It has been a while since I have fulfilled my contractual obligation as a blogger to do a Big Ten Power Rankings. With conference play starting there is no better time than now.
Big Ten Championship Contenders
1. Michigan State Spartans (15-1, 3-0) – The only very slight argument Purdue has over Michigan State is record against Tier 1 opponents. Michigan State is 1-1 and Purdue is 5-1 (Lipscomb is currently back up at 29 in the RPI). Purdue has played a tougher schedule to date and has two losses. The toughest teams Michigan State has played are Duke (loss), North Carolina (win) and Notre Dame (with Bonzie Colson, win). The eye test tells me the Spartans are better though. They are just crushing everyone. Rutgers is the only team to play them within 10 points since Duke.
2. Purdue Boilermakers (14-2, 3-0) – Purdue has not lost since the Bahamas and the 24-point blowout of Arizona looks better every day. As mentioned, Purdue is 5-1 against tier 1 RPI opponents with Tennessee as the only loss. Tennessee and Western Kentucky are nowhere near as good as Duke, but the Boilers have rolled since that WKU game. I still give MSU the edge because they will host the only meeting with Purdue. They are the only team that I think could win in Mackey this season, too. It feels a lot like 2008 where Purdue could go a very good 15-3 in league play, but Michigan State wins the conference by going 16-2. It is still early, but a combined 35-1 between the two is on the table. They are both that good.
NCAA Tournament Teams
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-4, 3-0) – There is a pretty significant dropoff right now from Purdue to Michigan State, but OSU has a great chance to show what it can do by hosting the Spartans on Sunday. OSU is still 0-3 against tier 1 teams, but they have two road wins in league play already. What really hurts is their collapse against Butler in Oregon. They also failed to beat a surprisingly good Clemson team in Columbus.
4. Michigan Wolverines (13-3, 2-1) – Michigan probably regrets the two-point loss in Maui to LSU. It cost them a shot at both Wichita State and Notre Dame and gave them a meaningless snon-D1 game against Chaminade. They haven’t lost since December 4th at Ohio State though. Aside from East Lansing, this is Purdue’s toughest road trip, and it comes early next Tuesday. Beating UCLA and winning at Texas were good wins.
Hoping for the Bubble
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-3, 2-1) – The loss of Reggie Lynch for the rest of the season (unless he appeals) is a huge blow. You don’t just take away a guy averaging 10 and 8 while being one of the best defensive centers in the league (4 blocks per game) and shrug it off. Minnesota has a nice win over Alabama, but lost at Arkansas and at home to Miami (FL) in its big non-conference games. It also lost at Nebraska by 10 with Lynch. We’ll see how they do without him in this stretch of Indiana, at Northwestern, and Purdue.
6. Maryland Terrapins (13-4, 2-2) – Kevin Huerter was able to keep Maryland in it by himself for about 10-15 minutes last night. Then Michigan State blew their doors off. Maryland seems to be the most injured team in the conference, but a win over Butler will help a ton for their NCAA chances. Two-point losses to St. Bonaventure and Syracuse won’t. If they could win at home against Michigan State on January 28 I would really appreciate it.
Lots of work to Do
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-5, 2-1) – Nebraska is athletic and competitive, but they haven’t been able to break through yet. The best win is their home win over Minnesota. They don’t have a real bad loss as they are 0-4 against tier 1 teams and the 5th loss was on a neutral floor to No. 55 Central Florida. They could sneak into tournament, but they will have to do it by going something like 12-6 against a much weaker Big Ten.
8. Northwestern Wildcats (10-6, 1-2) – The Wildcats were already struggling before losing Bryant McIntosh. They lack a single win against the top 2 RPI tiers and aside from playing Purdue within 5 (the only team to do so in Mackey Arena this year) they have not looked good against good teams. Texas Tech and Oklahoma flat out whipped them and they just lost to Nebraska at home by 15.
9. Wisconsin Badgers (9-7, 2-1) – I watched most of Indiana-Wisconsin Tuesday night and it was not like Wisconsin played well. Indiana was just that disinterested. Wisconsin is very lucky to be 9-7, as they were gifted a win over Western Kentucky. The 49-37 loss at Virginia was simply an affront to basketball. Ethan Happ might be enough to beat the bad teams in the Big Ten by himself (and there are a lot of them), but that is all the Badgers really have.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions (11-5, 1-2) – I expected more from Penn State this year. Last season they were a young team that was feisty. Early on it looked like they were going to make a jump by doing things like play Texas A&M close. Then they lost at home to Wisconsin by a point. Normally that is fine, but not this year. A few weeks ago they did a very Penn State thing and lost to Rider at home. They might lull some teams to sleep in the Mausoleum like usual, but they will need a 12-6 conference record to even sniff the NCAAs.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-6, 0-3) – It feels like the Illini will need a perfect storm of event to get more than 6 wins in league play. They are already 0-3 after close losses to Maryland and Northwestern. The New Mexico State loss doesn’t look particularly awful. They just feel a step behind everyone else. They did beat Missouri, however.
12. Indiana Hoosiers (8-7, 1-2) – Indiana this season is going to be like a really, really drunk frat guy. Most of the time, as shown Tuesday at Wisconsin, they are going to be indifferent at best to playing solid, cohesive basketball. That’s how you get blown out at home by Indiana State and Fort Wayne. Every once in a while they’ll get motivated by anger and start swinging wildly occasionally connecting fists of pure rage. How else do you explain scaring the bejesus out of Duke or beating a good Notre Dame team? My wild prediction: they will beat Purdue or Michigan State in Bloomington, but lose by 15 at Rutgers. In fact, beating Michigan State on February 3rd and losing at Rutgers February 5th is exactly what this Indiana team would do.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-6, 0-3) – Rutgers is better this year. If not for setback last second home losses to Stony Brook and Hartford they might even be thinking of an NIT berth. Beating Seton Hall and being the only team to push Michigan State since Duke is impressive. A goal for them should be six conference wins. That would match their entire total since joining the Big Ten. It would also be a step forward and they might even avoid playing on day 1 of the Big Ten Tournament.
14. Iowa Hawkeyes (9-8, 0-4) – Iowa is the most disappointing team in the conference and it is not even close. Like Penn State, they were a feisty young team last season. This year they have been pretty crappy. Aside from beating Colorado in a neutral site game they have done nothing. In Big Ten play they are the first 0-4 team and it does not get easier with three straight road games next.