The real race begins at 3pm today. That is when Northwestern goes to the Bryce Jordan Mausoleum to start off Big Ten Basketball’s conference play. If you believe in the RPI, only four teams are currently in the top 50. According to KenPom there are 7 top 50 teams and three in the top 15. As always, there are no easy nights in this conference. The contenders need to get off to a good start and those that want to make the NCAA Tournament can’t stumble. With that in mind, let’s do a Power Rankings with tiers again.
Conference Title Contenders
1. Indiana Hoosiers (10-2) Last Ranking: 1, RPI: 99, KenPom: 15 – Until shown otherwise, I am keeping Indiana at No. 1. The Hoosiers have two excellent wins and neither loss is horrible. Losing to Butler, a top 15 team, on a neutral floor is not a bad loss. Fort Wayne is a good team (sorry haters) that played out of its mind on its home floor. Indiana should roll over Nebraska before a big test on Saturday against Louisville in Indianapolis.
2. Purdue Boilermakers (11-2) Last Ranking: 2, RPI: 46, KenPom: 12 – As much fun as it has been to watch Caleb Swanigan drop 20-20’s on folks, it gets a lot tougher this week. Purdue opens against an Iowa team that had its number last year and a Minnesota team that is a lot better than people give them credit for. The real separation with Purdue and Indiana is that the Hoosiers have proven they can beat elite teams. Purdue has not. One thing that helps Purdue is getting five of its first seven Big Ten games at home. The road to a Big Ten title is to win all nine home games and take at least five on the road if not six.
3. Wisconsin Badgers (11-2) Last Ranking: 3, RPI 61, KenPom: 10 – The Badgers are the highest rated team in the conference in terms of KenPom. They are very much like Purdue in that they are 1-2 against Ranked teams with a loss to an undefeated Big East team. They haven’t really played anyone since beating up on a ranked Syracuse team, and after what Syracuse has done it is pretty clear they were vastly overrated.
4. Maryland Terrapins (11-1) Last Ranking: 4, RPI: 22, KenPom: 64 – I am moving the Terps into the contender tier because they have found a way to win close games. That’s probably why KenPom doesn’t like them as much. Purdue has been blowing teams out. Maryland has three wins by one point and three other wins by less than 10 points. Because they have Melo Trimble they have a shot against anyone. They may not win the title, but they are good enough to challenge for it.
Fighting For An NCAA Bid
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-1) Last Ranking: 5, RPI: 8, KenPom: 47 – The Gophers have already won more games total than all of last season and they got through the non-conference season with enough heft to at least be considered as an NCAA team. They are the only team to beat Arkansas, and an 8-point loss at Florida State is not bad. Tonight they host Michigan State in a game that is pretty big for both teams. Minnesota wants a good start with a decent home win and Michigan State needs to get back into NCAA consideration with a good road win.
6. Northwestern Wildcats (11-2) Last Ranking: 6, RPI: 49, KenPom: 46 – Northwestern almost stumbled against Houston Baptist, but recovered from a halftime deficit. Now they have to win at Penn State today, In 2010 and 2011 Northwestern won 20 games. They were right there for their first NCAA bid. In 2010 they lost to Penn State twice and lost at a bad Indiana team, and those three games cost them an NCAA bid. In 2011 they also lost to Penn State twice. In both years had they swept Penn State instead of lost to them it would have been enough.
7. Michigan Wolverines (10-3) Last Ranking: 8, RPI: 77, KenPom: 29
8. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-3) Last Ranking: 10, RPI: 81, KenPom: 41 – I am ranking Michigan and Ohio State together because their profiles are virtually identical. Both have lost to UCLA. Both lost to a Virginia team in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The only real difference is Ohio State losing to Florida Atlantic. Neither team is going to win the Big Ten, but both are good enough to be a nasty irritant to one of the contenders, and thus affect the race that way. Ohio State gets the first chance to cause havoc in the race by playing Purdue and Wisconsin in the first four games.
Work To Do, But Not Dead
9. Illinois Fighting Illini (9-3) Last Ranking: 9, RPI: 35, KenPom: 66 – The Illini had the three straight losses to Winthrop, West Virginia, and Florida State, but they did recover to beat NC State and VCU. They enter Big Ten play with a six-game winning streak, so they are at least starting on the right foot. We will know more after today’s opener at Maryland at 5pm.
10. Michigan State Spartans (8-5) Last Ranking: 11, RPI: 82, KenPom: 52 – Is tonight’s game in Minneapolis a must-win for the Spartans? Not necessarily, but it would certainly help. Michigan State has a relatively easy opening slate in conference play, but they need to probably be about 5-1 headed to Indiana on January 21 to really be back in the race. I don’t really trust them yet.
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-2) Last Ranking: 7, RPI: 93, KenPom: 115 – they have beaten no one and they open with a tough game at Wisconsin tonight, but the team that has only won three Big Ten games since joining the league is far better than its first two league seasons. My prediction is that they win at least four games in conference play this year. If they can get to six that might even be an NIT bid!
12. Iowa Hawkeyes (8-5) Last Ranking: 12, RPI: 168, KenPom: 68 – The Hawkeyes have the most work to do, but teams have come back from worse. Two years ago Purdue lost to North Florida and Gardner-Webb to come back and make the tournament. Last year Wisconsin lost to Western Illinois and Milwaukee. Three years ago Nebraska was 8-5 coming into league play and caught fire. Iowa only has a horrible loss to Omaha, so they have a small chance.
13. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-5) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 87, KenPom: 96 – As always, they will catch one ranked team napping at the Mausoleum, which is a home court advantage only because it is completely empty and lulls opponents to sleep. My pick is January 18 against Indiana.
14. Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-6) Last Ranking: 14, RPI: 102, KenPom: 97 – The Huskers are the only team that enters league play without a winning record. They barely got past lowly Southern, but lost 6 of 7 before that win. If not for a two-point win over Dayton they would have nothing resembling a good win.