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Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings: Last Stop Before B1G Play

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Once again, we ask why Rutgers in in the Big Ten.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the conference is off until the weekend due to Finals. Hopefully that is a good thing and no one is declared academically ineligible midseason (Chris Booker, anyone?). That kind of stuff can completely derail teams. This weekend also marks the last major games before conference play begins. A lot of teams have one really good opponent to play before league plays starts after Christmas. Just look at these games coming up:

Saturday

Indiana vs. Notre Dame in Indianapolis

Purdue vs. Butler in Indianapolis

Kentucky at Ohio State

Northwestern at DePaul

Tuesday

Vanderbilt at Purdue

Colorado at Penn State

Wednesday

Missouri at Illinois

Milwaukee at Minnesota

So far six teams (Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern, Indiana, and Iowa) are undefeated at home. We still have a clear top three in the conference, but there is also a pretty clear bottom that will be playing on Wednesday in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament. Because of some non-conference struggles it may be a stretch to get six teams into the NCAAs. Already Rutgers, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois have virtually no chance barring a stunning turnaround or an automatic bid. Nebraska and Penn State are on thin ice too, and probably need an upper division finish to have a chance.

That is going to make for an interesting race. The Big Ten, top to bottom, is not as good this year as in past years, but that could be a good thing. If Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State run away from the pack it gives the league three very good seeds in March. It could also mean an end to the suffering for Northwestern, finally.

Championship Tier

1. Michigan State (11-0) - Even though Purdue and Michigan State have a common opponent and Purdue did better against Florida the Spartans' overall profile is still better. The two wins over top 25 teams help a lot, but if Purdue wins its next two games they will be right there with Sparty. There is no shame in being behind them, either. In a dream world both teams remain undefeated until February 9th in Mackey Arena and we get a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.

2. Purdue (11-0) - The win over Old Dominion does not look as good as it did in the preseason, but the win over New Mexico more than makes up for it. Purdue has proven it can contend and should be there all season long in the Big Ten. The next two games can really ramp up the national hype. Butler and Vanderbilt should both be top 25 teams for a good portion of this year can battle for a top 4 seed. If Purdue gets past both it is in store for a special year.

3. Maryland (9-1) - Maryland has some nice wins over Connecticut and Georgetown, but they still sit in third because they have a loss. Purdue and Michigan State don't. It is looking more and more like this trio will run away from everyone else. Michigan State might have the easier schedule since they play Maryland and Purdue each only once. It is a shame that those two games, plus the two Purdue-Maryland games, are the only four matchups among the big three this year. The champ may not be decided in those four games, but by who stumbles against the other 11 teams.

NCAA Teams (and a danger for a top 3 upset)

4. Northwestern (9-1) - And why not? After the top three there is a jumbled mess of teams, so why not put the Wildcats at No. 4? Their only loss is to North Carolina, who is also the only team to beat Maryland. Beating Missouri and Virginia tech is respectable. As long as they win the next three (DePaul, Sacred Heart, Loyola-MD) they would be 21-10 with a .500 finish in B1G play. They even have a nice little chance to make some noise in their Big Ten home opener against Maryland. Yes, I think this is the year it finally ends for Northwestern.

5. Iowa (7-3) - The Hawkeyes completely fell apart at Iowa State last week, depriving them of a chance to show they really are the No. 4 team in the league. So far their best win is over Wichita State. We won't know much until their Big Ten opener against Michigan State in two weeks. They get the Spartans twice and Purdue once in the first four Big Ten games. If they go 2-1 against that group they might end up contending.

6. Michigan (7-3) - these next two teams are almost exactly the same. Michigan and Indiana re both going to shoot a lot of threes and, if they are going in, they can beat anyone. If they aren't, well, they're screwed. Michigan gets the edge because they have actually beaten a team with a pulse (Texas). They also play at least a modicum of defense.

7. Indiana (8-3) - Saturday is a must-win for the Hoosiers. Otherwise their best non-conference win will be St. John's or Creighton, and neither team is that good in the annually overhyped Big East. Technically their best win right now is IPFW (RPI 95), but that will change. If the Hoosiers go into the Big Ten season at 9-4 they could be in trouble. Fortunately for them they have about the easiest opening stretch you can ask for in B1G play: (at Rutgers, at Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, at Minnesota, Illinois). They don't start 6-0, or even 9-0 (the next three are Northwestern at Wisconsin, Minnesota) the heat will be turned way up on Crean. The Big Ten also did them a huge favor by giving them MSU, Purdue, and Maryland just once, and two of those are in Bloomington. Indiana can still win the conference quite easily, but only if they play to their potential.

Lots of Work to Do, but Not Out

8. Penn State (7-3) - They aren't terrible. As long as they have Shep Garner they have a chance. They also haven't beaten anyone and have a bad loss to Radford. If they could beat Colorado in Vegas next week that would help them a lot. They also get the big three each once in their first five Big Ten games.

9. Nebraska (7-4) - Nebraska is a dangerous team if they can ever figure out how to finish a game. They have had Miami and Cincinnati on the ropes but could not close the deal. The Cornhuskers should get to 9-4 heading into Big Ten play and they don't really have a bad loss. If they can run through the league like they did two years ago they will be fine.

Basically Done

10. Wisconsin (7-5) - Yesterday we poured out liquor for Bo Ryan, but it doesn't change that this team is just not very good. They had a last hurrah against Syracuse, but barring an unexpected run through conference play they already have too many losses. Still, Nebraska did it two years ago and Purdue did it last year. There is time to figure it out.

11. Ohio State (5-5) - I watched part of their game with Northern Illinois last night and the Huskies gave the game away with late turnovers. As it stands, it ended up being one of OSU's best wins, which is saying something. After years of running with the big dogs Ohio State may have to fight to avoid Wednesday in Indianapolis.

12. Minnesota (6-5) - The Gophers turned things around slightly by beating Chicago State, but overall this is a bad, bad team. Their only decent win was at home against Clemson in the ACC/B1G Challenge.

13. Illinois (6-5) - The Illini are lucky to be 6-5 and not far, far worse. They have barely gotten by Illinois-Chicago, Yale, Chicago State, and North Dakota State. That's before you remember they have lost to North Florida and Chattanooga.

Special Rutgers category

14. Rutgers (4-6) - Seriously, why are these guys in the Big Ten? The mere fact they are here and have to play 18 games is robbing us of a second Purdue-Indiana game, a second Purdue-Michigan State and Michigan State-Maryland game, and more. This week they even get low-major upstart Monmouth, and they had better not ruin their season by beating them. I would be perfectly fine if the Big Ten would do the honorable thing and cancel all 18 league games only to reschedule those dates with games like Purdue-Indiana and more. As it is, the lucky teams that get to play them twice and pad their league records are Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State, and Nebraska.