As we get into the nitty-gritty of the season let’s start doing these power rankings every week. Purdue finally got some help last night when it comes to winning its 23rd Big Ten title. Northwestern’s win in Madison was a sign that the Badgers were playing with fire for too long and finally got burned. It also kept the Wildcats alive for the Big Ten title. They need some help, but Northwestern still has home games against Purdue and Maryland, who are only a game ahead of them in the standings.
A few other teams are playing their way into NCAA consideration. Michigan has had a good run to get into contention. I have dropped Michigan State from “title contender” status, but I think they are still an NCAA team. We’re starting to get to the point where we can start planning the Big Ten Tournament a little. Wisconsin, Purdue, and Maryland are almost locks for three of the four double bye slots. Northwestern is in good shape as well, but they are only a game ahead of Michigan State and the Spartans have the tiebreaker.
Then there is the ignominy of the two Wednesday games where dozens of people will be on hand to watch the league’s four worst teams. Even though Rutgers is better this year, they are nearly a lock for appearing on Wednesday for the third straight season. Illinois, at 4-9, also looks to be headed for one of the four Wednesday spots for a second straight year. Right now the other spots would belong to Nebraska (who has played on Wednesday each of the last two years) and Indiana.
League Title Contenders
1. Purdue Boilermakers (20-5, 9-3) Last Ranking: 2, RPI: 19, KenPom: 11 – Okay, I finally did it. It is probably the kiss of death and Wisconsin is still ahead in the league standings, but Purdue is now in the top spot on my rankings here. The Boilers are the highest rated KenPom and RPI team in the conference and they have looked really good in their last three games. I wish I could feel better, but as a Purdue fan my collective guard is always going to be up. I can’t help but think that Purdue will win both games this week and we’ll all be feeling really good before something terrible happens. For now though, the Boilers are playing the best basketball of anyone in the league.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (21-4, 10-2) Last Ranking: 1, RPI: 23, KenPom: 15 – The Badgers have not looked good for a while, but they kept pulling out wins. They probably should have lost at Nebraska, but the Huskers couldn’t hit free throws at home. Then there were close calls against Michigan, Indiana, and Rutgers. This week they get a hungry Michigan team that is playing some good basketball and needs a resume win. They also host Maryland in Madison. I think they lose at least one of those, putting Purdue, Maryland, and Northwestern right back in it.
3. Maryland Terrapins (21-4, 9-3) Last Ranking: 3, RPI: 22, KenPom: 35 – I think we might have broke Maryland. After Purdue edged them in College Park the Terps went on the road and lost at Penn State. While that greatly benefitted Purdue, it was a surprising loss for a team that is now 5-1 on the road in league play after beating Ohio State this weekend. That record bodes well for Maryland as they head to Wisconsin for a huge game on Sunday. The Badgers are 0-2 against the top 4 teams in the conference, losing by a total of 18.
4. Northwestern Wildcats (19-6, 8-4) Last Ranking: 4, RPI 33, KenPom: 30 – It’s going to happen. Northwestern winning in Madison was the gigantic push the Wildcats needed for their NCAA profile. Barring a collapse that would include losses to Rutgers and dead-team-walking Indiana, Northwestern will finally play in the NCAA Tournament. They might even be a higher seed in their first game. I would argue that they only need to beat Rutgers to be a lock on Selection Sunday. That is their last shot at a truly awful loss. If Northwestern beats Maryland at home on Wednesday they can set their sights on a Big Ten title, which is unheard of.
5. Michigan State Spartans (15-10, 7-5) Last Ranking: 5, RPI: 41, KenPom: 54 – Sparty has won 3 of his last 4 to solidify a profile that was weakening. The 29 point loss at Michigan wasn’t a good sign, but this is still a team that is probably going to finish around 11-7 in the conference and make it in even with less than 20 overall wins. With games left against Wisconsin, at Purdue, and at Maryland they are the ultimate spoiler in the title race. They probably need one of those to feel truly safe on Selection Sunday.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-7, 6-6) Last Ranking: 7, RPI: 24, KenPom: 37 – The computers love Minnesota even with the five game losing streak they had. They have now won three in a row against league bottom feeders and they get a fourth this week in a reeling Indiana team on Wednesday. They have a favorable home schedule by getting 4 of their last 6 at the Barn. The road games are at Maryland and Wisconsin, who both won tight games earlier in Minneapolis.
7. Michigan Wolverines (16-9, 6-6) Last Ranking: 9, RPI: 61, KenPom: 31 – KenPom loves Michigan, but the RPI says they have work to do. For Purdue, they represent our most dangerous game before the season finale at Northwestern. In their last six they have destroyed Indiana and Michigan State in Ann Arbor, but lost at home to Ohio State and at Michigan State. The win in Bloomington yesterday was critical, and they probably need three of the last six to get in. That includes one of their two remaining home games against Wisconsin and Purdue.
NIT-bound Barring a Miracle
8. Ohio State Buckeyes (15-11, 5-8) Last Ranking: 10, RPI: 63, KenPom: 61 – I am not sure what to make of Ohio State. For most of the Big Ten season they have been competitive. They pushed Purdue, Northwestern, and Maryland at home, but those three losses by 11 total points are probably the difference right now between the NCAAs and the NIT. To have any chance at all they have to win their last five games, starting tomorrow at Michigan State.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions (14-12, 6-7) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 67, KenPom: 80 – If not for two heartbreaking losses to Indiana and a home loss to Rutgers, Penn State would be an NCAA team. They have beaten two ranked teams at home (Minnesota and Maryland) and have been generally dangerous. If Pat Chambers is given another year he could have this team in the top half of the league next season as young as they are. If they beat Nebraska, Ohio state, and Iowa in their last five they get a .500 league finish, which would be huge.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes (14-12, 6-7) Last Ranking: 8, RPI: 105, KenPom: 71 – Only Rutgers has a lower RPI, but the Hawkeyes have been a bastard at home. It is their road record that is awful at 1-7, winning only at Rutgers. With Illinois and Indiana at home for their next two this should be a team that can get to .500, and a home game or two in the NIT would benefit them.
Dead Team Walking
11. Indiana Hoosiers (15-11, 5-8) Last Ranking: 6, RPI: 93, KenPom: 49 – This is still a strong KenPom win for Purdue, but not for long. The Hoosiers are done. They pushed Purdue hard in a rivalry game as expected, but the Boilers broke them and they visibly quit against Michigan yesterday. In their last 5 games they have 4 road games at Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, and Ohio State. Their one home game is against Northwestern. The only win for Indiana in the last 6 was the triple-OT marathon against Penn State (which is a Josh Newkirk fingernail from having not happened). They are also 1-5 on the road and 2-7 total away from Assembly Hall (where they are only 4-4 against the B1G). It is a realistic possibility that the Hoosiers won’t win another game this season.
At Least They Are Feisty
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-14, 4-8) Last Ranking: 12, RPI: 86, KenPom: 89 – Nebraska has mostly sucked against the rest of the Big Ten, but against the top three of Purdue-Maryland-Wisconsin they are 2-1 with a 1 point overtime loss to the Badgers. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. The win over Purdue is their only win in the last nine games and if Purdue comes up a game short in the conference we will definitely regret that one. Although, had the Huskers hit their free throws in overtime against Wisconsin it wouldn’t have mattered as much. That would have given the league’s top three teams a three-way tie right now at 9-3 and all three would have lost to Nebraska.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-13, 2-11) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 150, KenPom: 136 – Rutgers lost twice again, but they are still greatly improved over last season. They are not getting blown out like they were in every game last season. They have five of their 11 league losses within single digits, so they are playing hard and making teams earn it. Now they just need one more win here in the last five to reach three Big Ten wins for the first time ever.
Dead Coach Walking
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (13-12, 4-9) Last Ranking: 14, RPI: 70, KenPom: 75 – Yes, Illinois won in Evanston last Tuesday, but that was merely the spasm of a corpse. This is a team with a lot of talent but Groce often has them completely unprepared, especially on the road, where they are 1-5 after the Northwestern win. They barely put up a fight at home against Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in their last three home games too. It is too bad they don’t get Indiana at home for the Battle of the Big Ten Morgue.