Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody!
Most Big Ten teams have one more non-conference game left in 2018 this week before tipping off the Big Ten (in earnest) season in 2019. There’s been some shakeup since our last Power Rankings four weeks ago. Let’s take a look...
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-8)
Illinois remains the only Big Ten team with a losing record. Double-digit losses to Missouri, Ohio State and Nebraska since our last Power Rankings affirm Illinois’ position as the bottom of the barrel in the conference.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-5)
Rutgers’ eight-point loss to Fordham — who has one of the country’s premier scorers in freshman Nick Honor — could look really bad down the road. At least the Scarlet Knights avoided losing to Ivy League cellar dwellers Columbia, even if that game was way too close for comfort.
12. Penn State Nittany Lions (6-6)
The good news is that Penn State was competitive in its two Big Ten games (at Maryland, vs. Indiana) a few weeks ago. The bad news: Without Tony Carr, this group looks to be a shell of the bubble team it was last year. Things could get ugly quick as the Nittany Lions re-open their Big Ten slate against all of the ranked teams in the Big Ten Conference including Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State and Iowa sequentially. Penn State could likely be 7-11 the next time we do our Power Rankings.
11. Northwestern Wildcats (8-4)
Aside from an early-season 19-point loss to Fresno State, who is one of the top teams in the Mountain West Conference, Northwestern has beaten cupcake teams it was supposed to beat. Losing to Michigan, Indiana and Oklahoma are acceptable and Vic Law is turning into a go-to scorer and clutch shotmaker. In a conference dominated by big men, Northwestern more than holds its own with Dererk Pardon in the post. He’s the consummate team player and is a leader for these Wildcats.
10. Purdue Boilermakers (7-5)
It’s pretty shocking to see Purdue at No. 10 considering how dominant this program has been over the last few years and taking into account that Carsen Edwards is the top scorer in the Big Ten. Purdue has played a brutal schedule and lost most of those big games early. Losses to some ranked teams in Florida State, Virginia Tech and Michigan are all reasonable considering how good those teams all appear to be. Expectations for Purdue Basketball are sky high, so it’s disappointing the Boilermakers lost five games before the start of 2019.
9. Maryland Terrapins (9-3)
Maryland plays a ton of freshmen even though stars Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando are holdovers from last year’s 19-13 team. Cowan seems to be shouldering too big a load and the Terps are still figuring out a consistent rotation during games. Losses to Seton Hall, Purdue and Virginia are not huge deals, but there isn’t really a quality win on the resume yet — unless you count the 14-point win over Final Four team Loyola-Chicago. Maryland is about where we expected them to be at the turn of the year.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2)
Iowa’s two losses are quality conference losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. Outside of those two ranked teams, the only other ranked team Iowa played (and happened to beat) was Oregon. Another great win was beating Iowa State by 14 points. Just watching Iowa, they don’t seem to be as dangerous as Nebraska or Minnesota. That can change on a dime, and the Hawkeyes are in fine shape heading into the new year.
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-2)
Nebraska is very good and has all of the tools (scoring, size, versatility, depth) to make it to the NCAA Tournament. James Palmer Jr. is one of the conference’s elite scorers and Isaac Copeland is the prototypical stretch 4/5. They’re ranked behind Minnesota because they lost that head-to-head matchup, and the only quality win thus far has been against Seton Hall.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-2)
Wins over Nebraska and Washington — two teams that could reach the NCAA Tournament — were important for Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers. Forward Jordan Murphy has been around the block and averages a double-double for Minnesota. At 250 pounds, he’s a banger, and he’ll need to continue his hot steak the rest of the season if Minnesota hopes to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year.
5. Wisconsin Badgers (10-2)
The 2017-18 season was an aberration. Wisconsin’s a consistent force in the Big Ten led by the best player in the conference, Ethan Happ. Losses to Marquette and Virginia aren’t major blemishes, and wins over Xavier, Iowa and NC State are great resume-builders early on. Wisconsin will go as far as Happ takes them.
This group is talented, but not talented enough to overcome a single bad game by Happ and still win.
4. Michigan State Spartans (10-2)
Michigan State usually sputters out of the gate — Sparty always schedules tough non-conference games and plays to a national audience early on. Tom Izzo’s group handled adversity well in losses to Louisville and Kansas. Michigan State won games it was supposed to by beating UCLA by 20 points, Iowa by 22 points and Florida by four points. Expect Sparty to be in the Big Ten regular season title chase, and this bunch likely won’t drop out of the top-5 in these power rankings all season long.
3. Indiana Hoosiers (11-2)
Indiana’s two losses are considered ‘good losses’ in true road games at Arkansas and at Duke, two teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament field come March. Indiana beat Marquette by 23 points, beat Louisville (something Michigan State couldn’t do) and beat in-state opponent Butler at the Crossroads Classic. This is a great resume to start the new year. Indiana’s next game is at home vs. Illinois on January 3.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)
Compared to their maize and blue rivals, Ohio State has played a much easier schedule than Michigan. The 14-point beatdown against the not-so-great UCLA Bruins in Chicago was an impressive way to enter the Christmas break. Ohio State’s only loss was to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange (who recently lost to Buffalo), and all of that won’t look too bad down the line. OSU plays a lot of freshmen with a solid anchor in Kaleb Wesson down low.
1. Michigan Wolverines (12-0)
Michigan is the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. The scary thing — and Big Ten broadcaster Stephen Bardo admitted so during the Illinois/Missouri game Saturday night — Michigan hasn’t even played its best basketball yet. They’ve yet to put together a complete, dominating performance for 40 minutes. Michigan has played and beaten good teams (UNC, Purdue, South Carolina), and this resume is already stacked with good wins.
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