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Big Ten Power Rankings: January 9 Edition

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We have a new No. 1, and I don’t think anyone would have picked them there before the season.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

I haven’t done a power rankings in about two weeks. The last edition came on the eve of conference play and now, where most teams have played four games, we have almost complete anarchy. Everyone has at least one loss in league play. Some have come by very slim margins. Minnesota dropped a home game by a point in overtime. Purdue dropped a home game in overtime. A total of six teams have only one conference loss and six more have just two, so that means 12 of the 14 teams in the league are bunched together within one game in the loss column.

Let’s try to sort this out.

League Title Contenders:

1. Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-2, 3-1) Last Ranking: 5, RPI: 5, KenPom: 31 – Yes, the Gophers are the best team in the conference right now. Had they run a better play to close out either regulation or overtime against Michigan State they would be undefeated in league play and 16-1 overall. They won at Purdue where they answered every challenge thrown at them. Later today they will even be in the top 25. Considering this is after a dismal year last year you have to give a lot of credit to Richard Pitino. He is the B1G Coach of the Year right now and it isn’t even close. The gophers get a shot at revenge on Wednesday night when they head to East Lansing.

2. Purdue Boilermakers (14-3, 3-1) Last Ranking: 2, RPI: 30, KenPom: 12 – Purdue’s 11 point home win over Wisconsin and survival at Ohio State kept the Boilers in the race after dropping the home game to Minnesota. Now Purdue gets three relatively easy games against Iowa, Illinois, and Penn State. The Boilermakers should be 17-3, 7-1 when they go to East Lansing as long as they stay focused. Minnesota is doing everything in its power to show that was not a bad loss, which is good for us. Unfortunately, we do need them to drop a few games here and there to win this conference. The only way it was a bad loss for Purdue is that home losses really sting. The Gophers are a really good team and earned it, however.

3. Wisconsin Badgers (13-3, 2-1) Last Ranking: 3, RPI: 49, KenPom: 11 – The Badgers struggled at Purdue yesterday. The Boilers held them to a season low 55 points and even with some generally sloppy play, Purdue was in control for most of the game. Wisconsin still got a needed split in the state of Indiana. They have tough road trips to Minnesota and Michigan State later, but a back-to-back at the Indiana schools is always tough. As long as they keep up their expected Kohl Center dominance they will be fine.

4. Maryland Terrapins (13-2, 2-1) Last Ranking: 4, RPI: 35, KenPom: 55 – Maryland got a nice road win at Michigan, but the home loss to Nebraska was very surprising. Of course, it looks like no one will go undefeated at home this season in conference play. The Terps get Indiana at home tomorrow night in a game they need to stay near the front, but the Hoosiers need it to get back in it. After that, Maryland has an easier slate of at Illinois, at Iowa, and home for Rutgers before a trip to Minneapolis.

5. Michigan State Spartans (11-6, 3-1) Last Ranking: 10, RPI: 34, KenPom: 47 – Izzo looked like he was going to do it again after the overtime win in Minneapolis. The Spartans handled Northwestern and Rutgers at home, but just when it looked like they would cruise to an early lead they lost to Penn State. Now they get Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio State all in a row. I am still not counting out Sparty here because of Izzo. If any coach can win a Big Ten title after such a lackluster non-conference it is him.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-7, 3-1) Last Ranking: 14, RPI: 50, KenPom: 88 – I would be surprised if this held, but I was also extremely surprised that the Huskers beat Indiana and Maryland on the road in their first two conference games. Northwestern was pleasantly surprised too, as they now have a very nice, strong true road win. I didn’t think Nebraska would win three conference games all year, but they are right there tied for first place four games in. Only the Gardner-Webb loss is awful, and teams like Wisconsin, Purdue, and Nebraska have proven that a hot Big Ten season can still get you into the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Tournament Teams

7. Northwestern Wildcats (13-4, 2-2) Last Ranking: 6, RPI: 44, KenPom: 40 – This season was never about competing for the Big Ten title for Northwestern. It was always about getting that elusive NCAA berth. The Wildcats dodged Penn State, the ruiner of their dreams so many times before. The loss at Michigan State wasn’t bad. The home loss to Minnesota was painful, but it was eased when the Wildcats got a top 50 RPI road victory over Nebraska yesterday. The Wildcats will likely be safe on Selection Sunday if they get to 10 league wins. That would have them at 21 overall. Beating Texas is no big deal now, but the win over Dayton is very nice. Part of their danger is that they get Rutgers twice. They won’t get much by beating them twice, but if they lose it would be crippling. This week they go to Rutgers and host Iowa. Both are must-wins if they want that NCAA berth.

8. Indiana Hoosiers (11-5, 1-2) Last Ranking: 1, RPI: 109, KenPom: 27 – Two years ago Purdue had to deal with home losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb all season. No matter what the Boilers did in the Big Ten, those losses were supposed to be anchors dragging us out of the tournament. Indiana is trying to do the opposite. They have two fantastic wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but have accomplished a big pile of diddly-squat since. They were gifted three straight conference home games to start league play and went 1-2. At the end of the year they get four road games in their last five. Technically, they are still in the title race, but they are going to have to play a lot better AND they will have to win way from Assembly Hall while still running the table in home games left against Michigan State and Purdue. A loss at Maryland on Tuesday might finish them off there for good.

Bubblicious

9. Michigan Wolverines (11-5, 1-2) Last Ranking: 7, RPI: 86, KenPom: 39 – Michigan is definitely a team that is playing Big Ten basketball in 2016-17. I say that because there is not a lot special about them. They beat Penn State, but have lost to Iowa and Maryland. Aside from a win over Marquette their non-conference is a bowl of blancmange. They essentially get two elimination games in their next four with Illinois. The Wolverines are good, but not that great. They can beat anyone or lose to anyone.

10. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-5, 1-2) Last Ranking: 9, RPI: 43, KenPom: 72 – It’s a shame the Illini got to Bloomington six minutes late on Saturday. If they had shown up from the beginning they probably would have beaten Indiana. Instead, they fell behind 15-0 and lost by 16. They actually have a few good non-conference wins over NC State and VCU. Getting the two this week at home against Michigan and Maryland would quiet some of the grumblings in Champaign.

NIT, Can You Hear Me?

11. Penn State Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 71, KenPom: 85 – I don’t think the win over Michigan State quite counts us their surprising home win since it was in the Palestra in Philadelphia. It is not like the Spartans were lulled to sleep in the Bryce Jordan Mausoleum. That was a good crowd and a well-earned win for the Lions. Now they get Minnesota and Indiana at home with a chance to ruin some more title dreams.

12. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-7, 2-2) Last Ranking: 12, RPI: 129, KenPom: 78 – Iowa narrowly avoided the ignominy of being the first team to lose at home to Rutgers in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights had them yesterday, but came up short. This was after Iowa traded double-overtime blows with Nebraska Thursday night. Peter Jok is going to get them a few wins by himself, but this is not a tournament team.

13. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-6, 0-3) Last Ranking: 8, RPI: 85, KenPom: 48 – The Buckeyes were close. They have three conference losses by 16 points. They had an excellent opportunity to beat Purdue on Thursday too, but the Trevor Thompson missed FT and foul inside the final 15 seconds cost them a conference win. Can they recover to make the NCAAs? They go to Wisconsin, host Michigan State, and go to Nebraska in their next three games, so they probably need to win two of those.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-6, 0-4) Last Ranking: 11, RPI: 130, KenPom: 137 – It was fun while it lasted. The 10-1 start has given way to five straight losses. They are now the only sub-100 Big Ten team according to KenPom. The worst part is that it looks like everyone else in the Big Ten is significantly better than them, too. They’ll beat someone. With Iowa and Penn State the only teams that are true NCAA longshots a Rutgers win over anyone else would be absolutely devastating.