The Big Ten entered last week as one of only two conferences with four ranked teams in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll. When we’re talking overall conference strength though, the problem all season has been depth, particularly once you get past those top four.
For the last few weeks, the 5th spot on this list has been where all the fun begins. This week, that spot belongs to Nebraska, who continues their impressive climb. Coincidentally, that climb started right around the time I put out the first set of conference power rankings, which had them at #14. I guess I should take credit for that.
Remember, these rankings are based on the current strength of the teams, not necessarily where I expect them to finish. Here we go…
I don’t know what else I can say about the Boilermakers. They’re just toying with teams right now, and they added two more dominating Big Ten wins to their resume last week. In my opinion, this is the best team in the country at the moment.
Upcoming: vs Michigan / at Indiana
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes continue to roll, picking up two wins away from home last week. Purdue might be the best team, but Ohio State is easily the most surprising team so far. I don’t even think Chris Holtmann was expecting to be 17-4 (8-0) at this point in the season. And now they have a stretch of four straight in Columbus.
Upcoming: vs Nebraska / vs Penn State
3. Michigan State
The Spartans broke out of their funk last week with a big home win over Indiana. It was a performance that was desperately needed for a team that had not been living up to their potential the last few weeks. Miles Bridges was back to his usual self, leading the way with 22 points. This team has a lot of talent, but when it comes down to it, they’ll go as far as he can carry them.
Upcoming: at Illinois / vs Wisconsin / at Maryland
The Wolverines stumbled at Nebraska on Thursday night, but still managed to put together a 2-1 week. Their ability to protect the ball has been their calling card all season, and they’re currently in the Top 10 nationally in Assist-to-Turnover ratio. A rematch with Purdue awaits this week, a team they lost to by one point just two weeks ago.
Upcoming: at Purdue
Up to this point, the Cornhuskers have flown under the radar in the Big Ten. But Thursday night was a statement win against a ranked Michigan team. Nebraska is now 11-1 at home on the season, but they’ll play the next two on the road, including a showdown with red-hot Ohio State.
Upcoming: at Ohio State / at Rutgers / vs Iowa
The Terrapins continue to spin their tires. I suppose you can chalk some of it up to the injury bug, but to me, they look like a team that’s missing the killer instinct. Anthony Cowan leads the conference in Minutes Per Game, averaging just under 36 minutes in each contest. Kevin Huerter averages 33+ as well. It’s fair to wonder how far they can go with so much stress on their backcourt.
Upcoming: at Indiana / vs Michigan State
7. Penn State
I said in the previous column that Penn State would have to beat the teams around them consistently in order to make a run, and then they lost to two teams who began last week below them in the conference standings. And yet somehow, mainly due to the struggles of the teams behind them, I can’t find a way to move them out of 7th place.
Upcoming: at Ohio State / vs Rutgers
The Hoosiers missed a chance for a statement win against Michigan State and now face a stretch of 4 games in 9 days. That being said, they’re still standing at 4-3 in the league, which is ahead of where I thought they would be at this point. A rivalry game with Purdue this weekend is yet another chance for national attention, but they have to avoid a slip-up beforehand.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / at Illinois / vs Purdue
One of Northwestern’s biggest problems this season has been their lack of depth. At this point they’re really only going six-deep, and the mileage is taking its toll. They knocked off Penn State last week for their third conference win, but it’s going to be hard to sustain a winning streak when they’re not getting any help from the bench.
Upcoming: at Minnesota
The Golden Gophers were fortunate to get through last week at 1-2, considering that the one win came in overtime at Penn State. This is a team on the decline since the Reggie Lynch news broke, losing five of their last six games. On the bright side, Jordan Murphy has 19 double-doubles in 22 games and is 2nd in the nation in rebounding.
Upcoming: vs Northwestern
Wisconsin had lost three in a row before a blowout win over Illinois on Friday night. They’ve been an offensively-challenged team all year, but erupted for 43 points in the first half of that one. Four of the next six are on the road, so we’re about to enter make or break time for the Badgers.
Upcoming: at Iowa / at Michigan State
On Wednesday night, the Scarlet Knights shot 54% in a lights out win over Iowa, On Sunday, they shot just 33% in a double-digit loss to Michigan. As good as Rutgers has been defensively, they still need to be able to put the ball in the net at a decent rate, especially to win on the road. The week ahead will be a good barometer.
Upcoming: vs Nebraska / at Penn State
The Hawkeyes slide down a spot this week after losses to Rutgers and Purdue. They’ve been the worst defensive team in the conference by far, giving up more than 76 points per game, and they’ve shown an inability to get clutch stops all year.
Upcoming: vs Wisconsin / at Nebraska
It’s been one of those years for Illinois, and losing on a buzzer beater at Nebraska seems to be par for the course. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Illini followed that heartbreaker by getting blown out at Wisconsin. They’ve now dropped 5 in a row and remain the only winless team in the conference.
Upcoming: vs Michigan State / vs Indiana