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Big Ten Power Rankings: January 23

We have some actual separation in the B1G race.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

I try to do these Power Rankings every two weeks or so and we’re rapidly approaching the midpoint of the B1G season. The last time out there were several teams grouped together with no real separation. Well, in the past two weeks we have seen some teams start to pull away a little, while several others have fallen back. It still looks like 7-8 teams will make the NCAA tournament though, giving Purdue plenty of chances to improve its overall profile.

League Title Contenders:

1. Wisconsin Badgers (16-3, 5-1) Last Ranking: 3, RPI: 25, KenPom: 10 – After winning at Minnesota on Saturday a lot of people are handing the Badgers the title, but I wouldn’t be so quick yet, but they have a favorable finishing schedule. They were virtually unwatchable for 35 minutes at home on Tuesday against Michigan before getting one hot streak. The schedule is favorable for a run until they host Maryland on February 19. Indiana on February 5th is their best chance for a loss, but I still don’t think their offense is that good. The defense is excellent, of course.

2. Maryland Terrapins (16-2, 5-1) Last Ranking: 4, RPI: 21, KenPom: 44 – The Terps keep surviving, and they just won a pair of tough road games at Illinois and Iowa. This week they get Rutgers at home before going to Minnesota and Ohio State for their next two after that. Depending on what they do against Purdue on February 4, the February 19 trip to Wisconsin could be huge across the board for Big Ten title implications. So far they only have three top 50 RPI wins, and two of them are over No. 49 Illinois.

3. Purdue Boilermakers (16-4, 5-2) Last Ranking: 2, RPI: 27, KenPom: 12 – Purdue is going to regret losing that Iowa game I feel. When the Boilers are playing their best they look fantastic and unbeatable. Iowa caught them, though, with a bad half on both ends. Now the Boilers are in a critical stretch of four road games in five, and the home game is against Northwestern. If Purdue can run these next five at 4-1 it should be right there for the conference title in the end, but it will not be easy. Can they win two of three at Michigan State, Maryland, and Indiana? We’ll find out. These next five games not only will decide the conference title hope for us, but it is also likely the difference between a top 3 seed and preferred placement in Indianapolis or a 5-6 seed.

4. Northwestern Wildcats (16-4, 5-2) Last Ranking: 7, RPI: 34, KenPom: 31 – I am going to go ahead and say it: This is finally the year for Northwestern. Not only that, thinking of them contending for the Big Ten title is not totally crazy. Yesterday’s win at Ohio State was Northwestern’s first in Columbus in 40 years. They get Nebraska and Indiana at home next and they might be favored in both. They have not won the Big Ten since 1933, but they get Purdue twice, host Maryland, and go to Wisconsin. They’ll be in this. As for the elusive NCAA bid, they likely need five more wins to feel totally safe on Selection Sunday. Home against Rutgers is the only true land mine. If they win that, beat Michigan, Nebraska, and Indiana at home, and beat Illinois at least once, they are in.

NCAA Tournament Teams

5. Indiana Hoosiers (14-6, 4-3) Last Ranking: 8, RPI: 73, KenPom: 30 – Normally Indiana would be out of this, but they lost James Blackmon last season and went on to win the Big Ten. Now that OG Anunoby is out what should we expect? They beat Michigan State on Saturday, so they are off to a good start. The next two are on the road against Michigan and Northwestern, so if they win both they are back among the contenders. The only one I really want them to win is at Wisconsin on February 5th. This is still a dangerous team because offensively they can go off on anyone.

6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-5, 3-4) Last Ranking: 1, RPI: 18, KenPom: 38 – It looks like putting Minnesota No. 1 was the Kiss of Death, as they have lost three straight since. Hopefully the same curse works for Wisconsin! Overall, Minnesota is fine. The RPI is the best in the conference. They have lost two overtime home games but won an overtime road game. Wednesday night they need to go to Ohio State and get a win over a reeling Buckeye team.

NCAA Bubble

7. Michigan State Spartans (12-8, 4-3) Last Ranking: 5, RPI: 41, KenPom: 52 – I don’t know what to think of the Spartans. They have played one of the toughest schedules in the country and the sweep of Minnesota is a nice chip in their favor, but their consistency is lacking. They come in to Tuesday’s game with Purdue after two disappointing road losses at Ohio State and Indiana, so I am officially fearful. Purdue needs this game badly. Michigan State still has Izzo and they are unbeaten at home in league play. They could also use a win over Purdue to solidify their profile. It is going to be a tough one.

8. Michigan Wolverines (13-7, 3-4) Last Ranking: 9, RPI: 69, KenPom: 43 – Michigan reversed an earlier loss to Illinois, but they missed a golden opportunity in Madison last week. Do far the road record is hurting them. They are 0-5 in true road games. This week they get Indiana at home and go to Michigan State. They have plenty of chances to make a name for themselves, and the return game with Wisconsin is an interesting one on February 16.

Pain In the Ass Teams

9. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-9, 3-4) Last Ranking: 12, RPI: 113, KenPom: 90 – Iowa and Penn State are very likely not going to the NCAA Tournament, but they are going to be a pain in the ass for anyone they play. Iowa is a young team that won’t be consistent, but with Peter Jok leading the Big Ten scoring they have a chance against anyone. They already burned Purdue. It is a shame they don’t get Wisconsin at home.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-9, 3-4) Last Ranking: 11, RPI: 71, KenPom: 79 – The Nittany Lions may have gotten spanked in West Lafayette, but they have bitten Minnesota and Michigan State already and came close to beating Indiana. They could do us a favor Tuesday night by pulling off a stunning upset in Madison. They have the talent to get a few more wins and maybe squeeze out an NIT bid, which would be a good season for them.

11. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-8, 2-5) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 84, KenPom: 58 – I’ll go ahead and keep Ohio State as a tough team even though they are just 2-5 in the conference. They have played Purdue and Northwestern very tough in Columbus and have enough talent to at least throw a scare into a team down the line. I am sure Indiana and Wisconsin don’t like that they have to finish the season by going there.

These Teams Suck

12. Illinois Fighting Illini (11-8, 2-5) Last Ranking: 10, RPI: 49, KenPom: 72 – The Illini are somehow still a top 50 team in the RPI, but they are not playing like it. When they fall out of the top 50 Maryland is really going to hurt from it. This week they host Iowa in a game that I hope the Hawkeyes win just to get hem above the 100 line and off of our bad loss list.

13. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-10, 3-4) Last Ranking: 6, RPI: 67, KenPom: 87 – That 3-0 start with shocking wins at Maryland and Indiana has given way to a four game losing streak and a loss to Rutgers. Now Nebraska is the only team in the conference with a losing overall record. What hurts them most is that the last two games were 1 point losses in the final seconds. That’s the difference between being 5-2, near the top of the conference, and still alive for the NCAAs, and here.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-8, 1-6), Last Ranking: 14, RPI: 137, KenPom: 134 – Hey! Rutgers won a Big Ten game! That brings them to 4-39 in the Big Ten since joining. The next step is to win a road game, as they are 0-22 on the road in B1G play. Their remaining five road games are at Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Northwestern.