This coming week is the final week before conference play begins. Most teams have played all of the tough opponents they will play outside of league play. The exception is Indiana’s New Year’s Eve game against Louisville in Indianapolis. For the most part, we know what we’re getting from each team as we head into conference play. So why not have an updated Power Rankings? We last did them on December 1, so let’s do them again.
1. Indiana Hoosiers (9-2) Last Ranking: 1 – Yeah, the Hoosiers are 0-2 in games against Indiana teams, but no team in the conference has two better wins. This looks like your typical Crean coached team. If they get an early lead they are one of the best teams in the country in playing while ahead. They also don’t play well from behind, either. It just seems like feast or famine for Indiana. You know within the first few minutes if they have it or not. If they have it, they are virtually unbeatable. If they don’t, they can check out as a team. Still, they most upside of anyone in the conference.
2. Purdue Boilermakers (9-2) Last Ranking: 3 – Purdue finally has a quality win, and the losses to Louisville and Villanova are not bad because those are a pair of top 10 teams. Think of those as Elite 8 level games. Purdue will have to beat a team like that to reach a Final Four, and it knows it can at least play with them. Beating a team like Notre Dame is like winning a Sweet 16 game. The Boilers now know that they could beat a second weekend team. They know they can at least be right there in an Elite 8 game. Can it put everything together in March?
3. Wisconsin Badgers (10-2) Last Ranking: 2 – Wisconsin is pretty much the same as Purdue. A lot of wins over lesser competition and two losses to pretty good teams (Creighton and North Carolina). Their best win is over Oklahoma, but I am giving Purdue the edge since Purdue has a win over a ranked team. Wisconsin has to go to Indiana and Purdue back-to-back after hosting Rutgers to start Big Ten play. That might make or break their title hopes.
4. Maryland Terrapins (11-1) Last Ranking: 4 – All the Terps do is win close games. Seriously. They have wins by 6, 1, 5, 6, 1, and 1. Their lone loss was by 14 at home to Pittsburgh, but no one is more dangerous in a close game. They don’t have a really, really good win, but victories over Oklahoma State, Georgetown, Kansas State, and Richmond are decent.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-1) Last Ranking: 9 – No, this is not a mistake. Little Pitino has done a hell of a job getting this team refocused this season. They have an RPI of 12 and they are the only team that has beaten Arkansas. Wins over Texas-Arlington and Vanderbilt look pretty good, and the one loss at Florida State was competitive. We need to watch out for this team on New Year’s Day.
6. Northwestern Wildcats (9-2) Last Ranking: 6 – The Wildcats now have two really good non-conference wins, something that has been lacking for a while. As long as they don’t trip against Houston Baptist and IUPUI they will enter league play knowing 9-9 might be enough for this to finally be the year. If they hadn’t lost at the buzzer to Butler on the road they would look even better. Also, DON’T LOSE TO PENN STATE AGAIN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!!
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-1) Last Ranking: 10 – I am going to give the Scarlet Knights all the credit in the world. Sure, they have played an endless parade of cupcakes and their best win is over Drexel, but after being just horrid they have already won more games than they did all of last year. They are in the position to make the NIT and also avoid Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament. This is a much, much better team than we have seen in the Big Ten.
8. Michigan Wolverines (9-3) Last Ranking: 7 – The Wolverines are the definition of average. Losing to UCLA and South Carolina is far from bad. They shouldn’t have blown the home game against Virginia Tech though. Beating Marquette and SMU at least gives them something from their non-conference schedule, but they will likely need a top 6 conference finish to be in the discussion for the NCAAs.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini (9-3) Last Ranking: 11 – Illinois started rough. The loss to Winthrop was bad and they missed chances against West Virginia and Florida State, but since then they have quietly been playing some pretty good basketball. Wins over NC State and VCU are solid. They don’t catch a break for a while in Big Ten play, but that might be a good thing. A solid start gets them into the NCAA discussion.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-3) Last Ranking: 5 – The home loss to Florida Atlantic was a killer. This was a team that already did not have a lot to its non-conference schedule. It has lost to Virginia and UCLA, who are the best teams they have played. North Carolina Central and Fairleigh Dickenson have also played them close. I am just not sold on them.
11. Michigan State Spartans (7-5) Last Ranking: 8 – I don’t care that they were without Miles Bridges. There is no excuse to lose at home to Northeastern by 8. A few years ago Sparty stumbled at home to Texas Southern. It still made the Final Four. There is time to turn this around, but there is definitely some concern in East Lansing right now, especially since this team was lucky to beat Florida Gulf Coast. A dangerous Oakland comes to their place on Wednesday.
12. Iowa Hawkeyes (6-5) Last Ranking: 12 – Omaha? Really? They have rebounded to achieve Iowa supremacy with wins over Iowa State and Northern Iowa, but the Hawkeyes are a lousy defensive team, giving up 78 points per game.
13. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5) Last Ranking: 13 – The Nittany Lions did what everyone else does: They blew out St. John’s. There still isn’t a lot to see here. They have lost to George Mason and Albany. I do expect them to ruin Northwestern’s dreams to start the Big Ten, however, because that always happens.
14. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6) Last Ranking: 14 – The Huskers have lost 6 of 7, but five of those games were understandable against UCLA, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Creighton, and Kansas. Today they lost to Gardner-Webb, however. That gave them the only losing record in the Big Ten, which is good enough for last place.