week, so the drought will likely continue. Brad Underwood has his work cut out for him.
Upcoming: at Nebraska / at Wisconsin