Now that conference play is back for good, we can finally start to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. For a few weeks now, I’ve been saying that the top two are on a different level – and that’s still true (even after a Michigan State loss). But this league will send more than two teams to the NCAA tournament. So which teams will step up to claim the remaining bids? As of right now, it’s anybody’s guess, but it should make for an exciting two months.
Remember, these rankings are based on the current strength of the teams, not necessarily where I expect them to finish. Here we go…
A new school climbs to the top of the rankings this week. The thing that’s so dangerous about Purdue is that they can beat you in a number of different ways. Against Rutgers, they made 10 3-pointers. Against Nebraska, they relied on the bigs to set the tone. Their versatility is lethal.
Upcoming: at Michigan / at Minnesota
2. Michigan State
It was a tale of two games for the Spartans this week. First, they dismantle Maryland by 30 to extend their winning streak to 14. Then, they get blown out at Ohio State on Sunday. Despite the loss, I can’t drop them farther than #2.
Upcoming: vs Rutgers / vs Michigan
3. Ohio State
What a week for the Buckeyes, adding two more conference wins to their resume. The dominating win over Michigan State was an eye-opener for sure. There’s still a long way to go, but Chris Holtmann is in the driver’s seat for Big Ten Coach of the Year right now.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / at Rutgers
The Wolverines took care of business last week to extend their winning streak to 7 games. They’re now 14-3 on the season. But this week the competition ramps up, as they take on the two best teams in the Big Ten. We’ll learn a lot.
Upcoming: vs Purdue / at Michigan State
I mentioned last week that the Terps were about to play 3 Big Ten games in 6 days. They made it through that stretch 2-1, which isn’t bad considering the circumstances. Bruno Fernando has been coming on lately, averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds in the 2 wins.
Upcoming: at Ohio State
Nate Mason came back into the lineup and scored 39 points in 2 games. But the story with the Gophers is the indefinite suspension of Reggie Lynch. After a loss to Indiana on Saturday, Rick Pitino can’t let the wheels fall off.
Upcoming: at Northwestern / vs Purdue
Perhaps the most impressive team in the Big Ten so far. Many thought the Cornhuskers would be at the bottom of the conference standings this year. Instead, they’re 2-2, with the losses coming to Michigan State and Purdue.
Upcoming: vs Wisconsin / at Penn State
8. Penn State
The Nittany Lions lost a hard-fought game to Maryland on Tuesday, but responded by going wire-to-wire to beat Northwestern. Too early to tell if they’ll be dancing in March, but at the very least, they’ll be a tough out every night.
Upcoming: at Indiana / vs Nebraska
At what point can we call last year a fluke for Northwestern? Two more losses last week, both by double digits. This has been one of the more surprising developments through the first two months of the college basketball season.
Upcoming: vs Minnesota / at Indiana
The Badgers flaws are coming into focus. Mainly, they rely way too much on Ethan Happ. When he is limited offensively, as he was against Rutgers on Friday, there is nowhere else to turn.
Upcoming: at Nebraska
A 1-1 week perfectly sums up this rollercoaster ride of a season for the Hoosiers. Robert Johnson put in a career high 28 points in a big win at The Barn on Saturday. But I’ll be honest, this team is a complete mystery to me right now.
Upcoming: vs Penn State / vs Northwestern
After a loss to Purdue threatened to send the Scarlet Knights into a tailspin, they responded well to knock off Wisconsin on Friday. The brutal part of the conference schedule is nearly behind them.
Upcoming: at Michigan State / vs Ohio State
It was an 0-3 week for the Hawkeyes, dropping them to 9-9 and 0-5 in the conference so far. That is a tough hill to climb for Fran McCaffrey’s team. However, their next two are against Illinois and Rutgers, so they’ll have a chance to pick up some momentum.
Upcoming: at Illinois
The Illini are also still searching for their first conference win after a pair of 10-point losses last week. Since November 28th, 10 of their 11 games have been decided by 10 points or less. Bad news is they’ve only won 3 of those 10.
Upcoming: vs Iowa